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Wednesday, 09 June 2010 17:21

“Where sin abounded, Grace abounded all the more”

Growing up in a South Suburb of Chicago in the late 1980s, I first learned about the death penalty when the American serial killer, Ted Bundy, was put to death by the electric chair. Despite being young, his name and his awful crimes were something that I have always remembered.

Hours before his execution, a Christian Evangelist named Dr. James Dobson spoke with Bundy in a taped interview. Since the content was adult and dealt a lot with Bundy’s addiction to pornography, I never heard or saw anything from this interview, I just knew that a very sick and bad person was no longer around.

From this, my very impressionable mind was made up and I do believe my opinion on the death penalty was established. Since Dr. Dobson was a Christian and was not, from my memory, speaking out against Bundy’s execution, I took the event to mean that those who truly commit heinous crimes have to be put to death to ensure the safety of others. My young mind could wrap itself around the notion of eradicating evil, in the name of death. And it did so for the next twenty years.

It seemed logical that you end the life of one who showed no respect for others and who graphically and brutally could take the lives of innocent, young and defenseless people. It made sense to use death – in certain cases – to amend for death.

I felt this way until only this year.

When you think about it, the public rarely hears about criminals who are executed – unless terrible stories accompany their killing spree. Since the start of 2010, fifteen men and women have been put to death across the United States, mostly through lethal injection. These criminals face their due while the rest of the country is none the wiser let alone made to feel safer, except for - maybe - the victim’s family.

In March, one news headline caused me to take notice when I learned that a man in Virginia was executed by the electric chair. I had no idea the electric chair was still an option. The man had brutally killed two women, and I felt a sense of relief and safety knowing he was no longer a threat. His crimes made me sick to my stomach.

I shared this bit of news with a friend, not realizing he took an entirely different stance when it came to the death penalty. He explained how he felt killing for killing was wrong, no matter how heinous, evil and despicable the crime was.

I was flabbergasted.

Didn’t justice have to be done?

My friend agreed, but contended that locking someone away for life seemed like a good way to punish and to ensure that society would be safe from someone so dangerous and immoral.

For me, a lifetime in prison just didn’t seem enough.

Prison means you still get food and shelter. Your life goes on, albeit behind bars.

In contrast, how does that rectify the innocent ones who lost their lives and should still be alive?

Our discussion shook me to the core, because I realized how much I wanted to fight for what I considered justice. For what I thought was fair.

But in talking about justice and the dignity of life, I thought of how Christ came to love and die for all. Yes, we’re all sinners, but we’re not all killers. And yet, God sent Jesus to die for the good and the bad - those who would try to live uprightly, and those who would willfully choose the path of evil. It’s a radical love that makes no sense, and is anything but fair.

It stopped me in my thoughts, because I suddenly felt a release. By demanding a life for a life, I was trying to create justice on my terms. By releasing the need to see fairness this way, I found that God gave me peace to leave punishments to Him. In place of anger, I had remorse over our fallen human existence that tries and fails at every turn. Without Christ’s goodness, we are all capable of allowing ourselves to fall so deeply into sin that we lash out in the most brutal of ways.

Without true light, we are all in darkness. While we won’t all act out to the degree of killing another human - our depravity leads us down other roads of lust, anger, malice, etc.

Two examples that further clarified this realization, deal with responses of love brought about after incredible pain and loss.

Elisabeth Elliot is a Christian writer who shares her grief experience in “Through Gates of Splendor.” In the book, she recounts how her husband and four other men felt a call to reach the "lost" people of Ecuador in the early 1950s. After months of earning the tribe’s trust, the men were attacked and speared to death. Elliot’s husband left her as a widow and her daughter fatherless. While her grief was severe, Elliot eventually went with her daughter to Ecuador and spent two years as a missionary with the tribe that killed her husband. She wrote “God is God. I dethrone Him in my heart if I demand that He act in ways that satisfy my idea of justice.”

To go back a bit further to the turn of the twentieth century, we have the devoted Italian Catholic martyr, Maria Goretti. At the age of 11, she barely survived an attack and stabbing by an attempted rapist. While in the hospital, she expressed forgiveness for her attacker and the desire to see him in Heaven. She died hours later. Her attacker was caught and put in jail, and eventually had a dream where Maria gave him flowers. When he was released, he went to Maria’s home and begged her mother for forgiveness. She forgave him and he changed his life, later becoming a laybrother.

Both families could have turned their back on these killers. With God’s help, they did not. They chose to let the killers live. And going one incredible step further, they forgave.

Will everyone repent their crime while being locked away? Only God knows. But they have a choice. As long as they breathe, they have that choice to turn from sin.

Taking another’s life as a way to bring justice is playing God, and it strips those on death row of another chance to choose God. And it strips us of the powerful freedom that comes from choosing to forgive.

While it is difficult and painful, if we lack the ability to forgive, we lack the ability to obey the words of Jesus in His prayer - “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.”

