James L. Evans|
Who would Jesus stone?
A tragedy of biblical proportions occurred in Iran this past week, according to an Associated Press report. A man convicted of adultery was stoned to death in a village in the northern part of the country.
Being stoned to death is a particularly cruel and barbaric way to kill a human being. Executioners bury the victim up to his waist then hurl stones at his head and torso until he is dead. The practice is prohibited by international law, and has been condemned by every human right's group in the world.
Of course, it has been around for centuries. Stoning took place among the Greeks, the Hebrews and later Muslims. Ironically, the Quran does not prescribe stoning as a means of execution. The practice found its way into Islamic law and when it is carried out, as it was in Iran recently, it is the law that governs the process.
There are other offenses which carry the death penalty in Iran. They include murder, rape, armed robbery, apostasy, blasphemy, drug trafficking, prostitution, treason and espionage.
Interestingly enough, the holy book of Jews and Christians does prescribe stoning for a number of offenses. Some of these include worship of other gods, child sacrifice, preaching in the name of another god, spirit-divination, blasphemy, not observing the Sabbath, using an ox to kill someone, adultery and insubordinate behavior of a child.
And while we happily no longer practice stoning here in the West, there are those Bible believers who think we should. Just last week at the Ridgecrest Conference Center, a North Carolina retreat owned and operated by Southern Baptists, a group calling itself American Vision hosted an event called "Preparing the Generation to Capture the Future."
The basic theme of the conference was the need for conservative Christians to re-claim America. Speaker after speaker asserted their belief that America was founded as a Christian nation but was now giving way to secular humanism. Unless true believers step up and re-claim our land for Christ, attendees were told, all will be lost.
Among the featured speakers was Gary North, a Christian Reconstructionist who believes that only right thinking Christians should hold elected offices. In many books and pamphlets, North has laid out his vision of an America governed by Old Testament precepts, and that includes the practice of stoning. In fact, North has written that stoning is the preferred method of execution because it is a communal activity and the resources for accomplishing it are readily available.
So why don't we stone people anymore? Well, the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits "cruel and unusual punishments." Stoning would seem to fall into that category.
However, it's still in the Bible, and many believers insist it should be read and interpreted literally. So what do we do about that?
Fortunately, Jesus took care of the matter for us. One dark night a woman caught in the act of adultery was brought to Jesus to be stoned. "It's the law," the crowed reminded Jesus. He scratched around in the dirt for a few moments then said to the crowd, "Let those without sin cast the first stone." The woman walked away alive.
It's hard to know whether Jesus was simply exposing hyper self-righteousness, or undermining stoning itself, but it certainly set a powerful precedent. Only those who are without sin are able to execute others. That certainly narrows the field of potential executioners, somewhat.
James L. Evans, a syndicated columnist, also serves as pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.