When Death is the Sentence
written by Rev Gary Heard

The pictures of people clinking champagne glasses in response to the pronouncement of the death penalty for convicted Bali bomber Amrozi were a little confronting. While the attitudes of victims and relatives are understandable, it seems a little incongruous to see those who have suffered the death of a relative celebrating over the planned death of another. The vindictive attitudes expressed added to the sense of bewilderment I felt.

The Old Testament law “an eye for an eye” still echoes. That we ought to punish criminals for their acts is beyond question. For many years I have argued that there is a case for the death penalty in cases like this: where there are multiple deaths and no doubt about guilt. Coupled with Amrozi’s brazen display, one can justify the decision.

But let us stop and think for a moment about the world in which we live.

Is implementation of the death penalty only one more expression of the attitude of the murderer? To argue that it is justified under law appears to add strength to the moral argument that killing is sometimes justified. In the mind of a terrorist, this same thinking appears to drive them forward. It risks becoming an escalating contest of force. Is there not a different moral ethic?

In all the publicity, it appeared that the actions of Amrozi were still dictating to the victims and their families: every smile, every wave, plucking their emotional strings – as if he were playing them. Who was in control? His hope to be counted as a martyr shaped the responses of victims and relatives once more.

It was the words of one father that opened the doorway to a different understanding: his attitude was one of letting go; no longer concerned about Amrozi, he wanted to get on with life. It reminded me of the power of forgiveness: an act of letting go, of saying that the actions of another will not control my attitude. Leaving justice in the hands of another.

Jesus went one step further: “if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well...”. In suggesting that we not respond in kind, Jesus pointed us to a different attitude, albeit a very difficult one to embrace. Yet, in the end, we are set free from the demands of the enemy.

Imagine the different world we would create if force were not the ultimate determinant of who was right…

August 10, 2003
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