An Unfortunate Judicial Connection: Abortion Rights and the Modern U.S. Death Penalty are Irish Twins--Both Birthed from the Same Supreme Court Less Than a Year Apart
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I Was In Prison
Online Prison Ministry Newsletter
May 1, 2011
Dale S. Recinella, Catholic Lay Chaplain, Florida Death Row and Solitary Confinement
Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed
[The following response by Dale S. Recinella was made to an article posted in the Vallejo Times Herald concerning the Bible and the death penalty.]

My dear Christian friend,


I read your posting in the Vallejo Times Herald concerning the Bible and the death penalty. Thank you for your sincere and conscientious interest in the issue of the death penalty. Perhaps because of my extensive writing and speaking in the area of the American death penalty and religion, especially Christian religion, it is proper for me to address you on this subject.

You have indicated that you are of the opinion that people of biblical faith must, after all is said and done, support what is required by the Bible. I agree. For decades I supported the American death penalty. My support was based upon what I thought was in Holy Scripture. And you and I are not alone in that. The reason, I think, that over 86% of all the executions in the U.S. in the last 33 years have occurred in the Bible Belt is because good, Bible-believing people believe that the Bible requires it. That was why I supported it.

Well, I’m also a lawyer. After many years as a corporate lawyer God called me and my wife to ministry. Now, with 13 years of ministry to the families of murder victims, to men being executed, to families of the executed, and to staff at Florida’s death row prison, I have had to dig back into the Scriptures much more deeply than I had before in order to find out exactly what God is expecting of us.

My conclusion is that God expects our society to punish wrongdoing—you may use the word retribution and that’s a fine word by my reading of the Bible. There must be consequences for choosing to do harm to society, to people and to property. And it must be just punishment or those who are not motivated by grace will scoff at the law and run roughshod over the innocent.

That brought me to the next question, what is just punishment?

Let’s say a criminal commits a crime that causes someone to be burned over half their body, or causes a person to be blinded, or to lose a limb. Does the justice required by Scripture mean that we have to take that criminal and burn half his body, or blind him or severe his limbs? We might want to—but that’s not the question. The question is does God’s Word require such a burning or blinding or maiming in order for the punishment to be just? Virtually all Christians agree that it does not. Time to be spent in prison is the just punishment.

So, then, what if the crime committed involves the taking of human life? Is the killing of the criminal the only just punishment allowed by Scripture? I do not think so. I think life in prison without possibility of parole is punishment that fully grants retribution for the evil done. And, you and I do not have to become killers ourselves in order to carry out that punishment.

You have looked to Paul’s Epistle to the Romans 13:3-4 to confirm your position of God’s mandate for capital punishment:

    “But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for (government)     beareth not the sword in vain: for (government) is the minister     of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”                                               Authorized King James Version.

The two critical words here are sword and execute. If government bears the sword as God’s minister to execute offenders, it sounds like a scriptural mandate (“command”) for capital punishment. Is it?

There are distinctly different Greek words that translate into English as sword. RHOMPHAIA means a saber, a long and broad cutlass, a broadsword. This is the instrument used for decapitation, capital punishment by sword. As a Roman citizen, Paul had the right to be executed by broadsword and not by crucifixion. My bet is that Paul knew the Greek word for the sword used for capital punishment. This is not the word used in the Greek in Romans 13:4.

MACHAIRA, the Greek word used in Romans 13:4, means a short sword worn on the belt, a dagger. This is not the instrument used for decapitation, but was used as a metaphor for the authority of the courts to inflict punishment in general.

Also, the word execute is not in the original Greek scriptures of this verse. The word execute has been inserted by the translator into the Authorized King James Version to provide a verb so the sentence makes sense in English. The Greek original does not have this verb. The English translation uses it as a synonym for bring or inflict. Because the word “execute” is not in the original Greek but is inserted by the English translators, it appears in italics in most editions of the Authorized King James Version.

Given these two facts of the original Greek of the Scripture verses, the verse in Romans 13:4 makes complete sense in English without the death penalty.

    But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for government     beareth not the power of judicial punishment in vain: for it is     the minister of God, a revenger to carry out wrath upon him     that doeth evil.

