Ligon Duncan on the Non-Negotiables of the Gospel

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  • Wednesday, November 14, 2007

    The Supreme Court vs. The Supreme Court

    The supreme court has tipped their hand and showed us some of the criteria they use to determine whether or not causing intentional death is justified.

    On October 30th, the Supreme Court blocked the execution of a Mississippi murderer. There was no doubt about the guilt of the killer. In a capital punishment case the prosecution MUST prove guilt beyond the shadow of doubt. It would be a sad tragedy indeed to put an innocent person to death. The high court, in the case of this murdererer, blocked the execution until it concludes an ongoing review of lethal injection. The conclusion of the review should come about next year sometime and until then, there will be a moratorium on executions. The primary question is whether lethal injections constitute cruel and unusual punishment. In other words, do they hurt? It’s true the method used now is not the same as that used to euthanize a pet and perhaps an improvement can be made in the kinds of drugs used.

    I’m not unhappy with this moratorium. I’m not anti death penalty. Genesis 9:6 says,

    Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.
    That is the beginning and the end of the argument for me. The image of God in man is not to be taken lightly and every human on the face of the earth, regardless of deed and thought, carries with him a portion of dignity that is derived from the creator Himself. We ought to show respect to all, and part of that respect means that our government must punish the evil doer; in the case of murder the guilty should die.

    So why am I pleased with this moratorium? Two reasons:

    First, our government does not know how to execute the evil doers with fairness for all. Black men are executed far more frequently than white men and poor people are executed more often than the wealthy. Until our leaders can fix the inequities in the system, I am all for a postponement on execution.

    Second, the supreme court has tipped their hand and showed us some of the criteria they use to determine whether or not causing intentional death is justified. This gives me hope in curbing the four thousand a day habit that America has developed in its abortion addiction.

    Does a lethal injection hurt the one being ‘terminated’? Good question, and so important that until this question can be answered, we will have NO 'termination of life' by lethal injection for years to come and believe me, it will take years.

    In Roe vs Wade, 34 years and 48,589,993 dead babies ago, the most important question that came up before the Supreme Court was, ‘When does life begin?’
    We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to an answer.
    In other words, the answer could take years. However, instead of calling a moratorium on the killing, the black robes legalized the slaughter of the innocent.

    The question of when life begins is not the only difficult question posed by the practice of abortion. What about the question that the court is considering at present, the one that has halted executions - does it hurt? Could a brilliant lawyer form an argument that may cause a supreme court justice to consider that cutting a baby to pieces inside the womb might hurt the baby? Does it cause discomfort for the baby as her head is crushed? In a partial birth abortion where the entire baby is born except for his head, does it hurt when the scissors are pushed into the base of his skull? As I said, perhaps an exceptionally smart lawyer could at least insert doubt into the high jurist’s mind that abortion might not be painless. That should be all that is necessary to place a moratorium on abortions until these questions can be answered.

    Clearly there are many questions that are being overlooked while the killing continues. Questions philosophical, legal, medical, psychological and theological. Isn’t it important that we answer these questions before killing one more innocent or is the killer the only one who deserves such a thorough review of procedure and practice?

    Recently, my own Senator
    Russ Feingold, D-Wis. on introducing the Federal Death Penalty Abolition Act spoke these words -
    We should take advantage of this apparent pause in executions to consider the severe injustices within the system as a whole
    In all honesty, I couldn't agree with you more senator, but let's look past the walls of death row and into the abortionist's clinic.

    I appeal to, I beseech, I cry, I beg the supreme court to follow it’s own cautious reasoning and call a moratorium on the termination of the pre-born until these questions can be answered beyond a shadow of doubt. May God have mercy on us.

    For more questions to ponder please see Kirby Anderson's excellent arguments here.


    Puritan Lad said...

    Great Point. It shows what happens when Caesar becomes autonomous. The courts who reject God's law simply don't know what they are doing, and have no objective standard for their practice.

    swordbearer said...


    I appreciate you pointing out this significant issue and I am in full agreement with you that it presents a strong argument for pro-life proponents and should be used (even though opposing argument will suggest that a fetus is not human, and therefore should fall under different rules).

    As far as a moratorium on the death penalty, I both agree and disagree. I agree if by unfairness one refers to some individuals failing to receive equal treatment under the law; however I disagree if by unfairness one refers simply to an imbalance in the number of death penalty recipients among specific people groups.

    In other words, if the system is broken in part, it needs to be fixed. It's a good and legitimate question to ask (1) Whether fair and equal treatment is given to all, (2) Whether some individuals due to race or socio-economic class fail to receive competent and satisfactory representation and defense before the courts along with equal and fair treatment and sentencing by the courts, and (3) Whether some individuals are getting breaks or passes from the courts as a result of their race or socio-economic position. At the same time, however; sentencing must be based on guilt (and the factors of the case) not on race or socio-economic factors. The goal is justice and fairness, not racial or economic balance (an equal number of death penalty recipients among various races or classes of people.) Study may show that murder (meriting the death penalty) may be committed more among blacks and the poor than among whites and the rich (an issue that merits additional consideration and response, but not itself a moritorium on carrying out the death penalty).