Should evil be dealt with?

Absolutely.

Those who sin great should be greatly disciplined.

But our anger and emotion toward their actions should not result in more death.

As St. Paul’s letter to the Romans reminds us: “Where sin abounded, Grace abounded all the more.”

(Photo: C.P.)


Thursday, 02 October 2008 03:53

A longer mindset for a short crisis

I just finished watching the CNN report on how the stock markets went after the rejection of the US plan to save the “world from an economic crisis”. Let’s say that I do not blame either Mr. Bernanke (head of the Federal Reserve or central bank of the US) or Mr. Paulson (treasury secretary) for their failure in achieving a consensus over the plan, but there has been a problem to communicate what the real consequences of the crisis are and how does the plan really work as well.

I mention the note in CNN, as the journalist talking about India used a sentence which tries to disguise her lack of knowledge on the topic: “It’s like every day there was a death person in the family” she said, with regards to the last couple of daily results in the Indian stock markets. To be true, this sort of sentence might scare the incautious people but in other people open distrust and curiosity.

As this is an electoral year in the US, some of the politicians are trying to take advantage of the situation blaming each other. The facts are: Bush and McCain supported the plan, and blame democrats for its failure. Democrats want more debate and are calling for calm. On the other hand, votes were 205 pros and 228 against, but the supporting republicans were only 133 and 193 were against; by contrast, democrats supported the plan with 140 votes against 90 who rejected it. From the voting, it is clear that democrats supported the plan more than republicans did, but probably they did not want to be committed with a plan that is regarded with distrust by an increasing amount of people. However, both parties find on their lines explosive rhetoric of the sort that the CNN Indian journalist used.

They are not the only people using that kind of language about the apocalyptical consequences of the rejection of the plan, but there is something beyond it. Also because most of the people I see, demonizing the objectors to the plan, have a stake on the crisis whether political or economical. To some analysts, it seems that the financial institutions have taken too much risk during the last years, they have collected all the gains that were available and they now want to collectivize the losses of the crisis generated by the risk taking. This distrust is shared by others, and it is the main reason to believe that the plan mainly helps the badly behaving guys on Wall Street.

Some people compare the actual crisis with what happened in 1929 but the comparison seems rather exaggerated. They share in common the broad lack of confidence among investors that are not willing to make more transactions (and move all the economy) even if credit is cheap, as it was in 1929, and as it is being offered by the Federal Reserve nowadays. With the expectation that most of the goods and assets available of the economy are going to lose their value, nobody wants to take any debt or go for any investment. But the magnitudes are completely disproportionate: the Great Depression lasted almost four years and unemployment in the US reached 25% before some great interventions were executed, exports value in USD fell to a fifth which was equal to half of the original quantity; also, household income and prices fell between 20% and 50%. By contrast, the levels of any of these variables are in better shape now than they were at the time of the last mild recession of a couple of years ago.

There is no doubt that the problem exists, that there is an economical crisis and nobody would like to try to wait and see if what happened in 1929 can happen again. But that does not exactly mean that a prize should be awarded to the world financial system for taking more risk than the one they were supposed to. The media, instead of using metaphorical and apocalyptical phrases should be trying to explain how confidence is going to be restored by the plan or plans and, more important, how the plan or other options work in the best interest of the tax payers. Of course, this applies to the US as the main market, but it applies as well to individual economies that want to encourage their economies too. The media should make more references to how the plan’s package is to be spent, how the package should create an antecedent and punish financial institutions with lax risk management; how it will address social issues on the defaulted mortgages, how it affects the walking citizens, and so on.

Up to now, we have mainly heard the scandalizing amount of money required by the plan, USD700billion or two times Taiwan GDP in 2007, and the strong responsibility that the Secretary of the Treasury (Mr. Paulson) is supposed to have on it. Although there are provisions for reporting, there is no clear reference to how the money will be spent or who is subject to receive aid from the Treasury. People should not be frightened by the rejection of the plan; instead, US citizens should be proud of their democratic system as it will request more debate on the salvation plan.

Financial institutions, along with free marketers have insisted on the ease of regulations for a long time. Now there is a common voice among politicians in North America, Europe and the Far East Asia: regulation is indispensable to support confidence, especially in the development of the new financial markets of securitized assets where the crisis finds its origin. Securitized assets imply a level of abstraction between the investor and its actual investment, thus it will be easier for a regulatory agency than for a pension saver to check what the embedded risks of the investment are.

Governmental intervention is going to be required and probably beyond the US National borders. In fact, any measure taken from Taiwan to Argentina to boost the economy helps to avoid the deepening of the recession. But, there will still be an issue of how much of the tax-payers money should be spent to heal each economy. I invite all those who are interested on the development and economical justice, to follow the process in their own countries and, of course, the process in the US.

For a draft on the plan you can look at:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/21/business/21draftcnd.html?_r=1


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