The verse is a mandate for punishment of evildoers; but it contains no mandate for the death penalty. Rather, it supports the power of legitimate government by judicial authority to impose punishment for crimes.

You also quote Genesis 9, the so-called Rule of Blood to confirm your position of God’s mandate for capital punishment. That verse reads:

    “Whoever shed the blood of man, by man shall his blood be     shed; for in the image of God has God made man.” New     International Version This verse is included in God’s blessing of     Noah and his family. Genesis 9:1-7

A quick reading of this verse without study could create the impression that the Rule of Blood is God’s command that the entire world must use the death penalty; however, there are some major problems with that conclusion.

First, the text is in poetic form which was never used for biblical law.

Second, American Christians only intend to treat this as God’s command for capital punishment in the case of first-degree murder. But if these verses are actually God’s command to execute those who take human life, there is no basis for any limitation in the text itself. If God is commanding the use of executions in these verses, then their plain reading seems to cover all taking of human life: accidents, negligent homicide, even self-defense. To my knowledge, no Christians in America support such broad mandate for the application of the death penalty under the Rule of Blood. Yet, there is no Scriptural basis for applying it at all unless it is unlimited. There is no intellectual integrity in claiming it is God’s mandate and then rewriting it to our liking.

Third, there is no rational basis to explain why the words in the Rule of Blood are God’s explicit command to be followed literally, but the other portions of this set of verses, called the Noahic blessing, are not to be taken literally or treated as binding law: e.g., the prohibition on consumption of rare meat, or the statement that any animal which kills a human must be executed.

Finally, if the Rule of Blood is indeed God’s command, God’s perfect will, that anyone who kills another human being must be executed, God would surely apply this uniformly because God is infinitely just. Consequently, a prominent first-degree, premeditated murderer after the blessing of Noah’s family but before the handing down of the Mosaic Law would have to be executed.

What does the Bible report as God’s punishment for the most significant and prominent first-degree murderer during that period, under the Rule of Blood?

That person in the Bible is none other than Moses. And God deals with Moses the same way God dealt with Cain: banishment from society. Our modern term for such banishment is prison.

God seems quite consistent in the biblical record of His dealings with Cain and Moses. And He did not execute either one.

You also have used the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ as claimed biblical support for the American death penalty. You are not alone. Many pro-death penalty people of biblical faith like to quote the following passage from the Gospel of John as claimed biblical proof that Jesus supports the death penalty. I used to quote it for that reason as well. The scene is the trial of Jesus before Pilate:

    So Pilate said to him, “Do you not speak to me? Do you not     know that I have power to release you and I have power to     crucify you?”

    Jesus answered [him], “You would have no power over me if it     had not been given to you from above.”

The pro-death penalty biblical argument stops right there and fails to quote the rest of what Jesus said. The entire exchange reads as follows:

    So Pilate said to him, “Do you not speak to me? Do you not     know that I have power to release you and I have power to     crucify you?”

    Jesus answered [him], “You would have no power over me if it     had not been given to you from above. For this reason the one     who handed me over to you has the greater sin.”                                                                 John 19:10-11

This full text can hardly be claimed as Jesus’ support for capital punishment. Sin is not the word used in Scripture to describe an act that is virtuous. In fact, the Scriptures tell us that Pilate’s reaction was based upon what Jesus said:

    Consequently, Pilate tried to release him.” John 19:12

The execution of the innocent is no small issue for biblical Christians. Exodus 23:7 warns us not to be involved with the execution of the innocent. Jesus Christ warns us in the verses from the Gospel of John quoted above not to be involved in the execution of the innocent.

Yet, as noted in the U.S. Supreme Court majority opinion in Marsh v. Kansas, authored by pro-death penalty Justice Clarence Thomas, abolition of the death penalty in the U.S. is the only way to avoid the execution of the innocent. (Slip opinion at p. 17) In a concurring opinion, Justice Scalia attacks any concern about execution of the innocent. First, he implies that such a concern would in fact end the death penalty in the U.S. Then he says: “Like other human institutions, courts and juries are not perfect. One cannot have a system of criminal punishment without accepting the possibility that someone will be punished mistakenly. That is a truism, not a revelation.” (Concurring opinion, at p. 19)

Such a truism when the penalty is years in prison may not rise to the level of biblical condemnation. But as shown above, that truism is soundly condemned by Scripture when the penalty is death.

