Cheering Death? When Politics Turns Ugly

I’m a liberal and I am a Christian.  I think that confuses some people on the left, and I know it confuses some people on the right, but I won’t get into that “why” discussion right now.  Because I am a Christian, sometimes I listen to Christian music and Christian radio.  Today, while listening to a Christian radio program I heard Chuck Colson speak about his reaction to Rick Perry and the ugliness and lack of compassion demonstrated by some Republicans during recent debates.

Chuck Colson, the former Nixon aide, convicted Watergate criminal, and for the past almost 40 years a prison ministry leader who professes a hard religious right doctrine, is not somebody I normally agree with, but today on his 3 minute daily radio commentary he called “Cheering Death – When politics Turn Ugly” I completely agree with him.

Here is a link to his broadcast, and below is the text of his statement.  I hope the “religious right” voting bloc starts seeing some of these candidates, like Rick Perry, for who they really seem to be, opportunist politicians, with an emphasis on the word politician.  I hope we can get to a point where we stop supporting politicians simply because they profess that they are Christian.

Cheering Death? When Politics Turns Ugly
By: Chuck Colson|Published: September 23, 2011 12:00 AM

I know firsthand that American politics is a rough and tumble game. But when it turns ugly, Christians have got to show a better way.

As a rule, I try to avoid commenting on politics and campaigns. But a recent political event left me deeply shaken precisely because of my beliefs about how faith and politics ought to come together.

The occasion was the Republican Presidential debate in California. Moderator Brian Williams noted that Texas had executed 234 people since Rick Perry became governor. He then asked the governor, “Have you struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any one of those might have been innocent?”

To which the governor instantly replied, “I’ve never struggled with that at all.” He cited what he called Texas’ “very clear process” and added that “if you come into our state and you kill one of our children” or “kill a police officer” or “one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas.”

Now, I have to admit that I was deeply troubled by the governor’s response. I recall the life-and-death decisions I participated in when I was in the White House. Some nights I would go home deeply concerned that I might be putting people in peril. I know that I lost sleep — it’s hard to imagine anybody not being troubled by having to make those kinds of decisions.

What’s more, my experience with the criminal justice system, which, like any human institution, is capable of grave errors, doesn’t instill in me a level of confidence anywhere approaching that of the governor’s.

Let me be clear: I think that there are times when capital punishment is necessary and justified. But the thought of taking another person’s life, however heinous their crimes, should give us pause. It’s never to be made lightly or causally.

And it certainly shouldn’t be the occasion for cheering as the crowd in California audience did twice. If the governor’s response troubled me, the crowd’s cheering chilled me.

I agree with Rod Dreher of the American Conservative when he called cheering for capital punishment ugly. He was absolutely right when he wrote that “justice may require execution, but we should never rejoice in taking the life of another human being.”

This whole episode left me wondering what kind of people we have become. The chill wasn’t helped when, at the next debate, the audience yelled “yeah!” when Representative Ron Paul was asked if a shortsighted 30-year-old without insurance should be allowed to die.

He danced around the answer to that question.

Politics is supposed to be about a search for the common good. It would be naïve to deny that power — both seeking after and exercising it — dominates modern politics. And I know from personal experience that American politics isn’t for the fainthearted: It can be and usually is a rough game.

But it’s not a blood sport. The answer to “how now shall we live” is not and cannot be “cheering the other guy’s demise.” I like to think that the people doing the cheering at the debates weren’t Christians. If they were, shame on them.

As you know, I favor a robust Christian presence in all aspects of public life. Part of the goal for that presence is to offer an alternative approach to modern politics and governance — one that that promotes justice, human dignity, and human flourishing.

What would politics without a Christian presence look like? Let’s just say ugly isn’t too strong a word.


2 thoughts on “Cheering Death? When Politics Turns Ugly”

  1. Politicians used to have a different view of life and its citizens.

    Take for example, Abraham Lincoln who on August 24, 1855, ended a letter to his close friend Joshua Speed with these words:

    “I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty – to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”

    As we know, Abraham Lincoln was elected President but he too would be challenged by the question of the death penalty … with Minnesota being the site of the execution.

    The deed on my property dates back to President Lincoln … Blue Earth County records now say it’s mine but at one time it was Indian land.

    After the “Sioux Uprising” of August 1862, 303 Sioux prisoners were convicted of murder and rape by military tribunals and sentenced to death. Some trials lasted less than 5 minutes, and the proceedings neither were explained to the defendants, nor were the Sioux represented in court. President Lincoln was presented with 303 death warrants, but at the urging of Bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple, President Lincoln personally reviewed the trial records. President Lincoln attempted to distinguish between those who had engaged in warfare against the United States versus those who had committed the crimes of rape and murder against civilians. President Lincoln did this during the height of the Civil War.
    Of the 3003, President Lincoln only affirmed 39 men for execution (one was later reprieved). Lincoln was strongly chastised for this action in Minnesota and throughout his administration because many felt that all 303 Native Americans should have been executed.

    Reaction in Minnesota was so strong concerning President Lincoln’s leniency toward the Native Americans that Republicans lost their political strength in the state in 1864.

    President Lincoln’s response was: “I could not afford to hang men for votes.”

    On December 26, 1862, the largest mass execution in U.S. history occurred in Mankato following the Dakota War of 1862. Thirty-eight Dakota Native Americans were hanged for participation in the uprising … sad to say, but since Native American names were common, one man was hung that was not the person that was convicted … he just shared the same name.

    Abraham Lincoln was a GREAT AMERICAN PRESIDENT … Candidate Perry’s response implies that he would “hang men for votes.”
    Candidate Perry does not deserve consideration for that responsibility.

  2. Oh, and another thought outside of the flippant attitude displayed by Rick Perry, consider the cost.

    It is estimated that this year, Texas’ 310 death row prisoners will cost the state about $15.5 million.
    The legal cost to Texas of a death penalty case from indictment through execution is about $3 million. (source :
    Keeping someone on death row is more expensive than supporting an average prisoner—between $40,000 and $60,000, as opposed to $25,000 for most other inmates. That’s because they are in a single cell, meals are brought to them, and they are watched 24 hours. Under Rick Perry’s watch alone, Texas spent $700 million on capital punishment.
    I suppose it’s a good thing that Texas is doing so well during this recession as many other states would be looking at cutting costs … but presenting an image of “tough on crime” can result in votes (as well as cheers from the debate audience.)

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