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Thursday, March 24, 2005

Hanging Justice on a Cross

In case you haven’t seen it for some time, the scales of justice are hung from the hands of a blind woman – not a crucifix.
The symbolic nature of what is included and missing is not a mistake. Jesus offered absolution for all crimes – sin – through willingly taking it upon himself. Lady Justice merely offers to weigh the facts of a case and to be blind to all else. That the two are very different could not be more apparent yet many people try and find a synthesis of the two that suits their particular needs.
One way of doing this is to claim that the crucifix trumps the scales of justice. This was what happened in the case of William Payton where attempts were made to overturn his conviction and death sentence based on the fact that he converted to Christianity after his crime. Exactly why someone should be excused from the just sentence of his crime for converting afterwards is never really discussed. Perhaps it is supposed to be inherently understood that Christians should not be executed for crimes they committed before they became Christians. If so, I must have missed it.
This is why I insist that a liberal theology of Christianity would allow our morality to be our guide. To simply impose a New Testament Biblical version of theocracy would indeed entitle Mr. Payton to his freedom for his conversion. After all, if Jesus can forgive his sins, then why can man not do the same? If Mr. Payton is forgiven, and his sins are set apart from him as east is from west, then it would be morally wrong to kill him.
The purpose of a prison ministry should not be finding a way to get people out of prison. The purpose should be saving their souls, even if their bodies are damned. For those who will get out, it should help focus them on preparing for a Christian life afterwards. For those who will die there, it should focus on comforting them with the knowledge that even their heinous crimes can be forgiven by God.
That’s the crux of the matter. The crimes are forgiven by God – not man. Nor should they be. I am generally a forgiving person and can learn to live with almost any slight that I have been dealt. However, someone who rapes my wife or daughter or kills any member of my family has earned by enmity as long as I am on this earth. It is not merely about wanting to revenge myself on someone who wronged me – although I will admit that part of me would welcome the opportunity. It is also about protecting the rest of the community.
The vast majority of deaths are mistakes – either committed in foolishness or passion. I’m willing to accept that a person can learn to be careful or control their emotions better. However, the law already acknowledges this by the creation of manslaughter and second-degree murder. Someone who willingly takes another person’s life and is guilty of first-degree murder is simply someone who is too dangerous to society to be turned back out on the streets. I’ve often wondered how the parole board would feel about some of the people they release renting a room from them. Somehow, I think that would trigger a much stronger review of cases.
It is also a fact that someone who commits a sexual crime is almost sure to do so again if they get the opportunity. One of my many jobs was working for a psychologist who contracted for a behavioral therapy program for sexual offenders. His professional opinion, after almost forty years of this work, was that it was better to offer these individuals a “357 cure”. That’s where you shoot them in the back of the head with a 357 until they stop twitching. Why we consider rape a lower crime than murder, I simply don’t understand.
As Christians, I think we have a duty to those who are incarcerated. That duty is to carry the word of God to them and work to save their immortal soul. However, when we start trying to impose the forgiveness of Jesus onto the justice system, we have ceased doing the work of God. Christians do not deserve a special place in society for their faith. If they are able to, they should earn one on an individual basis.

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