EVANSTON, Ill. (BP)–Which of these should die? Human being #1 shot a pregnant woman, cut the full-term baby from her womb and stabbed her two children to death. Human being #2 is emerging from the womb, having floated in amniotic fluid in recent days, stretching his limbs and even sucking his thumb.
(a) #1, but not #2
(b) #2, but not #1
(c) Both of them
(d) Neither of them
The answer is (a). The state of Illinois has just blown the test; she answered (b). Roman Catholic leadership is also confused, answering (d). Many politicians also err, answering (c).
Answer (a) is the right answer, first, since the Bible teaches capital punishment in both the Old (Gen. 9:6) and New (Romans 13:4) Testaments. Countless Christian writers have developed and defended this conviction (e.g., the C.S. Lewis essay, “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment,” in his book, “God in the Dock”). Second, the Bible condemns the shedding of innocent blood (Proverbs 6:17), the sort you find in the baby.
Answer (b) is Illinois’ unfortunate policy. Just before leaving office after one term (scandals made a new campaign unfeasible), Gov. George Ryan commuted the sentences of all death-row inmates. Drawing from his deep theological roots, he said he was making it worse on them because he’d always heard at funerals that the deceased had gone to a better place. He said he’d weigh each case individually, but somehow they individually came out as unanimously deserving escape from execution.
The Chicago Tribune ran an unforgettable two-page spread, featuring the photographs and crimes of the 152 men and four women taken off death row. In addition to Fedell Caffey, #1 in our quiz, there’s John Hester, who “tortured, starved and beat his mentally and physically handicapped stepdaughter, Orachnee Anderson, 22, in his West Side apartment in 1998.” Then there’s Danny Edwards, who “kidnapped and buried alive Kankakee businessman Stephen Small, 40, in 1987 as part of a plan to extort ransom from Small’s family.”
On the other hand, we Illinois citizens just replaced Republican Ryan with Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat, whose congressional voting record earned the lowest possible rating from National Right to Life, right down there with the new House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi. He’s been a faithful defender of partial-birth abortion (see human being # 2 in our quiz).
Answer (c) is the policy of many governors, including Gov. Clinton of Arkansas before he became president.
Answer (d) is popular with Roman Catholic leadership, many of whom praised Ryan for his sweeping action. They claim it’s natural for those with a “consistent life ethic.” Is that like a “consistent freedom ethic,” one where you must not seize and imprison a person who seized a jogger and imprisoned her in his basement? Both forms of “consistency” are nonsense, for they ignore culpability. Give me, instead, the claim of the priest I heard on William Buckley’s “Firing Line” television program years ago: If you demand less than a life for a life, you cheapen the innocent life that was taken. He knew that Exodus 20:13 did not forbid all killing, for his Bible had the next chapter, Exodus 21, in which God prescribed a number of killings. The Sixth Commandment is about murder.
You’ve probably heard the joke about the disoriented fox caught in a trap — in a desperate effort to escape, he chewed off the wrong leg. I think it was an Illinois fox.
Coppenger is pastor of Evanston (Ill.) Baptist Church. For more reflections by Coppenger, logon to listten.com or evanstonbaptistchurch.org.