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Summary: Consideration of the biblical teaching of societal responsibility to hold the murderer accountable.

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Genesis 9:1-7

But, is it Murder?

“God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.

“Whoever sheds the blood of man,

by man shall his blood be shed,

for God made man in his own image.

“And you, be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it.’”[1]

On January 22, 1973, the United States Supreme Court, with a 7 to 2 decision, discovered abortion of the unborn to be a constitutional “right” long hidden in the Constitution of the nation. Since that time, evangelical churches throughout North American have observed the third Sunday of January as “Sanctity of Life Sunday.”

It has been my practise for a number of years to address issues concerning the sanctity of human life on this third Sunday of the month of January. Though I am quite clear that abortion is murder—deliberate killing of the most vulnerable member of society—I am convinced that normalising abortion destroys the fabric of society, leading to disrespect for the weak and for the elderly. Thus, I have addressed the biblical view of euthanasia and suicide, both assisted and unassisted, during these sermons. I have not, to this point, addressed the view of the Word on capital punishment, taking the life of individuals condemned to death because of grievous crimes. The message today will address this contentious issue, as I look to the Word of God for understanding of the responsibility imposed on those who govern us. I seek also to lay a foundation for us as Christians to serve as salt and light in any debates surrounding this issue in days to come.

Angel Nieves Diaz was convicted of murdering Miami bar manager, Joseph Nagy. Twenty-seven years after that murder, Angel Nieves Diaz was executed by the State of Florida. His final statement was, “The state of Florida is killing an innocent person. The state of Florida is committing a crime, because I am innocent. The death penalty is not only a form of vengeance, but also a cowardly act by humans. I’m sorry for what is happening to me and my family who have been put through this.”

Mr. Diaz’s cousin, Maria Otero, expressed her outrage at his execution to reporters. “Who came down to earth and gave you the right to kill somebody?” she asked, referring to Governor Jeb Bush.[2]

Her question, and the sentiment expressed by Mr. Diaz demand an answer. Angel Diaz was denied a retrial on a variety of legal grounds, the appellate judges noting that the trial judge had commended him for his competence and skill in directing his own defence. Moreover, though he had rejected a court appointed lawyer, he did receive a thorough examination by both psychiatrists and psychologists who pronounced him competent to defend himself. Whatever view we hold at this time concerning the death penalty, there was no rush to judgement in executing Mr. Diaz.

The death of the butcher of Baghdad, Saddam Hussein, hanged under authority of the Iraqi government, has galvanised debate on the ethics of government-sanctioned execution. Hussein, convicted of the murder of 148 Shiite Muslims, was sentenced to death by hanging. His execution, captured in graphic detail via a covert cell-phone recording, has been repeatedly shown on the Internet. Government and religious leaders express their dissent to his death. Especially vocal are protests against capital punishment issued by the Vatican. These protests have a patina of religious legitimacy, but those protesting failed to provide scriptural justification for their opposition.

God requires a reckoning for the life of every human being. We rightly understand that murder is condemned in this statement. However, we struggle to define the parameters of the reckoning that must be given for life. For instance, is it ever right to take human life? What if we are defending another life—a member of our own family, for instance? Can we take a life in the defence of someone who is vulnerable? What if a mother’s life is threatened by the child she is carrying? Is a doctor permitted to kill the child in utero in order to spare the mother’s life? Can the state hold a murderer accountable by taking his life, or by taking her life? Time constraints prevent answering all of these questions, but I do hope to address the issue of capital punishment.

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