At the recent CNN/You tube Republican debate, a question came from Tyler Overman: "Hi. This is Tyler Overman from Memphis, Tennessee. And I have a quick question for those of you who would call yourselves Christian conservatives. The death penalty, what would Jesus do?"
Governor Huckabee's answer was the perfect representation of the contradictory rhetoric that is usually offered by right wing Christian conservatives on the topic of the death penalty.
Huckabee: You know, one of the toughest challenges that I ever faced as a governor was carrying out the death penalty. I did it more than any other governor ever had to do it in my state. As I look on this stage, I'm pretty sure that I'm the only person on this stage that's ever had to actually do it.
Let me tell you, it was the toughest decision I ever made as a human-being. I read every page of every document of every case that ever came before me, because it was the one decision that came to my desk that, once I made it, was irrevocable.
Every other decision, somebody else could go back and overturn, could fix if it was a mistake. That was one that was irrevocable.
I would imagine that it would be quite difficult to kill somebody, and it is perfectly understandable that your "tough decision" to play God was one that you would mull over for quite sometime. I wonder if you have ever heard the expression that if you play God too long, the real one might get upset.
You're right, it is an irrevocable decision. Once you make that choice to take somebody's life, there is no turning back. This philosophy is incredibly disturbing in a nation that prides itself on a justice system where the accused are innocent until proven guilty. Taking someone's life and deciding that they no longer have the right to live is not only a far deviation from the principles of Jesus Christ, but there have been numerous mistakes made that have proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that this practice should not be utilized. So far, DNA evidence has directly exonerated 208 wrongly convicted people in the United States, according to the Innocence Project. It's unknown how many prisoners now locked up in American jails that could be freed by new testing of DNA evidence.
The then Governor of the state of Illinois, George Ryan, declared a moratorium on executions in January 2000. His decision followed the exoneration of the 13th death row prisoner found to have been wrongfully convicted in the state since the USA reinstated the death penalty in 1977. During the same period, 12 other Illinois prisoners had been executed. In January 2003 Governor Ryan pardoned four death row prisoners and commuted all 167 other death sentences in Illinois. So my question to you would be, how do you feel after you have signed off on the execution of a man and later find that he was in fact innocent? As you described, you had to carry out the death penalty more than any other governor in your state, (not sure if you said that as if it were something to be proud of) so I ask you Mr. Governor, how heavy would putting an innocent man to death weigh on your conscious?
More from your answer...
I believe there is a place for a death penalty. Some crimes are so heinous, so horrible that the only response that we, as a civilized nation, have for a most uncivil action is not only to try to deter that person from ever committing that crime again, but also as a warning to others that some crimes truly are beyond any other capacity for us to fix.
So basically, your philosophy is to murder people who murder people to show that murdering people is wrong? The fact that the audience erupted in applause after this statement was not only sick and disturbing, but the result of misinformation often given by right-wing conservatives to garner support for their policies of murder. These are the facts: scientific studies have consistently failed to find convincing evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other punishments:
The most recent survey of research findings on the relation between the death penalty and homicide rates, conducted for the United Nations in 1988 and updated in 2002, concluded: ". . .it is not prudent to accept the hypothesis that capital punishment deters murder to a marginally greater extent than does the threat and application of the supposedly lesser punishment of life imprisonment." (Roger Hood, The Death Penalty: A World-wide Perspective, Oxford, Clarendon Press, third edition, 2002, p. 230)
In addition, in reviewing the evidence on the relation between changes in the use of the death penalty and homicide rates, a study conducted for the United Nations in 1988 and updated in 2002 stated: "The fact that the statistics continue to point in the same direction is persuasive evidence that countries need not fear sudden and serious changes in the curve of crime if they reduce their reliance upon the death penalty".
Recent crime figures from abolitionist countries fail to show that abolition has harmful effects. In Canada, for example, the homicide rate per 100,000 population fell from a peak of 3.09 in 1975, the year before the abolition of the death penalty for murder, to 2.41 in 1980, and since then it has declined further. In 2006, 30 years after abolition, the homicide rate was 1.85 per 100,000 population, 40 per cent lower than in 1975 and the second lowest rate in three decades. (Roger Hood, The Death Penalty: A World-wide Perspective, Oxford, Clarendon Press, third edition, 2002, p. 214)
These facts disprove Huchabee's claim of the death penalty serving as a deterrent. That theory is simply not true. In addition, the notion that we are a civilized nation is not a quality that one can attribute to anyone who endorses executions. Notice the company that we are in as far as nations who have carried out the death penalty since 2000.
