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Jun 26, 2013
|Pastor Steve Hickey explained why the death penalty should be abolished in a recent sermon.|
Steve Hickey is a pastor, a Republican, a legislator and an occasional blogger. Since our entry into the South Dakota blogosphere, the good Rev. Rep. Hickey and I have disagreed on the death penalty.
But not anymore. He's changed his mind. Rep. Hickey now agrees with me that South Dakota should abolish the death penalty. He has decided the death penalty in modern America is neither Christian nor good policy. He plans to introduce a bill in the 2014 Legislature to abolish South Dakota's death penalty.
To fight my own sinful, prideful urge to gloat, I yield the floor to Reverend Hickey. He explained his switch in something he calls a "Hot Potato" sermon in his Sioux Falls church on June 23. The audio of this 48-minute sermon is available online; I offer my own selective summary, with minor commentary.
Hickey's firmly Christian case against killing prisoners is not all warm fuzzy love-thy-neighbor talk. He notes early in his sermon that we all deserve death. Those who disagree, Hickey tells his parishioners, "have an inadequate concept of your sinful nature." God could kill us all, for darn good reason, but He relents. (Yes, sometimes atheism is a more comfortable worldview.)
Jesus on the Cross, says Hickey, should have been the last execution. That one act of "substitutionary atonement" paid the price for all sins. Our continued executions thus do nothing additional to restore justice; they only punish. We can make a case for punishing killers, but Hickey says God is testing our ability to extend mercy to others.
Mid-sermon, Hickey shows his flock a chart of executions by country. The U.S. ranks fifth for killing convicts, behind China, Iran, North Korea, and Yemen. Hickey rattles of a list of Muslim countries below us and asks "What are we doing in league with those nations?" We should all pause before an argument that says we should change a policy to avoid acting like those bad Muslims. Fortunately, Hickey broadens the picture for folks who don't see themselves at war with Islam: "We are the only developed predominantly Christian democracy in the world that still retains the death penalty. Two-thirds of the countries of the world have abolished it."
Hickey says that majority of modern nations have abolished the death penalty because it doesn't do much. He dismantles five main reasons given for the death penalty:
- Retribution: yes, but the Gospel, says Hickey, invites us to the higher spirituality of mercy, not judgment.
- Deterrence: Nope. In the U.S., higher execution rates correlate with higher murder rates. Hickey says the death penalty would deter crime if it were "swift, painful, ugly, and public," but a nation that abides by Christian principles, due process, and the 8th Amendment can't go there.
- Safety: Hickey treads carefully here, acknowledging the murder of guard Ron Johnson at the South Dakota Penitentiary two years ago. But he notes that the Pen has implemented policies to reduce such danger from convicts. And besides, the prisoners who killed Johnson were not on death row.
- Closure: Death penalty proponents profess that killing killers does victims' families a favor, putting their suffering to an end, helping them move on. Hickey says that victims' families report no such emotional benefit. Their loved ones are still dead. The Reverend says we learn more from the stories of victims' families who forgive and even reach out to the killer.
- Economics: The main way to make the death penalty cheaper would be to shorten the appeals process. Again, Hickey says swift justice is poor justice. As long as we respect due process, especially in the case of irreversible punishment, it will always be cheaper to house criminals for the rest of their lives than to try to execute them.
Hickey ends with the modern church-in-a-nutshell question: "What would Jesus do?" Faced with a convicted killer, "Would He flip the switch, or would He switch places with the person?" (In case you missed it, Jesus already answered that question.)
Hickey still wants to punish killers. But he says the New Testament calls a restorative system, not retribution. "If we went for redemption, reformation and transformation, we'd be following the higher road to which the Bible calls us."
I'm still not putting my faith in the Bible on which Reverend Hickey bases his new position against the death penalty. But I'll be happy to walk that higher road with Representative Hickey as he makes his case to the Legislature to end South Dakota's death penalty.
P.S.: On Monday, South Dakota announced it will kill Ron Johnson's other murderer in the dead of winter, sometime between January 12 and 18, 2014. The Legislature opens its 2014 session the same week.
Editor's Note: Cory Heidelberger is our political columnist from the left. For a right-wing perspective on politics, please look for columns by Dr. Ken Blanchard every other Monday on this site.
Cory Allen Heidelberger writes the Madville Times political blog. He grew up on the shores of Lake Herman. He studied math and history at SDSU and information systems at DSU, and is currently teaching French at Spearfish High School. A longtime country dweller, Cory is enjoying "urban" living with his family in Spearfish.