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Ethics & Religion
Column #2,058
Jan. 19, 2021
End The Death Penalty?
By Mike McManus

Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. If still alive, he'd be celebrating his 92nd birthday.

A day earlier, on Sunday, his son, Martin Luther King III said his father recognized "the severity and inequality" of the death penalty. He spoke out against the disproportionate execution of young black men, often barely older than children at the time of their crimes.

For 17 years there were no federal executions. However, President Trump ordered a dozen executions in the past seven months - a "barrage of executions," a "bloodbath which exceeded the executions of all states combined in 2020," King asserted.

The Old Testament clearly condones and even commands capital punishment for such crimes as homicide, striking one's parents, kidnapping.

However, the New Testament has a different view. The Sermon on the Mount rejects "an eye for an eye." John 8:3-11 mentions a woman caught in adultery being brought before Jesus for judgment. Jesus said, "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." They went away, one by one.

Jesus said to her, "Go (and) from now on, do not sin anymore.'"

I lived in Montgomery, Alabama as a teenager when Dr. King was pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, from which he led a boycott of the city's buses to force an end to racially segregated seating. Although I delivered the local newspaper, which I read daily, the paper did not report upon King's leadership. But I remember seeing black maids walking from their homes to work - rather than ride the bus.

At the time, at age 28, King wrote an article for the Christian Century, asking, "How is the struggle against the forces of injustice to be waged? There are two possible answers. One is to resort to the all too prevalent method of physical violence and corroding hatred. The danger of this method is its futility. Violence solves no social problems; it merely creates new and more complicated ones."

King offered an alternative strategy he called "nonviolent resistance." He cited the work of Mohandas Gandhi, who pursued Indian independence with nonviolence which "is not a method for cowards; it does resist." King wrote, "The nonviolent resister is just as strongly opposed to the evil against which he protests as is the person who uses violence."

How does nonviolence get its force if there is not pain, fear and intimidation that violence offers? King wrote, "Nonviolent resistance does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding." He argued that "at the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love."

Love, King believed, can be muscular, unsentimental and transforming. He trusted because he believed that "the universe is on the side of justice."

King was assassinated less than a dozen years later. However, King had a dream that we remember today. It is worth recalling his exact words that were spoken during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial:

He said he had a dream that is "deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: `We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'

"I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood..."

"I have a dream that my four little children will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

"I have a dream today."

In 1957 Martin Luther King Jr. was asked if God approves of the death penalty. He replied, "I do not think God approves the death penalty for any crime." He explained that "capital punishment is against the better judgment of modern criminality and, above all, against the highest expression of love in the nature of God."

I am grateful that his son is still pursuing his father's dream of an end to capital punishment. I pray he will be successful.


Copyright (c)2021 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.


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