Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Quakers & The Death Penalty

Death Penalty: Reconsidering the Quaker Position
Dudley Sharp

1) Genesis 9:5-6, from the 1764 Quaker Bible, the only Quaker bible.

5 And I will certainly require the Blood of your Lives, and that from the Paw of any Beast: from the Hand likewise of Man, even of any one’s Brother, will I require the Life of a Man.

6 He that sheds Man’s Blood, shall have his own shed by Man; because in the Likeness of God he made Mankind.

Of all the versions/translations, this may be the most unequivocal.

2) Quaker biblical scholar Dr. Gervas A. Carey

” . . . the decree of Genesis 9:5-6 is equally enduring and cannot be separated from the other pledges and instructions of its immediate context, Genesis 8:20-9:17; . . . that is true unless specific Biblical authority can be cited for the deletion, of which there appears to be none. It seems strange that any opponents of capital punishment who professes to recognize the authority of the Bible either overlook or disregard the divine decree in this covenant with Noah; . . . capital punishment should be recognized . . . as the divinely instituted penalty for murder; The basis of this decree . . . is as enduring as God; . . . murder not only deprives a man of a portion of his earthly life . . . it is a further sin against him as a creature made in the image of God and against God Himself whose image the murderer does not respect.” (p. 111-113) “A Bible Study”, within Essays on the Death Penalty, T. Robert Ingram, ed., St. Thomas Press, Houston, 1963, 1992. Carey was a Professor of Bible and Past President of George Fox College.

3) Quaker leadership

Quaker founder George Fox was only opposed the death penalty for lesser crimes, such as stealing, but not for murder. I have found no evidence that he opposed capital punishment for all crimes.

The other major figure in Quaker history was William Penn who, ” . . . in the preface to the “First Frame of Government”, argued for the divine right of government to “terrify evildoers” . . .”

In the Pennsylvania Holy Experiment of Quaker government ” . . . capital punishment was only allowed for treason and murder.” “However, in 1700 mutilation and branding were added, and in 1718 the provincial (Quaker) assembly extended the death penalty to twelve more felonies.”

” . . . Quakers in the assembly said that killing a soldier, whose sole crime was obeying his sovereign, was vastly different from executing a murderer or a burglar for violating laws, (which was proper).” “Quakers: Fox and Penn’s Holy Experiment”, Guides to Peace and Justice from Ancient Sages to the Suffragettes, HISTORY OF PEACE – Volume 1, by Sanderson Beck, World Peace

4) Rebuttal:  The American Friends (Quaker) Service Committee’s (AFSC) statement against the death penalty

Today, the AFSC statement against the death penalty is error filled, as many of the religious statements, now, are. All but one of the AFSC statements is secular, a common problem with many "religious" denunciations of the death penalty.

My replies as “Reply”.

AFSC: “We base our stand on the Quaker belief that every person has a value in the eyes of God and on Quaker testimonies against the taking of human life.”

Reply: This contradicts the biblical instruction of Genesis 9:5-6, as reviewed by many, see 1764 Quaker Bible, the only Quaker bible. whereby it is in the value of human life, as based in God’s image, which demands the death penalty. The Noahic covenant is for all times and all peoples.  It is the value of innocent life which supports the death penalty.

AFSC: “The Supreme Court agrees that there is no conclusive evidence that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to crime. It recognized that the continuing demand for capital punishment is in part a manifestation of a desire for retribution. We find it particularly shocking that the Supreme Court would give credence to retribution as a basis for law.”

Reply: Retributive justice has its foundation in justice, in that we find that with all criminal sanctions, the support is based upon the sanction being just, proportional and appropriate for the crime committed. If the proper foundation for sanction is not justice, what does AFSC think it should be? All prospects of a negative outcome deter some. It is a truism (1) No credible source can say the death penalty deters none (1). Therefore, the discussion is only about how much the death penalty does deter (1).

AFSC: “The grossly disproportionate number of nonwhites sentenced to be executed and the continuing demand for the death penalty indicate that the death penalty may constitute an outlet for acknowledged racist attitudes. This outlet is now legally sanctioned, but is nonetheless morally unacceptable.” “Punishment by death is inflicted most often upon the poor, and particularly upon racial minorities, who do not have the means to defend themselves that are available to wealthier offenders. A minority person convicted of a capital offense is much more likely to pay the extreme penalty than a white person convicted of the same crime. Discretion as to whether to execute continues under the Supreme Courts guidelines, and minority persons will continue to be victims of this discretion. The Supreme Court in its 1976 decision ignores this reality.”

Reply: There is no disproportionate application, gross or otherwise, based upon the only thing that matters - those that commit murder. If the AFSC wishes to complain, possibly they would address that white murderers are twice as likely to be executed as are black murderers (2) with 56% of those executed whites, 37% black. (1973-2009) (2) .

The poor most often commit capital murders, therefore they are most likely to receive the death penalty (3).

The AFSC’s statement that “the death penalty may constitute an outlet for acknowledged racist attitudes.” appears to have only one purpose,  slander and insult, reflecting AFSC’s ignorant contempt of those who believe differently than they do.

I suspect the AFSC just, irresponsibly,  adopts anti death penalty claims without fact checking them, as revealed.

AFSC: “The death penalty is especially abhorrent because it assumes an infallibility in the process of determining guilt. Persons later found to have been innocent have been executed. This will happen again when killing by the state begins anew.”