    Again, your point on consistency in the Supreme Court is a good one! I thank you for pointing it out, May God hear our prayers and provide that abortion may END SOON in America!

    Puritan Lad said...

    The solution to the race issue regarding the death penalty would be to enforce it on all murderers, once there has been sufficient proof for the murder, and proof that it was indeed murder. (I would also like to see it for attempted murder as well - same crime, just a worse shot).

    But the point with the courts criteria was spot on. The larger question, though, concerns the courts right to make such a decision in the first place. Just what is a person?

    Bob Vigneault said...

    I agree with you swordbearer. You went far deeper into the issue than I did. Obviously, my point is to get the Supreme Court to use the same measure for both discussions.

    The court has already halted executions and I am glad they will look into how much, if any, socio/racial/economic factors play into who is executed.

    I'm not asking that the judicial system be used to make social statements or advance an ideological agenda. I just want them to make sure the death penalty is applied fairly.

    swordbearer said...


    I'm fully in agreement!

    On all issues: consistency in the courts based on truth; opposition to abortion; this serving as a stong argument for moratorium on abortion; along with justice and fairness by the courts... we're on the same page.

    (Consistency at CS!)

    swordbearer said...

    I will go even so far as to say I think pragmatically this should be one of the leading arguments for the pro-life position... for it's not just in the moratoriam on the death penalty that "pain" is set forth as a critical factor but in the debate over torture as well.

    ... Seems this is an issue (pain) that resonates with the public in debate.

    Bob Vigneault said...

    Excellent point Swordbearer. A fellow who read the post brought up that same subject - the practice of water boarding making the headlines right now. Oh that we can get those compassionate souls concerned about the violated terrorist to feel something for those too small to speak.

    swordbearer said...

    From my military past, I can tell you that as fearsome as the waterboard can be, it in no way compares to the images I've seen concerning procedures used in abortion. No comparison.

    Not only that, but when did "pain" alone without due consideration of the purpose and resulting outcomes (of inflicting pain vs. not inflicting pain) become the only deciding factor.

    Even so, the difference is clear in that when comparing waterboarding and abortion; the purpose and outcome of the latter is to destroy and kill.

    Again, may God grant wisdom and power (...even through discussions like these, meant to inform & persuade) that as abortion is against the holy nature and will of God, that it might end here in America, and to the ends of earth.

    Brian Lanier said...


    You made some excellent points! I do have some questions for you regarding this statement:

    "First, our government does not know how to execute the evil doers with fairness for all. Black men are executed far more frequently than white men and poor people are executed more often than the wealthy. Until our leaders can fix the inequities in the system, I am all for a postponement on execution."

    (1) How does the postponement of a particular punishment, especially one that you agreed is commanded and authorized by God, follow from *some* misapplications of it?

    (2) Given that there are (and presumably always will be until Christ returns) inequalities and misapplications in *all* punishments meeted out by human institutions, doesn't it follow, using your reasoning above, that *all* punishments should be postponed?

    Questions to ponder.

    Bob Vigneault said...

    Thank you for your questions Brian.

    Now I see I should have left out my personal observation about the inequities in the system. It's muddied the main point and changed the focus of the article. However, I did it.

    I did make the assumption that folks realized that the race of the killer and the race of the victim effects the probability of the execution of the killer. Al Mohler was just discussing this as a problem on his radio program only last week.

    There are many studies that have been done that confirm this. Here is a recent one from Ohio State University.

    "There is more than a two-fold greater risk that an African American who killed a white person will be executed than there is for a white person who killed a non-white victim."

    We are speaking of similar crimes where guilt has been firmly established. I am all for a postponement on executions until this disparity can be studied and corrected.

    Like Swordbearer, I am for the execution of any murderer - that's biblical. But there is a responsibility of the government to be just in carrying out executions. If some get death and others get life because of skin shade then that is an injustice. The scales are crooked. Racism distorts justice.

    To be fair, there are studies that indicate the opposite is true. Also, playing the race card is a liberal trick, I don't deny that. Personally, (and that's all I've indicated, my own personal bias), I want to be sure that 'death eligible criminals' are being executed without racial or financial bias.

    Again, my point is that the hyper cautious Supreme Court should be consitent and apply their hyper caution to the victims of abortion.

    Since capital punishment was legalized in 1976, 1099 killers have been executed, that is only about 1% of all 'death eligible criminals'. That is a travesty. In that same time nearly 40 million babies have been murdered. (I'm defining murder as taking a life without just cause.) That is grounds for the wrath of God on a nation. I don't understand why the justices can't see that if there compassion filter is ratcheted as high as they have indicated.

    Bob Vigneault said...

    Dang, I can't edit the clunkiness and typos of my last paragraph. Pretend I wrote it like this:

    If the justices have ratcheted their compassion filters so high then why can't they see this inconsistency?

    swordbearer said...

    Let me restate and clarify my position: capital punishment should be based on guilt (AND THE FACTORS INVOLVED IN THE SPECIFIC CASE). I think Bob would agree with me that when he says capital punishment should be for "all" murderers, he's referring to those who meet the qualifications addressed in Scripture (obviously given the various degrees of murder, the specifics related to each case, etc., all this must be considered in both the decision of guilt and the merit of death as a penalty.)

