May God Have Mercy On Us All

Wherever you come down on the issue of capital punishment, it’s impossible to deny that what happened last night in Oklahoma was horrific.

Last night also reminds us of a broader horrific truth that so many of us deny or simply ignore: Capital Punishment is murder at the hands of the State.

California ExecutionsCapital punishment is typically done in sanitized, tightly controlled, environments. “We The People,” carry it out thusly so that we can feel better about what we’re doing.

Yes, we’re killing a human being, in the name of all of us, but we’re doing it kindly and gently. You know, like we might put down an old dog.(1)

Last night ripped the pretense off this view. Murder is intentionally taking the life of another human being. Capital punishment is murder at the hands of the State, however “nicely” it happens.

If this offends you, I will remind you that the prosecutors in every capital murder case in every state in the nation act in the name of the “The People.”

When they call witnesses during trial, they say “The People call….”

In other words: those prosecutors are speaking for YOU. When they convict a human being and sentence that human being to die, they are speaking on behalf of YOU. And me. And all of us.

There are few situations quite as morally clear as this one. All of us, as citizens of our respective states, commit murder together every time capital punishment takes place.

May God have mercy on us all.

The problem with most analysis of capital punishment is that it focuses only on the “defendant.” The defense of capital punishment says (whether it’s true or not) “Well, it’s a deterrent to crime.”

What this fails to account for is that is that capital punishment never takes pace in a vacuum of a sanitized jail cell alone.

In addition to the death of a human being, capital punishment creates another set of grieving parents, siblings, children. It exponentially increases the numbers of those mourning the loss of a loved one. Those whose grief can turn to future anger…future violent actions.

Two sets of grieving, angry families: those killed by the perpetrators, and those later killed by the state.

Martin Luther King Jr. was right: “Hate cannot drive out hate.” An act of hate, even if justified, sanitized, or done in the name of the rule of law, cannot eliminate hate in the world. Even if we call it “justice.”

Many people claim that capital punishment is sanctioned by the Bible. I cannot, for the life of me, think of a a single time Jesus said, “Be sure and kill a person for their crimes.”

Some say that Jesus sanctioned it when he suggested that “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.”

Two problems with using that passage to “proof text” capital punishment…

a) Jesus is clearly talking to individuals. He’s suggesting that they —morally, not literally— might consider doing this to themselves. He’s not sanctioning what the State might want to collectively do on behalf of all us.

b) Jesus was not being literal. You get that, right? He didn’t literally want folks to pluck their eyes out. If he had, by the time he was hanging on the cross, nobody looking up at him would have been able to see him. They’d all be standing below with empty, bloody eye sockets, unable to “survey the wondrous cross.”

What an irony that would have been…

But even more powerful than this is the story of how Jesus prevented a woman from being stoned to death. He comes upon a group of angry men, clutching stones and ready to throw.

Jesus effectively says, “Ok. Whoever has never sinned before, they get to throw the first stone.”

One by one, the stones thud on the ground.

Except, in our time, they don’t. And they’re not stones.

In our time, we pick up prescription drugs, not stones. Every now and then, like last night, something goes horribly wrong and it again looks more like a bloody stoning than somebody gently going to sleep.

But make no mistake, every time we execute someone in the name of “The People,” that person does not just drift off to sleep.

They die. Because we sanction it.

In my mind, I always imagine that Jesus comes up on that group of men —white knuckle-gripping their stones, surrounding that trembling woman— and finds them standing in a circle.

I always imagine that when he tells them “Those who are without sin cast the first stone,” he’s not only saving her life, he’s saving their’s too.

Because unless they have really really good aim, they’re gonna hit each other as much as they hit her.

I think Jesus knew both these things. He knew he was saving a bunch of stupid, angry men from killing themselves in collateral damage.
But he also knew he was saving their souls too, by asking them to look inside and see just how wrong it was to take her life.

Last night reminded us horrifically how every time “We The People” pick up the stone of lethal injection, we die too. Some mornings, like today, we wake up and feel the collateral damage in the depths of our souls.

May God have mercy on us all.


