How Shall We Then Kill? #1

These kinds of stories always leave me con- flicted. Last Thurs- day, after two weeks of deliberations, a jury said serial killer Wayne Adam Ford deserved to die for the brutal murders of four women. In November 1998, after the persuasion of his brother Rodney, Ford turned himself into the Humboldt County sheriff's station. At the time, he had a severed breast in a plastic bag in his jacket pocket.

Ford admitted the crimes but, as is typical in such cases, his defense included a claim of mental disorder and asked the jury to take into consideration the defendant’s rough childhood and difficult life. According to the Riverside Press Enterprise:

Ford reportedly had rough sex with the victims, often binding them and using sexual asphyxiation. If the women stopped breathing, Ford told authorities he would revive them using CPR.

But Ford stopped short in his statement to police, and claimed he couldn't remember exactly how the victims died.

Apparently, his claim to amnesia was a big issue with the jury as they felt other evidence pointed to the killer’s full cognition. This, and other things, compelled the panel to prescribe death.

There’s several reasons why stories like this, and this story in particular, leave me conflicted. In Christian circles, there are certain positions that carry a type of stigma. The three I will express here could easily assign me to the liberal, namby-pamby wing of Christendom. But here goes…

First, I am unresolved about the death penalty.

Let me qualify this by saying I believe the Bible permits -- even endorses -- the death penalty. If life is infinitely precious and every action has a consequence, then it makes sense that the willful, unjust taking of another human life should invoke the highest form of punishment. The entire redemptive process is built on this principle. This is what makes Christ’s crucifixion so significant: He bore the penalty for crimes He did not commit, took our death sentence unto Himself. The Father executed His own Son, a terrible, glorious mystery we shall fathom forever.

Furthermore, the apostle Paul said this about government authority:

For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. (Rom. 13:4 NKJV)

While Christ extends freedom from the ultimate penalty of sin, He does not however disregard or exempt us from the social and legal consequences of our actions. Executing justice often means executing criminals – even saved ones. Such was the dilemma faced by the state of Texas concerning Karla Faye Tucker. One official put it this way: "According to the law of God, Ms. Tucker is forgiven. But according to the law of Texas, Karla Faye Tucker must die.” After a series of appeals, the repentant killer was eventually executed.

If there's so much biblical support for the death penalty, and if it is morally justifiable, why am I still conflicted?

This could sound extremely soft, but I’m gonna say it: When it comes to human life we should always err on the side of grace, hope and love. All our judgments are temporary, interim and flawed. We cannot know the intricacies of the human heart, nor the path one’s life could have or will take. None of our judgments are ever perfect. Furthermore, I take comfort in the fact that no one will escape God’s judgment. Whatever the charges, whatever the laws of the land, whatever our background, state of mind, extenuating circumstances, or the final verdict, whether I am pro-capital punishment or not – Wayne Adam Ford will face the Judge. He cannot plea bargain or pre-empt that Day; it will supersede all other rulings. As a society, we must address his actions. But nothing we do can alter the fact that a Great Judgment is coming. Whether Ford lives and dies in prison or is launched into eternity by lethal injection, he will face God.

So why not simply lock him up for life, let God and time work on him, and await his death? What principle is being violated if we choose life in prison over capital punishment?

Some would say this position fails to take into account the pain and suffering the murderer has inflicted upon his victim and their family. And no doubt it could. But I would argue that the execution of the killer will never rectify the horror, satiate the pain, or undo the suffering. In fact, killing the murderer may even crystallize the victim's anguish, embed them in state of perpetual anger and unforgiveness.

Even on the cross, Jesus forgave His murderers. He didn’t curse or rail or demand justice; He resigned Himself to the Father. I’d suggest this is the spirit we must cultivate. We must never wink at evil or whitewash the horror of someone’s actions. But likewise, we cannot live in a spirit of revenge and retribution. The "eye for an eye" dispensation was fulfilled at the cross. Yes, what Wayne Adam Ford did was evil, animilistic, and deserves punishment. But what we do with Wayne Adam Ford is another issue.



Jeanne Damoff said...

Wow, Mike. This is one of the most thoughtful treatments I've ever read on a very difficult, troubling topic. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I look forward to the rest of it.

Janet Rubin said...

One of the toughest topics there is. That's for sure. I mostly lean towards the death penalty, especially when I imagine that it could have been one of my daughters (or yours.) How horrifying a thought! Yet, I'm awfully thankful for the forgiveness that God has extended and continues to extend to me. Very tough topic.

clew said...

I'm pretty hard-nosed about the death penalty, particularly in a case such as this one. I subscribe to you kill in cold blood, you die in cold regard. But your thoughts are nicely articulated and deserve consideration.

Hello Mike! Haven't been around much this summer ... just dropping by. I've missed your writing. Always thought provoking.

Peace, my friend!

Janet Rubin said...

Hey Mike, It just occurred to me today that God protected Cain, showed him mercy. Kind of an exception to the Old Testament rule, huh?

Mike Duran said...

Janet, that's a good observation. In fact, some of the most notable Bible figures -- Moses, David, Paul -- were murderers or accomplices.

Nicole said...

in our prisons where the commissioner of the crime resides and if his crime has resulted in the death penalty, he has been given the option to accept God's mercy and forgiveness through the Chaplains and generally others who try to reach those on Death Row. If he begins a relationship with Jesus, he gets to go the best place. For a few moments of dying, he is resurrected into Glory by the Savior of the world. Everyone dies. He commits a heinous crime but receives redemption by a simple choice. That's real mercy.