Generous Orthodoxy  

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Troy Davis case and the death penalty

As one who still believes in American exceptionalism, I weep for our country and my native American South today. When I say "American exceptionalism," I mean that our nation was born out of a revolution that has often been described as the only armed revolution in history that did not devour its own children. I mean that there was "an angel in the whirlwind" attending the birth of America. I mean that for two and a quarter centuries we have been a beacon of hope and freedom for the whole world in a way that no other country has ever been privileged to be. And I believe that God gave us a special vocation to be that beacon.

But at a recent forum in NYC, I heard a talk by a remarkable Palestinian man, Izzedin Abuelaish, who spoke about his refusal to call for revenge and retaliation when his family home in Gaza was hit (by mistake, one assumes and hopes) by Israeli shells. His three lovely head-scarf-wearing daughters were killed. Their father, a physician trained in Cairo, London, Israel, and at Harvard, has since brought his remaining family to Toronto where he now practices. After the talk, since I have spent a lot of time in Toronto, I asked him privately how Canada had been for his family. He said, somewhat apologetically, that he felt it was a better place for them at present than the USA. I was startled, and wondered if the torch was being passed. (Dr. Abuelaish is the author of a recent book, I Shall Not Hate.)

My point in mentioning this is that, as the Hebrew prophets taught, peoples beloved by God can err grievously and incur God's judgment precisely because they are beloved by God. American exceptionalism calls us to a higher standard, and the world expects it of us. After the "pre-emptive" war in Iraq, the indisputable fact that we engaged in "rendition" and torture, and the continuing enthusiam for the death penalty (particularly in the South and in Texas), our standing before the world and before God is imperilled.

I believe the time has long since come for Christians everywhere to oppose the death penalty for everyone without exception. Life imprisonment without parole is the best alternative, and there has been some slight move in this direction since the discovery of DNA--but not this time, not in Georgia. There were more than 600,000 (!) messages delivered to the parole board opposing the execution of Troy Davis. Truly inexplicable, to my mind, was the refusal of the Supreme Court to stay the execution. No doubt we will hear more about this.

I almost never read the New York Times editorials; I read the paper for news analysis and the arts. I read the one about Troy Davis, though. It is quite good. The link is

And if my readers would like to take a look at what I have written about the death penalty in the past, the "Search Website" feature on my home page will take you to it. The op-ed piece that I wrote for the Dallas paper is the most careful piece, written in 2005. The link to that is

And for the phrase "angel in the whirlwind," which comes from a letter written during the American Revolution, see my piece at
I am especially proud of this presentation that I gave in 2000.