(1) The CNN story (link above) calls it a “botched” execution.
No it wasn’t. The man died. He was executed. The process was botched, not the result.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

23 thoughts on “May God Have Mercy On Us All

  1. Killing people to teach people that killing people is wrong is the epitome of hypocrisy and oxymorony. – Roger Wolsey, author, Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity

  2. Statistically speaking; capital punishment doesn’t deter crime anyway. It also costs significantly more than life imprisonment. The fact is, 20 to life and the death penalty are equal deterrents because people who commit capital crimes don’t think they’ll be caught!

    That of course, is aside from the deep rooted spiritual, moral, and scriptural problems with taking the life of a human being strapped to a gurney who is in that moment no danger to anyone and cannot fight back.

    Well said Eric! The hypocrisy is striking because the doctors and prison officials were willing to kill this man; but when he started to bleed and potentially die in a manner other than what they had planned; they halted the execution. Surely because deep within, there is a scream from the Holy Spirit exclaiming “this is wrong!”, and taking this man’s life; no matter his sins, is not the will of God in our world.

  3. A reply I made on HuffPost that deals with the fact that, for the time being, states continue to capitally punish. I was also reacting to the various opinions that reflected joy because the executed man suffered:

    I’ve occasionally been anesthetized. I’ve had my gut opened, teeth extracted, and a camera up my ass three times. I knew nothing of those events until I woke up. Why why why are not death sentence inmates given an anesthetic before the lethal drugs are dropped? Or why are the basic anesthetics we all have experienced not simply turned on HIGH until all life functions cease? Yes, I understand the visceral reaction of some to applaud the infliction of maximum retributive pain at time of punishment: the man is (was) cruel, sadistic, and awful. But I am not cruel, sadistic, and awful, and neither are most of us. And we should not act like him.

    1. There is actually a reason why they aren’t anesthetized the way you and I have been for procedures.

      There is only a small number of drugs prisons are allowed to use in executions. What you or I had been given to knock us out before a procedure was likely made by one of the dozens of companies (many European) who will not allow their drug to be used in an execution. The result is what’s available is pretty limited. But, as with any heavy narcotic, there are risks of horrific adverse reactions (those can happen even when going under the knife for routine surgery). It sounds like they were going to knock him out in some way; but it didn’t work.

      Many death row inmates are also chronic drug abusers which means weak veins and a higher potential for adverse reactions to the drugs used. Different states use different drugs. All trying to find a ‘humane’ way to execute with the dwindling supply of drugs they can use without potential backlash from the pharmaceutical companies.

      All the more reason to put this barbaric practice behind us and find better ways to deal with this. This man committed some grave sins and deserved to remain incarcerated. But I don’t believe any person, at all, is for us to chose when they should live or die.

  4. For all interesting in the view of the United Methodist Church, here it is from our Social Principles:

    “The Death Penalty

    We believe the death penalty denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore and transform all human beings. The United Methodist Church is deeply concerned about crime throughout the world and the value of any life taken by a murder or homicide. We believe all human life is sacred and created by God and therefore, we must see all human life as significant and valuable. When governments implement the death penalty (capital punishment), then the life of the convicted person is devalued and all possibility of change in that person’s life ends. We believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and that the possibility of reconciliation with Christ comes through repentance. This gift of reconciliation is offered to all individuals without exception and gives all life new dignity and sacredness. For this reason, we oppose the death penalty (capital punishment) and urge its elimination from all criminal codes.”

  5. There is a great deal of truth in what you say, and quote.

    The one thing I take exception to is the line that says “But we’re doing it kindly and gently, you know, like you might put down an old dog”.
    That hasn’t been the way it’s been done. Hanging is neither kind or gentle, neither is the electric chair, nor firing squad. The further back one goes,for death penalty punishments, the worse it gets.

