A Just Conclusion

On April 15, 2013, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev with his brother planted bombs near the Boston Marathon finish line that injured more than 260 people, 17 of which lost limbs, another three died, and while attempting to elude capture he shot and killed police Officer Sean Collier. On May 14, 2015, having been found guilty of 30 counts, six of them capital felonies; the federal jury sentenced him to death.

Many Bostonians were outraged at the sentence preferring life imprisonment; the State of Massachusetts does not have a death sentence for state crimes, but terrorism is a federal crime and Tsarnaev was tried and convicted in a federal court.

Many Christians support the death penalty, and the question often arises if we believe in forgiveness and the sanctity of life how can we support the execution of one condemned for murder. It is a fair question.

Jesus enjoins believers to forgive, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive,” Mark 11:25. We are told to forgive those who wrong us, so our hearts are not filled with hatred that would lead us to do something vengeful. Not all sins are crimes, but some are. Murder is an example of a sin that is also a crime. We are told to forgive sin, crime is addressed by justice.

Before the flood, mankind’s depravity had become so great “that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” So God sent a flood to destroy mankind. Noah and his family alone were spared.

When Noah and his family disembarked from the ark they stood on the brink of the restoration of civilization. The principles of justice that had been lost in mankind’s wickedness before the flood needed to be reinstituted; God commanded, “Whoever shed’s man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man,” Genesis 9:6. A crime against any citizen is a crime against all citizens. This is why God tasked society with the administration of justice; to protect our fellow citizens.

It was God who instituted capital punishment and His reasoning is human life is sacred because we are created in the image of God. When a murder destroys the image of God in another, the murderer forfeits the right to bear that image. The death penalty was instituted because a murderer does not respect the sanctity of life.

To claim Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness abolishes the scriptural principle of Justice is absurd. Forgiveness of sin and the just prosecution of crime are two separate things. Tsarnaev should be forgiven his sin, but we have an obligation to prosecute his crime to safeguard society.

One of those wounded, Karen Brassard, said there was “nothing happy about having to take someone’s life,” but said the verdict was “a just conclusion.” Death is the ultimate penalty, but it is also just. I agree with Karen Brassard; it was a just conclusion.

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The Conscientious Objector

He was a Seventh Day Adventist, an ordinary man whose extraordinary faith and courage has left an indelible mark on the combat history of our nation. He never touched a gun or killed an enemy soldier. He was the first conscientious objector to win our nation’s highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor. His name is Desmond T. Doss.

Growing up in a Christian home Desmond was appalled to learn of the story of Cain and Abel. He could not understand why a man would kill his brother. He vowed to never take another man’s life.

When the attack on Pearl Harbor ushered the United States into World War II, Doss thought it was his patriotic duty to enlist. That first night in the Army barracks as, he knelt to pray, his fellow recruits taunted and threw their boots at him. When he refused to train on the Sabbath or touch a firearm, he was ridiculed. Doss vowed while others would take lives he would be by their side to save lives. His commanding officer, Captain Jack Glover, told him if he refused to carry a rifle he would never stand beside him in battle.

Despite the repeated humiliation heaped on him, he never took offense nor compromised his faith. When the 77th was deployed to the Pacific Theatre, in one engagement after another, Doss distinguished himself in providing lifesaving aid to those who fell in battle.

Eventually the 77th was sent to Okinawa to reinforce the American troops attempting to take the island. The Japanese had retreated to the Shuri escarpment, a plateau three hundred feet above the island. The Americans called it Hacksaw Ridge.

In nine successive assaults the Americans had reached the plateau only to be thrown back by withering fire. On April 29, 1945, A Company tried again. As the day closed, A Company was forced to retreat leaving seventy-five casualties behind. During the next twelve hours, Doss climbed to the top, alone and under constant fire, he rescued every single man by dragging each one to the edge of the escarpment and letting them down by a rope. Doss prayed, as he let each man down to safety, “Lord, let me get one more.”

Amid the fighting, Captain Jack Glover was felled by a Japanese artillery shell. Slowly bleeding to death he was pleasantly surprised to see the face of Desmond T. Doss at his side. Doss had crossed two hundred yards of open ground under enemy fire to bind Glover’s wounds and drag him to safety. The man who said Doss would never stand by his side in battle was glad to see him crawl to his aid.

Doss said of himself, “I was not a conscientious objector, I was a conscientious cooperator.” Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).” This Memorial Day, let us remember men like Desmond T. Doss.

Down But Not Out

This past May 12 the Pew Research Center published their most recent religious survey titled America’s Changing Religious Landscape. There was an overall fall of Christians in America from 78.4% to 70.6% during the time period of 2007 to 2014. This was almost matched by the increase in those who claim no religious affiliation from 16.1% to 22.8%. Those claiming no religious affiliation are called the “nones.” There was a slight rise in those professing a non-Christian faith from 4.7% to 5.9%.

The Christian group facing the greatest decline was Mainline Protestants from 18.1% to 14.7%, followed by Catholics from 23.9% to 20.8%, with Evangelical Protestants experiencing the least decline from 26.3% to 25.4%.

Statistical data is difficult to interpret accurately, but they do give us a glimpse of trends and given the current cultural climate and its clash with orthodox Christianity, the decline of Christianity’s popularity is not all that strange.