    In response to Brian's questions:
    (1) How does the postponement of a particular punishment, especially one that you agreed is commanded and authorized by God, follow from *some* misapplications of it?

    While I'm not sure a postponement (moratorium) is in order (I'll leave that to the lawmakers/courts/etc.), it's clear that when God gives us commands, that includes both the responsibility to carry it out but also the responsibility to evaluate our decisions and actions and if necessary make corrections in order to be in compliance.

    I admit the statistics Bob provides raise questions, but as statistics can be made to say whatever anybody wants them to, wisdom and experience suggests that those who govern and judge should be careful and judicial in examining the claims. From a leadership perspective, one must also be aware that once steps are taken in a particular direction (especially a change of practice), one has not only taken a new step (even on one level in a direction, even if just for a time) and opened a new door. One must weigh decisions as to: whether to do this, when to do this, how to do this, how wide the door will be opened, and also be ready to deal with the consequences of that decision.

    To return to question, one must take into account not only the command, but also the fact that we live in a fallen world, and the fact that there are various levels with which the issue must be dealt with (personal level, community level, legislative level, judicial level, system as a whole, in relation to the past, in relation to the future, influence upon others, etc., and ultimately before God! So, it's more complex than just dealing with a simple command, for more than one command and issue is usually at stake.

    2. Given that there are (and presumably always will be until Christ returns) inequalities and misapplications in *all* punishments meeted out by human institutions, doesn't it follow, using your reasoning above, that *all* punishments should be postponed?

    NO. Again, we must take into account both the perfections and laws of God as well as the fallen nature of man and of the world we live in. Pragmatically, if you were not to do anything because of any inadequacy, imperfection, lack of holiness, etc., or the potential thereof..., you could not wake up, eat breakfast, talk to another, etc. You couldn't do anything! God calls men both to govern and to judge and therefore they are to do so (in righteousnes, justice and truth). At the same time, we must recognize that the consequences of injustice result from the fallenness of man, not from the law of God.

    Pragmatically as well, imagine what the world would look like and become if authorities across the board did not act because some measure of imperfection or injustice might be found! In addition to considering inperfections related to leaders actions, one must consider the ramification (and sin) of failing to take action when called for! To be sure, more often greater consequences would result from failing to take action at all ... that with taking actions in and environment and system of both corporate and personal accountability.

    Concerning Bob's Statement:
    "I want to be sure that 'death eligible criminals' are being executed without racial or financial bias."

    This is the ultimate point! Well stated. How we get there is important as well.

    Finally, as Bob closed by taking us back to his original intent and providing statistics concerning the number of deaths through the death penalty with the number of abortions, and suggesting "Look at the Comparison!"; "Where's the consistency", and most importantly "How can it not be seen?" Ahhhhhh! Here, Bob, you've made your point well. Hopefully, the pro-life movement will discover and recognize the strength and wisdom of your observation!

    For the sake of the unborn, may God show mercy, protection and grace!

    swordbearer said...

    BTW: While we're on the subject on pain, let it be said that it's interesting how what's left out of the discussion of pain these days (or at least does not carry as significant weight as it should) is the context, purpose, and consequence associated with pain.

    This is true whether the discussion is torture (water boarding) or abortion.

    Doesn't it make a difference if pain is used to heal, or whether pain occurs in the context of punishment (& as a deterrent), or whether pain is involved in killing, or whether some form of some form of pain might be left open even in cases of extremity (with accountability)in matters of defense?

    In Romans 13, the king (state) is said to possess the power of the sword. Note, it doesn't state how, when, why, where, or in what manner the sword will be brandished. While it's true that in the areas of humanity and global relations/practice/influence it is good to set and publish policy in regard to a country's practice, at the same time when it comes to defense and particularly the deterrance of evil, one can detract from both their power and persuasion by the publication of having taken particular means off the table. My point is this, that in addition to considering humanitarian issues, it's important that the considerations of the whole be considered along with the humanitarian issues. I fear that at times, particularly on the level of the public or our ivory towers we sometimes forget this. The truth however, is that for those on the front lines, it's not always so clean and easy and separate as some seem to suggest (Read "Lone Survivor" for an example)

    All this to say, when it comes to decisions concerning "pain", while this is a significant and sensitive subject, "pain alone" should not be the only subject of consideration when decisions are made. Context. Context. Context.

    Brian Lanier said...


    Thanks for your response, though I'm not sure you addressed my questions. My questions were mainly to determine what is and is not entailed from your conditional argument, "Until our leaders can fix the inequities in the system, I am all for a postponement on execution".

    My main point(s) were that, (1) postponement of a particular punishment is *not* entailed by *some* misapplication(s) of it, and (2) if your conditional is true (and if it is meant prescriptively), then the postponement of *all* penalities (provided that there are constant misapplications of it) can be infered by parity of reasoning.

    These points should not in anyway take away from your main point in the post, which was again, an excellent point. I am merely interested in the logic of your (above) conditional argument.