  6. My mother was brutally murdered in 2002. Her body stuffed in a container and pushed aside to be discovered three years later. I cry with no end. I hurt at the deepest level of hurt. I feel as though my entire life was taken from me.
    I profess to be a Christian. So based on my faith and believe how could I ever want that pain for anyone else? My mother’s life was no more valuable than his. He has no less human value because of the things he has done. I do not want him to suffer. I do want him to be held accountable.
    His children or other family members or friends should never feel the pain I feel. As a society we use the death penalty as a way to enact revenge. We can’t call it revenge because that would show us for who we really are. We soften that harsh reality by calling it justice. Revenge in our minds is bad but justice is good. You can rename anything to make it serve your purpose. This is true of people who profess Christianity too. Just because you sit in the garage it doesn’t make you a car. Murder by any other name is still murder.

    1. First off, my personal prayers for you in your continuing grief. I cannot fathom how painful your journey must be, and how stories like this must bring up all sorts of emotions.
      But, secondly, thank you for your profound witness of faith here. It’s an act of true faith for you to say this: “I profess to be a Christian. So based on my faith and believe how could I ever want that pain for anyone else? My mother’s life was no more valuable than his. He has no less human value because of the things he has done. I do not want him to suffer. I do want him to be held accountable.”

      Amen and amen. Your witness humbles me.

      Thank you.

  7. Hanging at least is quick (if it’s done right-it’s not complicated), as is decapitation by guillotine which is reliable. The British Empire and France stuck with these simple and effective, though obviously violent, methods until the death penalty was abolished in the 70’s for Britain, Canada, and France. Americans were more inclined to adopt modern and eventually, “nicer” methods, including the electric chair, gas chamber, and lethal injection. Could this have contributed to the greater acceptance of the death penalty in the US, or is it just a more punitive cultural context for “criminal justice”?

  8. Reblogged this on Vista Carolina and commented:
    “Wherever you come down on the issue of capital punishment, it’s impossible to deny that what happened last night in Oklahoma was horrific.

    Last night also reminds us of a broader horrific truth that so many of us deny or simply ignore: Capital Punishment is murder at the hands of the State.”

    What a barbaric, evil practice. “Thou shalt not kill!”

  9. Have you ever thought that maybe, just maybe, God was telling “We the people” Don’y worry, I do not sleep! The Crime that this man committed was horrendous, therefore, why should he gently go to sleep? He needs to suffer upon his death like that of his victim!
    You see, there are many ways to interpret the Bible. Throwing stones at a woman for “sexual” reasons is defensible, She did NOT torture anyone and then bury them alive!

    1. And yet, the moral of the story is that Jesus doesn’t think they SHOULD throw the stones. Even if you believe it was an appropriate penalty, Jesus doesn’t. And he manages to talk them out of it…

      Finally, he talks them out of it by appealing to their own conscience. He asks them not to look at *her* and what she’s done, or not done, but instead to look at *themselves.*
      That’s what I’m trying to do here in this essay.

      My point, and let me state it more harshly here, is this: I don’t care what the criminal has done. Capital punishment does indeed harm *him,* but it also harms society. It turns US into murderers.

      We can find appropriate penalties for any crime. We can offer sympathy, support, and love to the vicitims of crime. And we can do all of it *without* capital punishment.

      WE are harmed by it, and it turns each of us into accomplices in the death of another human being.

      1. And, no, I do not believe that this message you suggest for what “God is telling us” is at all what God is saying to us today. There is nothing in the words and actions of Jesus to suggest that God would talk to us this way.

  10. What is the moral dilemma? Killing people is wrong. It was wrong for the convicted criminal to kill his victim(s), and it’s equally wrong for the State (us) to kill the criminal. As my 86 year old Dad taught me as a child, two wrongs don’t make a right.

  11. A question to ponder – When a person knows the impending date of their death, are they more apt to reckon with what happens after death? The thief on the cross knew of his own personal guilt and as put it “we are getting what we deserve” yet he went on to ask Jesus to remember him when He enters His Kingdom. Therefore, death penalty in no way denies the power of Christ to redeem. Redemption is already present. The person must chose to receive it. For God already knows the appointed time of our death whether it is accidental, murder, old age, cancer or disease or as a result of a death sentence. In the case of the death sentence, the one who dies knows when where and how. The greater tragedy is when they stand in judgement before a Holy, Righteous God who pronounces a sentence of eternal judgement.

    I am not using this as justification for the death penalty, but just as to create more discussion under the reflection of eternal separation from God.

