Thursday, January 04, 2007

Differing Perspectives on the Death of Saddam

A January 2nd Baptist Press article, Debate over Hussein execution extends beyond Iraq, into capital punishment, while adequately treating the execution of Saddam Hussein, offered several different perspectives that showed a very interesting progression of thought throughout the article, culminating in a dogmatic assertion by a Southern Baptist ethics professor. I find it shameworthy that all the other faith traditions consulted in this journalistic enterprise displayed a modicum of grace and mercy toward the doomed dictator; with the notable exception of Southern Baptists. A few excerpts, beginning with a Catholic statement:
Cardinal Renato Martino, Pope Benedict XVI's lead clergyman on justice-related issues, said Hussein's execution punished a “crime with another crime.”

“The death penalty is not a natural death. And no one can give death, not even the state,” Martino said.

The Vatican's press office also issued a more lengthy statement, condemning the execution as “tragic.”
A second excerpt, from the Anglicans, represented by the Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury:
He told BBC radio that Hussein deserved punishment, but not the death penalty. “I think he deserves punishment and sharp and unequivocal punishment.... But I would say of him what I have to say about anyone who has committed even the most appalling crimes in this country, that I believe the death penalty effectively says there is no room for change and repentance,” Williams said.
And now for the Southern Baptist take on the issue:
But a Southern Baptist ethicist told Baptist Press that the Iraqi people had the right to execute Hussein with a process governed by the rule of law. “Romans 13, where the Apostle Paul wrote that God has instituted human government to restrain evil, allows for capital punishment. And Paul was writing this about a government hostile to Christianity,” said Craig Mitchell, professor of Christian ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

“God has given the state the authority and power to carry out punishment,” Mitchell said. “He has given them the sword. You don't spread butter with the sword. The sword is used to kill. This execution was something that was long overdue. Saddam Hussein did deserve a trial. The rule of law did have to be carried out. And while we shouldn't rejoice that a man is dead, we should rejoice that justice was served for the Iraqi people who suffered under Saddam Hussein's boot for nearly three decades.”
And finally, a quote from Dr. Richard Land:
“Simple justice demanded Saddam Hussein be found guilty by his countrymen and executed in the manner that befits such a war criminal, by hanging rather than a firing squad,” Land said. “The justice that demanded his execution, however, was cheapened by the less-than-dignified manner in which the execution was carried out.”
The Southern Baptist response really troubles me, especially Dr. Mitchell's intellectual arrogance. Every work I have read about Romans 13, commentary and otherwise, carries with it some weight of intellectual honesty, that the sword could also be deemed a deterrent as well as a killing weapon but Dr. Mitchell has dogmatically and unequivocally declared that the sword is an executioner's weapon. I mean, you don't spread butter with that thing.

Dr. Land's blood lust also carries with it a very troubling sentiment; that Hussein rightly died by the hangman's noose instead of the more quick, painless, less violent method of death by firing squad. I am not saying that Hussein did not deserve to die but I am saying that this should give us a few moment's pause before jumping to so many conclusions.
Land noted that “despots around the world who are so dismissive of other human beings lives will now have to now take into account the fact that there is the very real possibility that they will be held accountable for their crimes against humanity and also will be dealt with justly and swiftly.”
Yes, Dr. Land, but not everyone shares your opinion. This from Robert Fisk of the London Independent, via Covenant News:
At first, those who suffered from Saddam's cruelty will welcome his execution. Hundreds wanted to pull the hangman's lever. So will many other Kurds and Shia outside Iraq welcome his end. But they - and millions of other Muslims - will remember how he was informed of his death sentence at the dawn of the Eid al-Adha feast, which recalls the would-be sacrifice by Abraham, of his son, a commemoration which even the ghastly Saddam cynically used to celebrate by releasing prisoners from his jails. "Handed over to the Iraqi authorities," he may have been before his death. But his execution will go down - correctly - as an American affair and time will add its false but lasting gloss to all this - that the West destroyed an Arab leader who no longer obeyed his orders from Washington, that, for all his wrongdoing (and this will be the terrible get-out for Arab historians, this shaving away of his crimes) Saddam died a "martyr" to the will of the new "Crusaders".
Tragically, this reveals much of who we are. I am no ecumenist, but Samuel Kobia of the world council of churches adequately summed up how we ought to feel.
"We pray that those who hold power in Iraq now and in the future will create a new heritage of government for its people," said the Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia. "May Iraq’s leaders pursue reconciliation and mutual respect among all its communities."

"While holding a leader responsible for his crimes is significant," Kobia said, "each taking of a person’s life is a part of a larger tragedy and nowhere is this more apparent than in a land of daily killings."


Steve Sensenig said...

Sobering post. Thank you for articulating some things that I couldn't put my finger on. I, too, am appalled by the responses you quoted in favor of the death penalty in this situation. And especially to defend the very method used?! Ouch.

I was unaware that anyone ever believed Romans 13 to be referring to execution. I (naively?) always read that as a deterrent.

Thanks for speaking on this, Tony. I'm completely with you on this one.

Tony said...


I have been rethinking my stand on the death penalty. Romans 13:4 is always the "go to" passage in favor of it; esp in SB thought.

I am persuaded that the sword is meant more as a deterrent. This is the only place it is even vaguely adressed in the NT and the issue is even more sticky when you consider the only victim of capital punishment in the NT was Jesus Himself, albeit condemned innocently.

I have NEVER heard that adequately addressed by SB thinkers and the implication it has on the SB stand on capital punishment.

In no other issue is the OT haphazardly dipped into than on this one.

Stu said...

Thanks for the insight into people's thinking and rationale on cpital punishment.

It's worth reading "How Saddam Killed the Death Penalty..."

Tony said...


Thanks for the comment. I will check out the post you reference.

Unfortunately the ghost of Saddam will impact history far more greatly than he ever has.

Earl said...

Good post. Saddam's death was troubling in how it was carried out.

Tony said...


I agree.

The apparent joy and glee many Christians have displayed over the dictator's death is mind-boggling. I think he was a dictator created by America; then, destroyed by America.