- Beheading (in Saudi Arabia)
- Electrocution (in USA)
- Hanging (in Egypt, Iran, Japan, Jordan, Pakistan, Singapore and other countries)
- Lethal injection (in China, Guatemala, Thailand, USA)
- Shooting (in Belarus, China, Somalia, Taiwan, Uzbekistan, Viet Nam and other countries)
- Stoning (in Afghanistan, Iran)
Now, I'm not calling any of these other countries uncivilized, but I think you and other right-wing republican conservatives definitely would. The implication of your party is that we are somehow "above" these other countries, but my question is, how can we profess to be morally superior to anyone if we utilize a barbaric practice that is in direct disobedience to the word of God? That's especially troublesome for a nation who claims to be founded on Judeo-Christian principles.
More from your answer...
Now, having said that, there are those who say, "How can you be pro-life and believe in the death penalty?"
Because there's a real difference between the process of adjudication, where a person is deemed guilty after a thorough judicial process and is put to death by all of us, as citizens, under a law, as opposed to an individual making a decision to terminate a life that has never been deemed guilty because the life never was given a chance to even exist.
Sorry governor, again that is not true. Murder is murder. "Thou shall not Kill" applies to everyone, not just who you feel is worthy. God didn't say Thou shall not kill as long as you don't have a good reason, or thou shall not kill as long as the person hasn't done anything wrong, He simply said Thy Shall Not Kill. I don't think that is left to interpretation. Adopting a practice that is in direct disobedience with the word of God is not acceptable if you claim to be a Christian. The process of adjudication you refer to where a person is put to death is not in accordance with the word of God.
Now when you were asked point blank by Anderson Cooper to basically cut through all of the rhetoric and answer the question from the viewer which was simply, would Jesus support the death penalty, you gave a very witty response in saying, "Jesus was too smart to ever run for public office, Anderson. That's what Jesus would do", and it brought applause and laughter, but didn't answer the question. So let me answer it for you.
The example for everything we do as Christians is Jesus Christ. Our goal in life is to become more Christ-like. Although it is a well accepted reality that we could never be without sin as Christ was, our everlasting mission is to strive to be more like Him.
John 8 4-7
4. they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act.
5. "Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do you say?
7. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them "He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone."
One by one, the accusers dropped their stones, and walked away. Jesus had made his point. If you are not yourself without sin, then you have no right to condemn anyone for the sin they commit. The only way that we can play executioner is to ourselves be without sin. Furthermore, since Jesus is the only man who walked the earth who can make that claim, he therefore is the only one who can condemn anyone of anything.
Jesus further emphasized this point in the articles of Matthew 7 saying:
Judge not, that you be not judged.
2. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.
3. And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?
5.Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.
So the question becomes, how can anyone who claims to be a Christian disregard a clear cut message from Jesus Christ and accept a doctrine of the flesh? The feeling of anger toward someone who has committed a violent crime is definitely understandable. The feeling of that person "getting what they deserve" is often the stated argument for the death penalty. Those in favor often ask the question:
What would you do, or how would you feel if someone close to you was viciously and brutally murdered? Don't you think that that person should deserve to die as well? Put yourself in the victim's shoes. Try to understand the feeling of having someone taken from you at the hands of a merciless killing. Imagine that person not being here for the rest of your life while the person responsible for your loved one is spared their life? Imagine how you would feel?
The answer to that is quite simple. There is no one on this earth who couldn't understand the desire for revenge if ever put in that situation. It takes me back to the movie A Time to Kill. In the movie, two men brutally raped, beat, defalcated and urinated on Samuel Jackson's daughter, and left her in a ditch to die. Now, there wasn't one person who didn't understand Jackson taking the life of the two men who committed that heinous crime with his shotgun, and may have even cheered along with the people in the court when he shouted on the stand, "Yes they deserved to die, and I hope they burn in hell!" However, as a Christian, I know that both acts by the two men as well as Samuel L. Jackson were in direct disobedience with the word of God. His feeling of anger and rage and vengeance, although quite understandable, would have to be not only abandoned but traded in for trust in the word of God when God said "Vengeance is mine". That was not a request, but rather a direct order from God. The flesh would definitely have an unquenchable thirst for blood. But that's the flesh and not the word of God. So when asked what would Jesus do in regards to the death penalty, the bible has made it more than abundantly clear, and there is no room for interpretation.
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