10th Dec 2005

Blog :: What kind of Justice?

I continue to be ambivalent about the public/anonymous nature of blogging. I do want people I know to be aware of my blog; that this is my writing, my opinions. At the same time, I'm not sure that I want metapundit.net to be the first hit when searching for my real name on Google.

With this dual nature comes, sometimes, a sort of uncomfortable dichotomy to my writing. I'm keenly aware that I'm writing for two audiences: one composed of friends and family who know me well and one composed of complete strangers who've stumbled upon my site due to the wonders of google.

For the moment I am content with this situation. I find, in fact, that I can split the differences in my audiences by referring to familiar people and situations in ... somewhat cryptic fashion.  Those of you who aren't in the know won't know who and what I'm talking about, and the rest of you can read between the lines.

All this as preface to what I really want to talk about:

Tookie Williams is going to be executed this tuesday morning and lots of people are talking about it. Many Christians (especially conservative ones) tend to support the death penalty as part of their Christian world view. Some Christians (especially liberal ones (since I'm stereotyping, I'll try to be evenhanded about it)) oppose the death penalty and marshal theological arguments in opposition.

My upbringing has been ... out of either camp. My parents would be labeled "conservative" by most Christians, but growing up in the Brethren/Anabaptist tradition with it's emphasis on nonviolence I've tended to see violence (even "Just Violence" like war and capital punishment) as strictly outside the purview of the Christian. Additionally, I have a personal interest in the issue of Capital Punishment that has mediated my thoughts on the state handing down death. When I was an infant my parents signed up for a "visit inmates in prison" program and were given the name of an inmate on San Quentin's Death Row. My parents wrote, then visited with Ronald Bell while I was still a baby and I grew up having someone "in the family", so to speak, on Death Row awaiting execution. Ronnie may yet, 27 years later, avoid execution (for what it's worth, I suspect he may in fact be innocent of the charges against him and he continues to try to get a new trial) yet the awareness that someone I know may someday be executed has tended to make me shy away from pat and easy appraisals of the issue.

Politically I have long rejected the death penalty. I'm a libertarian (yes, with a small "l"). I don't trust the government to manage spending, taxing, education, etc etc very well, so why would I trust them with life or death (Capital Punishment, of course, being potentially a mistake that cannot be rectified)? Theologically, however, I have a little more difficult time. I reject Christians' playing a role in the violence that is held to be necessary for the state (war and execution), but I certainly do not expect the state to become "Christian". (Parenthetically, I view this as an inherent logical impossibility: to be Christian is a matter of faith and service, no abstract entity can have faith...) This is, I think, the view of the New Testament. I would read Romans 12-13 as a single unit, with its instruction to the Christian to be at peace with all men, even enemies, while submitting to the state which "wields the sword" for the establishment of a civil society.

That said, I haven't had a strong sense that Christians ought to oppose the state's use of the death penalty out of theological conviction. I certainly don't agree with those who feel Christians must support the death penalty, but I wouldn't go so far as to say that Christians must oppose the death penalty. This essay at First Things, however, argues from a Catholic perspective that Christians in fact should oppose the death penalty by way of meditations on Cain and Able contained in John Paul II's Evangelium Vitae. Very interesting read and I highly recommend it (hat tip to blip for the link).

My motives for linking to this essay, however, are more involved. (Here's where the cryptic stuff starts.) The metawife has been reading in some of the extended Xanga circles she follows a discussion of the merits of Christmas. Some of the commentary has linked to an execrable website called lasttrumpetministries.org. Well meaning people, perhaps, are involved in this "ministry", but I see it as typical of the worst of the hysterical fundamentalist excesses of the last century. Not only do I disagree with their take on Christmas, C. S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia, and the Catholic Church (to cite the few references I saw in my 2 minutes of reading the site) but I see their attitude as outside the faith. I do not recognise Jesus in the hyperbolic frantic rhetoric (according to them, all the above involve witchcraft and/or idolatry) and I will not engage their ideas as though they were rational actors with whom I disagree theologically.

Part of my strong reaction comes from my recent reading. Charles Colson and Richard Neuhaus' Evangelicals and Catholics Together has reinforced my perception that faithful believers of different traditions may in fact experience more unity than is experienced within a tradition (the old "more variety within types than across them") idea. Colson and Neuhas certainly do not argue that legitimate theological differences be ignored (and I've got those with Catholic theology starting from the papacy and mariology and moving on from there). They do insist, however, that believers from different traditions must engage each other as they actually are, rather than engaging the strawmen so often set up on all sides. Christians must police their own traditions, in fact, and distinguish between demonization and legitimate differences. Last Trumpet Ministries clearly is square in the demonization mode and I challenge them (and those who cite them (you know who you are!)) to repent of sin against brothers and sisters in Christ.

First Things, in case you are unaware is a project of Richard Neuhaus, and while not explicitly Catholic carries a distinctly Catholic flavor. I've read their online addition for some time and have frequently enjoyed their articles (this is a Christmas hint to family, btw). To those of you who are (hopefully) busy repenting, i recommend a penance of reading at least a dozen of the back issues at www.firstthings.com. Go, and sin no more!

Update:I trackbacked to the discussion over at jesuscreed.org. I'm not sure I like McKnight's post, but the ensuing discussion is thoughtful and interesting.

Posted on Dec 10th 2005, 04:52 PM