I rendered my class speechless. My professor, too.
I had to do a presentation for my Contemporary Ethics class on capital punishment. And it had to be from our textbook, Options in Contemporary Christian Ethics by Norman Geisler.
This is not a good book. It is full of straw man arguments that the author then authoritatively knocks down. Eureka! It is poorly written and shows an appalling lack of citations. The author can just state something as fact ... no citation, no source.
But ya gotta do what you gotta do. So I covered the chapter, narrowing down each philosophy about capital punishment (according to Geisler) and delivering his conclusion.
And then I said, "I'm not done." I explained that the author left out one argument, and that for me, it's the deal breaker. "But what if someone innocent is given the death penalty?"
First I used the author's own words about mercy -- "the supremacy of mercy over justice in unavoidable moral conflicts.”
Then I had a slide with information from the Innocence Project --
- There have been 213 post-conviction DNA exonerations in United States history.
- About 70 percent of those exonerated by DNA testing are members of minority groups.
- Sixteen people had been sentenced to death before DNA proved their innocence and led to their release.
(I explained that this was just DNA exonerations. According to The Death Penalty Information Center, since 1973, there have been 127 death row inmates who have been exonerated.)
I go to a conservative Christian seminary. Everything must be justified by scripture. Okay.
"In the 18th book of Genesis, God tells Abraham that he is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham says, but what if there are 50 righteous people there? And God says, if there are 50 righteous people, for their sake, I will not destroy it. And Abraham asks … what if there are 45? 40? 30? 20? And God keeps saying, for their sake, I will not destroy it."
Then he said, "May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?My last slide:
He answered, "For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it." Gen 18:32
- The system is broken
- Death is irrevocable
- If God would grant mercy for all of Sodom and Gomorrah for 10 innocent people … Shouldn’t we?
Photographs courtesy InnocenceProject.org. All persons pictured were sentenced to death before being exonerated by DNA testing.
The professor finally laughed. "I've never seen you all speechless. Does anyone have any questions?"
A classmate said there was nothing to say. That it was powerful, and there was no argument for it.
And then ... the thing we always dream of hearing ...
"I've never thought of it that way."
It was a very good night.