The Moussaoui Verdict

I'll admit that I really haven't paid that much attention to the Zacarias Moussaoui case. Moussaoui plead guilty to six counts of conspiracy in the September 11th terrorist attacks. At the time of the attacks, Moussaoui was actually jailed on immigration charges, but he was reported to immigration officials about a month before the hijackings after he walked into a flight training school asking how to fly a 747. I didn't pay that much attention to the case because it should've been a slam dunk death penalty verdict; incarceration was the only thing that kept Moussaoui from participating in the attacks.

So I was somewhat shocked to hear that he received life in prison instead of death. I'll admit that I don't know all the details of the case, but I can't conceive how this guy escaped lethal injection.

I've read many an article this morning lauding the jury for showing good judgment and exacting fair punishment, but how does that compare to the 2,000 lives lost on 9/11? Perhaps it's true that Moussaoui wanted the death penalty to become a martyr, but does that mean that you keep him alive merely to thwart those desires? If that's the case, what happens when we catch Osama Bin Laden? Wouldn't he be an even greater figure of martyrdom? The judge, during sentencing, declared that life in prison confirmed that Moussaoui would "die with a whimper." That statement confused me. So if the goal is that he should indeed die, is prolonging it our way of claiming some sort of moral victory? I just don't get it.

But allow me to use this event to explain something about theology. Some might be uncomfortable with me, a Christian pastor, advocating the death penalty. There are some who criticize Christians that claim to be "pro-life" in issues like abortion and euthanasia but are "pro-death" when it comes to government execution. That's might be good slogan-ship, but it doesn't properly explainthe issues at hand. Here's how I develop a Christian ethic for the support of the death penalty.

It all starts with God. What makes human life so sacred is that we were created "imago dei" [Latin for, "in the image of God"]. Scholars have argued about the exact meaning of this phrase for centuries [does God have a belly button?] but it all points back to the fact the we have been created to be eternal beings; our souls, though having a start, will live on forever. That's why killing a person is different than killing a critter. Even though members of PETA might disagree, animals are different than people. And the way I understand Scripture, and I apologize for this but, there will be no dogs in heaven. Only we humans are made like God and are given the opportunity to spend eternity with Him.

God was specific in Genesis 9 about the penalty to be doled out to those who harm one created in the image of God. Mind you, that this was part of the Noadic covenant, given to Noah and all humankind after getting off the ark:

"Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man will his blood be shed. For, in the image of God, has God made man"

God had just wiped out all of mankind, save Noah and his family, and wanted to make sure that people understood how his world worked: it was God's decision on who should live and die. When humans decide to play God and terminate another life, they are in violation of his covenant with mankind. The punishment for the offender is death. And God has bestowed on other humans [society] to enact that judgment.

So abortion is really us [usually individuals] playing God. Euthanasia is us [usually individuals] playing God. But the death penalty is us [society/government/all of the people] acting under God's authority as instruments of his justice.

This is a somewhat short explanation, but I had to get this out there. So it's not that I am wishing for Moussaoui's death, but God's justice allows for it. I pray for his soul, but that should not influence the verdict due him.

I feel obligated to add one more thought to this discussion: we Christians must beware how vehemently we plead for, and how cavalierly we dismiss, the deaths of murderers. I've witnessed many [American] followers of Jesus advocate a "kill 'em all" philosophy when it comes to other countries that are in opposition to ours. It always makes me feel a tad icky. When I, a Christian, delight in the death of people, am I really respecting the image of God?

Stuff to chew on.