In a NY Times article today (October 28, 2007), the story is told of a church that has stood against the death penalty but now struggles with what to do in the wake of murders of three of its members, three of the Petit family. Click here to read it.
The question posed by this incident is worthy of consideration. But it is NOT worthy of being reduced to either a political issue or an ethical "case study." Not, at least, now.
I'm posting it here because the question is sometimes put to me in the classroom when I tell students I'm against the death penalty: "But how would YOU feel if . . . .?" followed by some scenario more or less parallel to the story in the article.
I sometimes characterize myself as a pacifist with violent tendencies. It's true. And if my family were killed the way Dr. Petit's family was, I'm sure I would want horrible things to happen to the killers. That's what I would feel.
But it's not what I WANT to feel, nor is it how I want to act. I would want my friends and family to help me hold to my convictions against revenge and against violence. Here I'm taking a page from Stanley Hauerwas, who says he frequently tells people he's non-violent so they'll hold him to it. That's what I need. Convictions like this can't stand in solitude. "It takes a village," someone once said. I prefer "it takes a church." I need a church to hold me up and hold me to my convictions.
But I'd also need compassion . . . true COM-passion, or people around me who would weep with me and feel my pain. That's what Dr. Petit needs from his church right now. I pray he's getting it.