Reply: I have never heard anyone claim the death penalty infallible. Has the AFSC? Of course not. It appears that the AFSC just made it up. Hardly wise. Innocents are more protected with the death penalty than without it. (1).

AFSC: ” . . . the death penalty restores no victim to life and only compounds the wrong committed in the first place.”

Reply: No one has every stated that execution resurrects the innocent murder victim. Why anti death penalty groups continuously proclaim this idiocy is a mystery. The death penalty does, however, help to spare more innocent lives (1). It is a wonder why some of the religious fight to spare the lives of guilty murderers lives, at the cost of more innocents sacrificed (1). The AFSC claim that the justice of the death penalty is “wrong” is most unpersuasive, has no cogent argument to support the claim and contradicts the teachings in Scripture.

AFSC: “We affirm that there is no justification for taking the life of any man or woman for any reason.”

Reply: Many, rightly, disagree. Both sparing innocent lives and justice through self defense and defense of others, a just war, as well as the just imposition of the death penalty are justifiable reasons for taking lives, a position accepted by many well known Quakers, inclusive of George Fox.

5) Biblical death penalty support

There is much support for the death penalty by God/Jesus/Holy Spirit, which conflicts with the common anti death penalty position taken by AFSC.

God/Jesus: ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Whoever curses father or mother must certainly be put to death.’ Matthew 15:4

This is a New Testament command, which references and upholds many of the same from the OT.

There is the Noahic covenant, which is for all peoples and all times, as per Carey and others.:

Genesis 9:5-6 – “For your own lifeblood, too, I will demand an accounting: from every animal I will demand it, and from man in regard to his fellow man I will demand an accounting for human life. If anyone sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; For in the image of God has man been made.” (NAB)

Jesus: “So Pilate said to (Jesus), “Do you not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?” Jesus answered (him), “You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above.” John 19:10-11

Jesus: Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Jesus) replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23: 39-43

It is not the nature of our deaths, but the state of salvation at the time of death which is most important.

Jesus: “You have heard the ancients were told, ˜YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER” and “Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court”. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, “Raca”, shall be guilty before the supreme court and whoever shall say, “You fool”, shall be guilty enough to go into fiery hell.” Matthew 5:17-22.

Fiery hell is a considerable more severe sanction than any earthly death.

The Holy Spirit: God, through the power and justice of the Holy Spirit, executed both Ananias and his wife, Saphira. Their crime? Lying to the Holy Spirit – to God – through Peter. Acts 5:1-11.

No trial, no appeals, just death on the spot.

God: “You shall not accept indemnity in place of the life of a murderer who deserves the death penalty; he must be put to death.” Numbers 35:31 (NAB) full context http://www.usccb.org/nab/bible/numbers/numbers35.htm

For some crimes, God commands there is no mitigation from a death sentence for murder.

Much more support, here (4).

6) Improvement/Rehabilitation/Redemption

Murderers can morally/criminally/spiritually:

(a) improve, which can mean everything in a spectrum from still quite bad to sainthood;
(b) stay the same, a bad result for them and others; or
(c) become worse, a more severe, negative outcome which puts the unjust aggressor and all others even more at risk.

Execution could be the best outcome, as it represents a just sanction for the crimes committed and, therefore, a lesson in justice for all of us, as well as guaranteeing that the murderer will never harm again, as opposed to the hope that some murderers might, possibly, improve.

Please weigh justice and the guarantee of no more innocents harmed against the possibility of murderers becoming a positive role model.

7) Forgiveness is a wonderful thing and should be encouraged.

The directly harmed innocent murder victims are dead and cannot offer their forgiveness.

One can forgive and fully understand that justice for the crimes are both desirable and beneficial.

Quaker biblical scholar Dr. Gervas A. Carey agrees with Saints Augustine and Aquinas, that executions represent mercy to the wrongdoer:

“. . . a secondary measure of the love of God may be said to appear. For capital punishment provides the murderer with incentive to repentance which the ordinary man does not have, that is a definite date on which he is to meet his God. It is as if God thus providentially granted him a special inducement to repentance out of consideration of the enormity of his crime . . . the law grants to the condemned an opportunity which he did not grant to his victim, the opportunity to prepare to meet his God. Even divine justice here may be said to be tempered with mercy.” (p. 116). “A Bible Study”, within Essays on the Death Penalty, T. Robert Ingram, ed., St. Thomas Press, Houston, 1963, 1992.

St. Thomas Aquinas:

“The fact that the evil, as long as they live, can be corrected from their errors does not prohibit the fact that they may be justly executed, for the danger which threatens from their way of life is greater and more certain than the good which may be expected from their improvement. They also have at that critical point of death the opportunity to be converted to God through repentance. And if they are so stubborn that even at the point of death their heart does not draw back from evil, it is possible to make a highly probable judgement that they would never come away from evil to the right use of their powers.” Summa Contra Gentiles, Book III, 146.

Saint Augustine confirms that:

” . . . inflicting capital punishment . . . protects those who are undergoing capital punishment from the harm they may suffer . . . through increased sinning which might continue if their life went on.” (On the Lord’s Sermon, 1.20.63-64.)

St. Thomas Aquinas:

“If a man is a danger to the community, threatening it with disintegration by some wrongdoing of his, then his execution for the healing and preservation of the common good is to be commended. Only the public authority, not private persons, may licitly execute malefactors by public judgement. Men shall be sentenced to death for crimes of irreparable harm or which are particularly perverted.” Summa Theologica, 11; 65-2; 66-6


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