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The Death Penalty: Un-Christian Barbarism

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Teresa Lewis will be killed at 9 p.m. on Thursday, September 23, 2010 at the GreensvilleCorrectionalCenter in Jarratt, Virginia. She will be strapped to a gurney in the death chamber of the prison and lethally injected by an unnamed person acting as the agent of Virginia.

Teresa was convicted of a murder-for-hire scheme to have her husband and stepson killed in order to collect on her husband's life insurance. The two men who carried out the killings were both sentenced to life in prison, but Teresa was sentenced to death.

Teresa will be killed in an act of proportional revenge in which Virginia answers one killing with another. The Commonwealth will answer harm with harm, following the ancient law of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Why has so little changed?

In Western culture, the eye-for-an-eye measure of justice went relatively unchallenged until Jesus of Nazareth did so, as reported in the New Testament. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus demanded that this old law be replaced with a new covenant that says: do not resist violence; love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you; when slapped on one cheek, turn the other cheek. To many, these were radical concepts, but necessary for consistency in the morality taught by Jesus.

He taught that the real world exists in living in equal relationships with others, not in controlling them; in loving your neighbor as yourself, not in getting even; in doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, not as they have done.

Those to whom Jesus ministered were the most oppressed and tyrannized by the Roman authorities, but his teachings gave them hope. Why? Because Jesus taught that there is another way of being in the world, that justice does not depend on the empire's revenge and death.

Jesus forced into the open a comparison of justice grounded in lovingkindness and that of proportional revenge. This means each time a conflict is dealt with, there are two extrinsic norms at opposite ends of that spectrum by which to measure the morality of one's response: the extent to which the mode of justice chosen aligns with an eye for an eye or the Sermon on the Mount; with violence or nonviolence; with fear or with lovingkindness. When the Golden Rule is the preferred moral standard, punitive justice loses its legitimacy as the preferred response.

Jesus teaches us that the death penalty is immoral, yet on Thursday night Teresa Lewis will be killed because we still cling to the ancient practice of state killing. Governor McDonnell announced that he found no compelling reason to set aside Teresa's death sentence. Is the Sermon on the Mount not a compelling reason? Not only Christianity, but every major religion affirms teachings that are inconsistent with the death penalty.

Teresa will be the first woman killed by Virginia since 1912. Since 1977, states have killed 12 women and more than 1200 men in their acts of proportional revenge.

Some like to call such killing by the state the "death penalty." It sounds nicer. In truth, state killing is modern barbarism.

Based in part on an excerpt from Beyond Justice, Beyond Vengeance, A Call for a Compassionate Revolution by Sylvia Clute.

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Attorney, author, blogger. After several years as a trial attorney, Sylvia Clute became disillusioned with the legal system and began her search for a better way. This led to writing two books, Beyond Vengeance, Beyond Duality: A Call for a (more...)

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