The following letter to the editor ran in the Casa Grande Dispatch in March.
An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth
By the Rev. Anthony F. Fasline and Joan M. Bundy
On the days that the State of Arizona puts to death a prisoner from Death Row—or as it says above the door to the cell block, “Condemned Row”—a small contingent of protesters holds vigil across the street from the prison in Florence, where inside its walls, the execution will occur. Standing in silence, they hold up signs protesting the impending execution. Among them, one reads: “AN EYE FOR AN EYE GIVES US A BLIND SOCIETY.” Another: “KILLING DOESN’T DO IT/CLEMENCY DOES.” Yet another: “DEATH NO/LIFE YES.” The group is comprised of some men, some women, each of different faiths, all of diverse backgrounds. One is an attorney, another a Catholic priest, yet another an artist. Their commonality is their belief that killing a human being is wrong, no matter the circumstances. They see the irony and illogic in the long-held state argument that “we kill to teach that killing is wrong.” Sometimes a passing motorist makes an inquiry or shouts an objection. A kind response is always given, joined with a “God bless you.”
At the time when the lethal injection is scheduled to begin, the small group gathers in a circle, with hands joined, and a prayer is given for the victims of the perpetrator’s crime and for the one being executed, who is also a victim of the crime. Then the group departs in silence.
Most faith communities believe that capital punishment is wrong. The Catholic Church, for example, teaches: “Capital punishment can be legitimately employed but the cases in which the execution of the offender is absolutely necessary are ‘very rare, if practically nonexistent.'” The Social Principles of the United Methodist Church state: “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.” (The Book of Discipline, 2004).
One may hypothesize a rare case where capital punishment might be employed but one need not hypothesize that prisoners under constant surveillance, by watchful guards, “caged” much of each day, with his or her death sentence commuted to a lifetime in prison, without parole, is not a threat to society and that the common good of society is protected from the perpetrator. Furthermore, many of the offenders committed the crimes when they were very young and/or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The have years to adjust to prison life and many, if not most, have turned their lives around. If they do exhibit assaultive or any other unacceptable behavior, they are retained at the highest necessary level of security.
The demand of “an eye for an eye” has indeed led us to a “blind state.” We who are blinded by our commitment to a modality of punishing and killing need to “see” with open hearts and think not of killing but of clemency. Rav Kook, a Jewish mystic, has written: “It is our right to hate an evil man for his actions but because his deepest self is the image of God it our duty to honor him with love (life).” Does this not lead us into the domain of Divine Mercy? Why do the politicos after many years of “political footballing” put a prisoner to death rather than simply granting clemency so the offender can spend the rest of his or her life being remorseful and gaining redemption? Putting a man to death by political or juridical decision is a blasphemous inflation of human authority, of believing that it is appropriate for humans to decree who shall live and who shall die.
How many of us who are “blinded” to the injustice of killing will stand against capital punishment and opt for clemency?
To find out more about capital punishment and alternatives, come and visit our local chapter of Death Penalty Alternatives for Arizona (DPAA), which meets at the clubhouse at Val Vista RV Park at 7 p.m. the third Monday of each month. You may just want to join us in seeking peace and justice for all.
For more information on this local DPAA chapter, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.