Those pro-death penalty positions of Justices Thomas and Scalia cannot be supported as biblical positions. Those are mere political positions. The Bible rails against the execution of the innocent.

True scholars of the Bible know this. On May 22, 2008, I appeared on a radio show on Inter-Faith Voices opposite Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. The moderator addressed him with the first question:

    Moderator: “Just to clarify your position, do you argue that a     state or a nation must have the death penalty or that it is     morally permissible if it so chooses?”

Dr. Mohler responded:

    “… I would not say that it is absolutely mandated that a     society must do this. But certainly it is permissible.…

In his next answer, Dr, Mohler, went on to qualify that permissibility:

    Moderator:“So, you would see it [the death penalty] as     preferable, perhaps?”

    Dr. Mohler:“Yes. With all the conditions being met for the     penalty to be just in its application. With all the right kind of     structures for the right conducting of trial and the     establishment of guilt and all the rest.”

Unfortunately, the problem with the U.S. death penalty is that those conditions are not met, the right kind of structures do not exist, and the biblical standard of absolute certainty of guilt is not the standard for execution in any U.S. system: federal, military or state.

My biblical studies in this area led me to actually reconstruct the death penalty in the Bible the way a lawyer would—procedural and substantive law. I identified 44 absolute legal requirements of the biblical death penalty in order to comply with the dictates of Scripture. Then, I took the American death penalty and compared it to the list. We are zero for 44!

The only possible conclusion based upon what is actually in the Bible and the Scriptural requirements for permissible use of the death penalty is that we cannot support the U.S. death penalty with the Bible.

There is a death penalty in the Bible—but it has nothing to do with what we are doing in America. And we cannot use the Bible to support the American death penalty.

I would not expect you or anyone else just to take my word for it. That is why I wrote the scholarly book: The Biblical Truth about America’s Death Penalty. It is available on Amazon. Please read it and then I look forward to your questions and your comments.

My dear Christian friend, God bless you, protect you and keep you strong.

Yours faithfully,

Dale S. Recinella, J.D., M.T.S.
Catholic Lay Chaplain
Florida Death Row




© 2011 Dale S. Recinella
All rights reserved.
No reuse without permission.

www.iwasinprison.org

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Now I Walk on Death Row – in Florida: May & June

By: DALE S. RECINELLA, Catholic Lay Chaplain for Florida Death Row

Wednesday May 4th
Sponsored by: Venice Diocesan Council of Catholic Women, Venice, FL (VDDCW)

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=============================================================== Now I Walk on Death Row – On the Radio:
DALE S. RECINELLA, Catholic Lay Chaplain for Florida Death Row

Thursday Morning May 5th 11 am ET (taping for later play):
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This ezine is targeted for people involved in prison ministry or in stopping the death penalty, we think you will find helpful information for people who are undecided about capital punishment, for those who have never experienced the inside of a jail or prison, and for those who feel called to participate through prayer and adoration.

Your name and information will never be used or shared with anyone. We promise!

Dale S. Recinella, Catholic Lay Chaplain, Florida Death Row and Solitary Confinement
Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed

If you Like this Monthly Ezine - You will love Dale's Book!
The Poor Clare Sisters
Paperback: 433 pages

Excellent book on the topic!,
June 13, 2005 Nathan Eanes
(Review from Amazon.com)

The Biblical Truth about America's Death Penalty is a must-read. It deals with Biblical standards of Capital Punishment and then compares them to the system used in America today. It is the best-researched, most faithful to scripture, and most evenhanded analysis I have ever read concerning the Death Penalty. Whatever your persuasion on the issue, this book will teach you a great deal. Recinella is a trained lawyer and committed Christian who now volunteers part-time on Florida's death row. He thus understands law, the Bible, and the system of execution in America. I challenge anyone who supports the Death Penalty to read this book.



This ezine edited by The Poor Clare Sisters of Spokane
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