Some within the body of believers are claiming this is the apostasy or “falling away” foretold in Second Thessalonians 2:3. Others see the decline as the exit of nominal Christians who were never committed to Christ or His church and have been easily swayed by the rise of atheism, agnosticism and other secular viewpoints.

Russell Moore the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission views these findings as “good news.” Moore said, “Christianity isn’t normal anymore. It never should have been. The increasing strangeness of Christianity might be bad news for America, but it’s good news for the church.” He went on to say, “The churches that are thriving are the vibrant, countercultural congregations that aren’t afraid to not be seen as normal to the surrounding culture.”

The apostle John saw a similar defection in his day, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us,” 1 John 2:19. Difficult times help to define the lines of demarcation of who is committed to Christ and who is not.

Those who say these results portend the fall of Christianity and the death of the church are overly optimistic. The church while still in its infancy survived the full brunt of persecution levied by the Roman Empire; it not only survived, it thrived. It will take more than name-calling, lack of popularity and a handful of adverse court decisions to kill the greatest movement in the history of mankind.

John had something to say about that as well, “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world,” 1 John 4:4.

TransJenner

Recently journalist Diane Sawyer interviewed Bruce Jenner, the Olympic Gold medalist in the decathlon at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, Canada. His notoriety soared when he was pictured on a box of Wheaties cereal that same year. Jenner is in the news because he claims to be transgender, a man who believes himself to be a woman. When Sawyer asked him, “Are you a woman?” Jenner replied, “Yes, for all intents and purposes.”

Jenner admitted to Sawyer he had struggled with his sexuality since he was a child, saying he had “always been confused with my gender identity.” Jenner’s case, probably because of his celebrity status, highlights the modern phenomena of transgender people, those who claim their gender identity does not match their biological sex assignment at birth. Jenner is sixty-five and said, “sexual reassignment surgery would be down the line.” If he is serious he might not want to wait too far down the line.

Jenner claimed his brain “is much more female than it is male” admitting, “It’s difficult to understand but that’s what my soul is.” A brain more female than it is male, what does that mean? It is not difficult to understand; it is impossible to understand, because nonsense cannot be understood. I am open-minded about a lot of things, but I am not so open-minded I let my brains fall out about anything. Was he thinking more like a female than a male when he fathered six children in three marriages?

I am sure his confusion is real and has created emotional and mental struggles, but those struggles are autogenetic, self-generated. I agree with J. Lee Grady who wrote, “I would never bash Jenner or any other person who wrestles with their gender identity…But because I am a Christian, I just can’t accept someone’s behavior if it is destructive or unhealthy for them. To affirm a person’s wrong choices just to make them feel accepted is not love.”

We read, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them,” Genesis 1:27. Human sexuality was divinely determined in creation and subsequently through procreation, and for that reason our gender is sacred and not to be trifled with, especially if we are confused.

If Jenner is confused the mere recollection that he has fathered six children should dispel the fog, or the realization that sexual reassignment surgery will not make him capable of getting pregnant and bearing children no matter how much he thinks like a woman.

Jenner was adamant about his future life choices. He plans to work alongside the transgender community to get the word out, which he thinks will do some good. He told Sawyer, “I’m saying goodbye to people’s perception of me,” and Sawyer commented, “This is the last interview he will do as Bruce.” Don’t worry, he probably will not be featured on a box of Wheaties again either.

Riots and Racism

This past April 19th, Freddie Gray died from a spinal injury apparently sustained while in Baltimore police custody. This is the most recent incident in which a black man in a confrontation with police has died. It appears we are witnessing a repeat of what happened in Ferguson, Missouri.

The death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, sparked several days of riots. The community vilified and accused Officer Darren Wilson of using excessive force when he shot and killed Michael Brown. Based on Dorian Johnson’s testimony to the media, who claimed Wilson shot Brown in the back as he ran away and then continued shooting him when he tried to surrender. During the riots that ensued private businesses were vandalized and looted.

The United States Department of Justice and the FBI conducted investigations to determine if Officer Darren Wilson had violated the civil rights of Michael Brown. Witness testimony that Michael Brown attempted to surrender was not found to be consistent with the evidence or other eyewitness testimonies. Dorian Johnson was walking with Michael Brown when the confrontation occurred, and claimed Officer Wilson shot Brown in the back while he was running away. Three different autopsies showed all of Michael’s wounds were in front, not his back.

The riots were incited by the belief that Dorian Johnson told the truth to the media when he said Michael had been trying to surrender with his hands in the air when Officer Wilson shot him. But numerous eyewitnesses said Michael was running at Officer Wilson and had been repeatedly ordered to stop before Wilson opened fire. The federal investigation into the violation of Michael Brown’s civil rights completely cleared Officer Darren Wilson of any wrongdoing.

What we have seen recently in Baltimore is similar to what happened in Ferguson. Rather than wait for a detailed investigation to determine what actually occurred, rioters have allowed their emotions to cause them to act impulsively. Even if the Baltimore police are guilty in the death of Freddie Gray how does that justify destroying public property or stealing a television?

This is why the Scriptures caution us, “You shall not follow the masses in doing evil, nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after a multitude in order to pervert justice,” Exodus 23:2. Because in a moment of emotion we can get swept up into something we may regret later. The false testimony of Dorian Johnson sparked a lot of confusion and destruction in Ferguson. It seems we are seeing the same thing in Baltimore.

The late Maya Angelou said, “Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.” Racism is very much like hate, it too “has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.” When will we ever learn to do as Jesus said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” Matthew 22:39?