  12. Another thought – Jesus did not shy away from speaking harshly to religious leaders about how they treated the prophets he sent to them and would send to them. In Matthew 23:33 He says “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?.” Jesus then goes on to say “Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” Even though He knows His prophets will be killed, He sends them anyway.

    1. I love this passage, Mickey, but I’m not quite sure I understand the context….

      On the one hand, you might be suggesting it means that God embraced capital punishment. If so, I think that’s a mistaken reading.

      God embraced sending prophets into the world, so that they might save the world…not specifically so they would die. The *dying* wasn’t why they were sent…the *saving* of the world was. (John 3:16). God sends prophets into the world to save the world.

      What the *world* does, is kill them.

      And, remember, the crucifixion talked about in this passage was Roman crucifixion…a state penalty…not a religious one. Crucifixion, like lethal injection in our day, was the preferred method that the *state* used to kill a certain kind of criminal.

      What *God* longs for is the day when crucifixions, executions, will *end,* not when they will increase….

      This phrase: “how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing…” tells us all we need to know of what God’s real longing for the world, for Jerusalem, really is.

  13. I am not saying that at all that God embraces capitol punishment at all. What I am saying that Jesus was not always kind and gentle and loving to all. He pronounced harsh judgement on those who He saw that deserved it.

    I agree that God longs for the day that no one sins and rebels against His law. He does establish Gov’ts, authorities and rulers over us. He also has natural consequences for choices. Sometimes He issues those immediately such as the case of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts chapter 5

    “1 Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2 With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.

    3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

    5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6 Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.

    7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”

    “Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”

    9 Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”

    10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.”

    Why did this take place? Why did God use His Godly men to bring about consequences for allowing Satan to enter their heart and lie or test God’s spirit? From that point forward do you think anyone else who witnessed that series of events tested God’s spirit and lied?

    God Himself has established consequences of death and has used men to carry this out. The question is what should authorities and gov’ts do to bring about consequences for horrific acts of evil with violence towards sacred lives? Should there be significant and severe consequences for these actions? Death Penalty? Life in Prison? 20 years? 10 years? 10 months?

    I am also someone who believes that the Old Testament is not irrelevant. The message of God’s love, grace, mercy and forgiveness is all throughout the Old Testament, Jesus is all throughout it in prefigures, types, and pretypes. Have you ever thought about this question; What was Jesus doing before He was born of a woman? In Colossians 1:16 Paul says that all things were created in Jesus, by Jesus and for Jesus. John 1 tells us the same. That Jesus was with God in the beginning. If so, then what was He doing? Who walked in the fire with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego? Who wrestled with Jacob all night? Who appeared before Joshua and told him to take off His shoes because He was standing on Holy ground. Who was it that appeared in the tent with Abraham and Sarah? Who spoke to Moses face to face as a friend talks to a friend?

    I do not believe that the Old Testament is to be disregarded. I do believe that God gave the model of Gov’t that we currently use today in our country. I believe God created moral laws and civil laws. The moral laws were for those who followed Him and the civil laws were for all people according to the culture of that day. This was to establish order and justice. But it was also brought forth as a way to resolve disputes, and to provide for orphans and widows.

    The biggest challenge for us in this issue is what consequences should our authorities establish. Is there a just cause for killing anyone? What about in defense of your family? If someone attempts to murder and rape your wife and children, would the husband have just cause in defending them against this attack by using deadly force? If the attacker were successful and was caught and went to trial, what would be an appropriate punishment?

    I saw in an earlier post that someone stated that statistics show that the death penalty does not become a determent. I am sure that statistics in Arab countries would show otherwise.

    I am posting this to generate a logical thought process accompanied by discussions in which I believe the BIble does not give us absolute clear direction on either side of the argument. Someone who believes in the death penalty is not automatically disqualified as a loving, sincere, faithful follower of Jesus Christ. Also, there belief in the death penalty view has credible evidence from the bible. But also for that person who believes that the “death penalty is wrong” has some very good theology beliefs that can’t necessarily be discredited by biblical evidence. But instead can their views can be supported by New Testament scripture.

