Clayton Lockett’s botched execution leads to botched justifications for the death penalty

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ANDALUSIA, Alabama May 5, 2014 – Last week, the state of Oklahoma executed a murderer; things did not go exactly as planned. In case you missed it, here’s the short version: Clayton Lockett was convicted in 1999 for murder. He shot 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman with a sawed-off shotgun and watched as his friends buried her alive.

Lockett was to be executed by the state of Oklahoma, by means of lethal injection.

Recently, Oklahoma moved to a different cocktail of drugs for their lethal injection procedure, and something went terribly awry during Lockett’s execution.
What should have been a cut-and-dried procedure ended up being a grotesque and horrific execution that involved the prisoner writhing, clenching his teeth, breathing heavily, and trying to lift his head.

The entire ordeal took 46 minutes, during which officials halted the execution; Lockett eventually died of a heart attack right there on the gurney.

Gruesome stuff, to be sure – but the aftermath will prove far more grisly, if the current buzz on the internet is any indicator. Almost immediately, the web was awash in debate over the death penalty. The usual expected arguments from both sides have come out in full force, which has led to an interesting phenomenon.

It seems that a great faction of people who are pro-death penalty claim the Bible as their source for its justification. Oddly, many folks who are anti-death penalty do just the same.

This is fine. One can make a case for or against the death penalty, using scripture as a defense for their stance. We’ll all find out one day who was right. However, what one cannot do is find scripture to justify the fervor and apparent glee in the idea of killing someone in the name of justice.

A small sampling of the responses to one Facebook question regarding capital punishment include the following sentiments: kill them in public so we can all watch them fry, they should be killed and tortured in exactly the same way they killed and tortured their victims, let the victims’ families beat them to death with the weapons of their choice, no more appeals – take them out behind the courthouse right after the verdict and hang them! It goes on and on like that, and most of what was found is not fit to print. The point is that there is an intense and emotional response from the pro-death penalty side, and so many of them, after making claims like the ones listed above, go immediately into scripture mode.

“An eye for an eye!” they cry. “There’s a time to kill!” they shriek. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed!” they proclaim. The verse-grab goes on and on. What you don’t hear is too much about how Jesus was very clearly against the eye-for-an-eye bit, or much in the “vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord” vein. See – there are scriptural defenses for each camp here.

The point is, if you’re in the pro-death penalty camp, take a look at your reasoning. If you claim it’s based in the Bible, but you’re spewing hatred and vengeance, you may need to reevaluate. Those two ideals don’t dovetail. As with everything, there needs to be balance. We need to find the balance between what we know to be true about God and ourselves and our role in this world (to love God and love our neighbor), and our beliefs on this one, admittedly difficult and emotionally demanding issue.

Surely, no one will try to argue that Clayton Lockett didn’t deserve to die; he absolutely did. However, who among us doesn’t deserve the very same? God hates all sin. The ranking system where some sins are so egregiously heinous while others are seemingly benign is of our own making. So the question isn’t whether the man deserves death. The question is whether capital punishment is right or wrong.

Once you remove the raging emotional element from the argument, the justifications (on both sides) become more valid. What’s the answer? Depends on who you ask, but it doesn’t look like it’s an issue that will be settled among the faithful anytime soon.

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