- The Washington Times - Monday, November 4, 2002

Excerpts from the McCarthy Lecture given recently by the Rev. Walter J. Burghardt of Woodstock Theological Center.
The Gospel of Luke 18 tells the parable of a judge who neither fears God nor a widow who has been treated unjustly. She confronts the judge with, "I want justice." She is so passionate that he gives in because, the original Greek says, "I am afraid this women will give me a black eye."
I will speak tonight about justice, children and capital punishment. Both the ethical and legal dimension of justice are important for human living but inadequate for Christian living. We must add biblical justice, fidelity to relationships that stem from our covenant with God in Christ. Love God above all else. Love others as yourself. Touch the earth with reverence as a gift from God.
In America, the younger you are the poorer you are. If you take our nation as a family with six children, only four are fed well and sleep in warm beds. Only five have regular checkups, while the sixth suffers chronic infections. While five are read to by parents at night, the sixth watches TV. The sixth goes to a crumbling school with few books. All would agree that such a family is dysfunctional.
Our nation is number one in defense expenditures, millionaires and health technology in the world, but 16th in efforts to lift children out of poverty, 18th in the gap between rich and poor children, and 22nd in infant mortality. The children have no lobby like guns or capital gains or tobacco. Imagine if each of 16 million poor children had a vote.
Preaching on poverty, I have often dreamed that families with means adopted one child, not legal adoption but a child personally known, whose needs are met. A whole parish could organize such a project. If a dream like this were to catch fire, it would transform the country. Such projects can grow like the Gospel's mustard seed.
Turn now to capital punishment. With the frightening escalation of violence in 1990s, there came a cry for the death penalty. The cry was convinced that only execution is appropriate for brutal crimes and that it would combat the trend in violence.
Research and reflection have brought me to the conviction that capital punishment cannot be justified in America today. We have heard from competent law enforcement officers "that the death penalty actually hinders the fight against crime." That it is a "mirage" that exacts a terrible price in dollars, in lives and in human decency.
Capital punishment can do irreversible injustice. Texas executes on average two people a month. The defense lawyers are often incompetent. Three slept during trial and others were drunk. At least four death-row inmates were released after journalists and lawyers investigated further.
Dissatisfaction with the death penalty is growing. In 2000 the governor of Illinois ordered a temporary halt, and a commission found that of 275 death-penalty cases, half the sentences were reversed. The death penalty puts America at odds with the world and tarnishes its image as a champion of civil rights. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said, "The system may well be allowing some innocent defendants to be executed."
Captial punishment violates the sanctity of life, and this touches on a dreadfully complex issue. If homicide is immoral, is not every war? If we argue that just war is for defense, can we say that killing as punishment is the best way to defend moral order of society? Pope John Paul II said such cases to defend society "are very rare if not practically nonexistent."
As far was we can tell from the way God has spoken to us, God does not approve of capital punishment. Our covenant in Christ demands something ethical and legal justice do not: "Love one another as I have loved you."
Next week: a sermon at a Virginia congregation


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