    (BTW, I am sure I have some typographical and sentence structure issues in what I just wrote).

    1. Mickey, if I may be so bold.

      You bring up an excellent choice. We cannot altar the will of God; nor does God operate within the confines of human authority.

      While the scriptures are pretty clear that the punishment for sin is exclusively as spiritual death; an eternal separation from God- if God for some reason felt a need to punish someone in some other way would God not handle that himself? Of course, that gets into the territory of “Rabbi, who sinned that this man might be afflicted”. But let’s ignore that passage from Jesus for a moment (You pretty much have to ignore Jesus if you’re going to assert that God’s will is earthly condemnation and not spiritual condemnation). When Paul experienced this man dying, Paul was not the one who killed him.

      Likewise, I find no evidence in scripture nor warrant from scripture nor any indication that the will of God is for man to carry out God’s punishments, or that man has given any authority on earth whatsoever to judge and punish sins. Because our world is full of sin we tragically need prisons to keep segregated those who could do us great harm. But there is no need to kill people in retribution, nor is there any responsibility for us here on earth to do so even IF it was God’s will that the person die here on earth. (Which, by the way; I don’t think is God’s will! Sins without redemption is a spiritual death, an eternity apart from God. That is entirely more severe than anything any man, woman or child here on earth can do to one another).

      I think when we try to argue that God intends for us to have the death penalty, or prisons, or traffic violations or taxes; we enter into a dangerous world that says God’s laws are carried out by the authority of mankind; and I just don’t think that’s valid. As Jesus said, “They’ve received their reward in full”, God will take care of God’s laws- our focus is with mans law. And mans law should not contradict God’s law; which I firmly believe does not allow for us to take a human being from a secured, locked cage, place them on a gurney and strap them down inside a locked concrete room, and execute them while they remain strapped to the gurney.

      Imagine you heard a story about a person who held someone captive for years, giving them three meals a day and occasional opportunities to walk outside but everything they did was under their control. Then one day, they took them down in their basement, tied them to a chair, and injected them with drugs until they died. How heinous, sociopathic and deplorable. But that’s what the state does on your behalf to other human beings!

      I’m not saying we unlock all the prisons in the name of forgiveness. But I am saying I can find no scripture to justify or permit the killing of a person, no matter how guilty, in such a manner as a state sponsored execution. Even if (and I don’t think so; but even if) it’s God’s will that this person suffer and die for their sins (which, it’s not- because Jesus already did that); I do not believe God gave the authority to any person on earth to inflict the suffering or cause the death.

  14. I am very proud of the person that can ‘forgive your enemies’. What a lot of Christians don’t realize is this… If someone names or kills one of our family members, friends, etc… It is an instinct of ours to get revenge yet PURELY OUT OF ‘EMOTIONAL’ TRAUMA. As Christians, we must forgive that person that inflicted the emotional trauma. WE MUST! Love your enemies but hate what they have done.
    We ALL are ‘ONE BODY IN CHRIST’.God created man in His image. Jesus didn’t scream & whine that he was innocent. He knew that His Father’s will MUST BE DONE.
    In this case of a botched execution? God already knew how this man would die. Everything that happens has a reason behind it. We may not understand it until later – or we may never understand it ‘here’.
    This botched execution has a reason. Christians have been so far apart from one another for quite some time. Issues arise & whatever we’ve been ‘programmed’ to believe, whether by our government, family, friends, etc… ends up pulling us further apart. How did God get taken out of our country? Because we Christians stuck with our elephant & donkey instead of uniting with one another & fighting these demons… Our God is stronger than ANY demons out there. We STILL have time before ‘the cock crows’ to TAKE OUR COUNTRY BACK!
    The reason for this botched execution? Hasn’t it “stirred up” our Christian community? Even the non-christians?
    Let’s not let this man’s death be in vain people! I think we’ve truly disappointed Jesus, God our Father. It’s time we unite & turn this country, founded upon Christianity, around.

    What’s the WORSE that could happen? We all get executed?? Hmm…

    ?? Beheading? I believe there has been scientific evidence that the eyes see @ 20 seconds after the beheading.😛

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