Summary: This sermon examines briefly how Jesus would vote on crime and punishment, including capital punishment.
Each week Kevin Tunell was required to mail a dollar to a family he’d rather forget. They sued him for $1.5 million but settled for just $936, to be paid a dollar at a time. The family expected the payment each Friday so Tunell would not forget what happened on the first Friday of 1982.
That’s the day their daughter was killed. Tunell was convicted of manslaughter and drunken driving. He was 17. She was 18. Tunell served a court sentence. He also spent seven years campaigning against drunk driving, six years more than his sentence required.
But he kept forgetting to send the dollar.
The weekly restitution was to last until the year 2000. That was a period of 18 years from the day of the accident. Tunell made the check out to the victim, mailed it to her family, and then the money was deposited into a scholarship fund.
The family took him to court at least four times for failure to comply. After the fourth failure to pay, Tunell spent thirty days in jail. He insisted that he was not defying the order but rather was haunted by the girl’s death and tormented by the reminders.
He offered the family two boxes of checks covering the payments until the year 2001, one year longer than required. They refused. It’s not money they wanted, they said, but penance.
Quoting the mother, “We want to receive the check every week on time. He must understand we are going to pursue this until August of the year 2000. We will go back to court every month if we have to.”
Few would question the anger of the family. Only the naïve would think it fair to leave the guilty unpunished.
But one has to question whether the punishment fit the crime. Was the family finally at peace once they received 936 payments? Was that enough? Or was it too little? How much is enough? Were you in the family and were Tunell your target, how many payments would you require?
Two weeks ago I started a new series of messages titled, “How Would Jesus Vote?” It is my intention for about 8 weeks or so to examine some key issues that confront us today, and ask how Jesus would vote if he were here today.
Today, as we continue in our series on “How Would Jesus Vote?” I want to examine “Crime and Punishment.” What does the Bible have to say about crime and punishment? Let us look at a foundational text, Romans 13:1-7. I will not be doing an exposition of this text, but I will refer to it later in today’s message.
So, let’s read Romans 13:1-7:
"1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed." (Romans 13:1-7)
At the foot of the gallows, the condemned man recited Psalm 51 and added a word of personal repentance. A shroud was placed over his head, and he climbed the ladder, which the executioner then pulled away, leaving him to “dance upon nothing,” as the vernacular put it. Thousands looked on as the hangman did his gruesome work. What then was the condemned’s offense?
Poaching a rabbit.
This was one of over 200 capital offenses in early 19th century England. The list of capital offenses included “impersonating an Egyptian (i.e., posing as a gypsy),” forgery, “steal[ing] an heiress,” burning a hut or a pile of straw, cutting down an ornamental shrub, or appearing on a highway with a sooty face (the mark of a robber). Such offenses, most of which concerned the protection of property, could send even a 10-year-old to the gallows.
Public hangings were the “most popular mass spectacle in England,” sometimes drawing as many as 80,000 witnesses—one in ten Londoners. A sense of theater enveloped them, with Englishmen gaining renown for the way in which they met death. It was said that, unlike criminals on the continent, who “tended to beg and blubber or become reduced to bovine passivity when confronted by their executioners,” a British felon on the day of his death sought to be “dandy, trim, gay and uncaring.” As one Italian visitor observed, Englishmen faced execution “as if going to be married, with the calmest indifference in the world.” And the show went on frequently, as often as once a week, as in the years 1779-1788.