Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

October 29, 2013

Lion and the Lamb: Do we want an eye for an eye?

By William W. McDermet III
Chronicle contributor

CROSSVILLE — The front page story of The Tennessean on October 25 read: “Death penalty back on track.” This heading was bordered by skulls and cross bones.

At issue is the method by which Tennesseans kill humans, without pain. If Tennessee can find new “legal killer drugs,” it can begin killing 79 convicted murderers, some of whom have been on death row, enjoying prison life, for over three decades. If these drugs cannot be found, countries which in the past have developed these drugs now refuse to provide them to the United States over moral concerns about their use in executions.

In 1962, I wrote a Resolution for the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) meeting in Los Angeles, which was passed, concerning The Abolition of Capital Punishment:

“The Christian gospel is a redemptive gospel and lifts up the ideal of forgiveness. Punishment, when meted out with justice, should provide a means of discipline, reform and rehabilitation. The possibility for rehabilitation is eliminated by the death penalty. There is evidence that the death penalty is unequally applied, falling mainly on the poor, friendless, mentally unstable, ignorant, and minority groups. There is always the possibility (as has been proven) of executing the innocent. Capital punishment is not a deterrent for capital crimes.” 

In 1962, I wrote from theory, not practice. In 1994, I experienced this issue from a very different viewpoint. In that year, my younger brother, Jim, was murdered in Topeka, KS. The Shawnee County District Attorney said it was “one of the most brutal murders ever in this county.” At the trial, the county coroner testified that Jim received 63 blows with iron tools, and that he was “still alive” when he received those blows.

Jim grew up in a loving family. He was happy, yet reserved. He lost the sight in one eye early in life, yet read everything. Jim was the person you wanted on your side when you played Trivial Pursuit. After his college days, Jim moved to Topeka where, for 15 years, he served as the Messenger for the Governor. At the time of his death, he lived alone, kept mainly to himself, continued reading, ate too many pizzas, enjoyed sports, collected stamps and bothered no one. The New Testament would call him “meek,” one of God’s special creatures.

During and after the trial, my brothers and I, and our parents, strongly said we were against the death penalty, and I still am.

So, do we continue to adhere to the old statement: “We kill people who kill people, to prove that killing people is wrong”? 

If we who live in Tennessee still want to execute people, our legislature can approve of electrocution, the gas chamber, firing squad, or hanging. However, is this what we want? 

I feel the pain of family and friends who have lost a loved one by murder. Yet even as I weep every year on the day of Jim’s birth, I try to live above my feeling, and leave the rest to a forgiving and loving God. 

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This column is sponsored by Cumberland Countians for Peace and Justice and dedicated by the local writers to the theme that the lion and the lamb can and must learn to live together and grow in their relationship toward one another to ensure a better world. Opinions expressed in “Lion and the Lamb” columns are not necessarily those of the Crossville Chronicle publisher, editor or staff. For more information, contact Ted Braun, editor, at 277-5135.