Christians who just don’t get it.

This is alarming:

Ruling that juries cannot turn to the Bible for advice during deliberations, a divided Colorado Supreme Court threw out the death penalty for a convicted murderer because jurors discussed Bible verses.


[Robert] Harlan was sentenced to death in 1995, but defense lawyers learned that five jurors had looked up such Bible verses as “eye for eye, tooth for tooth,” copied them and discussed them while deliberating behind closed doors.

Defense attorney Kathleen Lord, arguing before the state Supreme Court last month, said the jurors had gone outside the law. “They went to the Bible to find out God’s position on capital punishment,” she said.

I’m neither alarmed by the jurors’ behavior nor the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling. Rather, what’s alarming is that fully five Christian jurors believed that they’d find out “God’s position on capital punishment” by looking at the Old Testament.

Confidential to jurors: There’s this guy called Jesus. You may have read a book about him. He had some things to say about the Old Testament approach to justice. And, based on what Jesus said…not so much with the killing anymore. Check it out.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

5 replies on “Christians who just don’t get it.”

  1. It is in the Old Testament that many of the moral injunctions were handed down. In the New Testament, we have Jesus mocking the Pharisee who prays thanking God that he is so much holier than the tax collecters and all those other sinners.

    So, here comes along a Christian who wants to help spread the good word. Well, there is all this evil out there in the world, and they feel they should combat it (so far so good). So what part of the Bible tells us what is evil, why the Ten Commandmants and Leviticus (ten commandments, good, Leviticus, not so good, if you read the book of Acts).

    Suddenly, we have this Christian seeing all these prohibitions against certain activity in Leviticus and they think they have a moral obligation to tell everybody about these. Of course, all those food laws and so forth can be ignored, but sexual immorality, that’s a no-no. What’s the punishment in the Old Testament for most of these things? Death of course.

    So, this Ot reading Christian feels better about themselves because they are not like those sinners, and feels no compunction about suggesting the death penalty for those he feels are guilty.

    Of course, that’s the same trap that the Pharisees fell into.

  2. Right. It appears these particular jurors wanted to recommend the death penalty, and turned to the ZOT in an attempt to justify their inclination.

    The right-wing tactic of quoting the OT is a fun one. Not only are they wrong to do this because the OT was written in a vastly different historical, cultural and moral context than our own (hence, the update from Jesus, and the continuing revision of Jesus’ message by the modern churches). For an example, the story of Abraham and Isaac is less about Abraham’s faith than it is about how it’s bad to sacrifice people (as the neighbors of Jerusalem were doing at the time the story was written, and as the custom was spreading). It makes less sense to us today, hence the common reading as a test of faith story (and it has validity from that standpoint as well, but moreso than it did originally). But the real fun part about fundamentalists quoting Leviticus is that it is a slippery slope argument. If the OT can be used to condemn homosexuality, then it can also be used to show how incest and slavery are just fine. In fact, there’s an oft-quoted passage from the West Wing about this very thing.

    “I’m interested in selling my daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. She’s a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, and always cleared the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for her be?… Touching the skin of a dead pig makes us unclean, Leviticus 11:7. If they promise to wear gloves, can the Washington Redskins still play football?”

    The exchange takes place on a Dr. Laura type show and there’s more, but the point is clear. The passage also explicitly brings up the infamous Leviticus 18:22 verse (homosexuality is an abomination). The point is that as a society, we now consider many Biblical practices barbaric. Even the most religious of us, even in good ole Virginia, generally agree that slavery was wrong and it is a good thing we don’t have it anymore. So, if something that was permitted in the Bible, i.e. sleeping with your sister or owning another human being, is now wrong, doesn’t it make just as much sense to say that something that is prohibited in the OT (and the Jesus failed to ever bring up) can be permitted?

    Even further complicating the matter are translation issues. This is a biggie when it comes to the entire Biblical basis for anti-semitism (turns out “Jew” was sort of a broad term back then, so the mob that “killed” Jesus could have been just about anybody). This also applies to moral justifications from the OT. This is a bit hazy since I last heard it, but I recall that the word “abomination” and the description “lying with another man,” or whatever it was are vastly different than what they mean today. I wish I could elaborate, but it’s been too long.

    A long post. Didn’t expect to write all that. I guess those required theology courses at PC are good for something other than dragging down my GPA!

  3. This just proves that the Bible saves lives, even the lives of sinners and criminals! The presence of the Bible in that jury room was instrumental in sparing the life of that convict in Colorado.

Comments are closed.