October 4, 2016: A life or death decision

Posted on : Oct 4th, 2016 | By | Category: Still Speaking

On Election Day, Tues. Nov 8, we have a life or death decision to make. No, it’s not about the Presidency, though with all the banter about first-strike use of nuclear weapons, that may be a close second. It is literally about life and death: whether Californians should end the use of the death penalty. There are two ballot propositions before us that deal directly with the death penalty. Prop 62 would repeal the Death Penalty as the maximum punishment for persons found guilty of murder and replace it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.  This proposition applies retroactively to persons already sentenced to death.  Persons found guilty of murder would be required to work while in prison and up to 60% of their wages could be garnished for victim restitution fines.

The “must work” while in prison clause would end the practice of housing inmates condemned to death in solitary confinement, which we now know literally drives people insane.

This proposition came into being because a number of groups coming from very different perspectives came to the same conclusion: the death penalty is not worth it. Time and again, it has been proven that the death penalty is not a deterrent to crime. Throughout the world, the United States is the only “developed” country that allows the death penalty. And just to show you that we do in fact have some things in common with our enemies, the United States is in rare agreement with China, Iran, North Korea, and Yemen, all of whom allow legal executions of their own citizens. As they say, “strange bed fellows.”

Both the California and United States Supreme Courts have wrestled at length with whether various methods of execution are humane. The courts have found the following forms of execution to be inhumane: hanging, beheading with the use of a guillotine, firing squads, the gas chamber, the electric chair and some forms of intravenous lethal pharmaceuticals. Reality check: the execution of another human being is not humane.

With the assistance of DNA testing, we also know that many people are wrongly incarcerated and some even executed. The Innocence Project, which has provided legal counsel to many wrongly condemned individuals, some of whom have been sentenced to death, has long asked for a simple DNA test of every person sentenced to death. No state will spend the money for such testing. But what is the cost of a human life, especially the life of a person who is wrongfully executed?

Jesus was wrongfully executed. He was condemned on false evidence. Even Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea, knew that. He tried to “wash his hands” of his involvement in Jesus’ death, but in fact, he couldn’t.

This election day we have two death penalty propositions on our ballot. Prop 62 would repeal the death penalty in the State of California. Prop 66 would speed up death penalty executions by reducing administrative and appeal delays. Prop 66, known as the “kill ‘em quick” alternative, states that any other voter-approved measures related to the death penalty are null and void if this measure receives more affirmative votes. Not voting for or against these propositions is literally a dangerous proposition.

This week’s devotional is about a guy with a really unique name. The phonetic pronunciation is: Oh – neh – SIF – uh – ruhs.   If you want to hear how it’s pronounced, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDJwZoZ0Mtw

Onesiphorus is known because he and his family dared to visit the Apostle Paul while Paul was imprisoned.   The charges that resulted in the Apostle Paul’s incarceration were quite grave but Onesiphorus was not afraid. He knew that Paul was framed and imprisoned unjustly. Though not stated in the Bible, the Apostle Paul was most likely executed – beheaded by the Romans. Do you see a recurring theme here?

Kenneth Samuel, in today’s God Is Still Speaking Devotional, brings this ancient story into the present.






Care for the Incarcerated
Kenneth L. Samuel

“May God bless Onesiphorus and all his family, because he visited me and encouraged me often.  His visits revived me like a breath of fresh air, and he was never ashamed of my being in jail.” – 2 Timothy 1:16

As many people know, the stigma and alienation of incarceration remains even after the prison sentence has been served.  That’s a particular concern for the U.S., which is only 5% of the world population, but harbors 25% of the world’s prisoners.

It’s even more of a concern for African Americans, who are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of white Americans.  According to recent studies on Disparities in Drug Sentencing, 5 times as many whites are using drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of whites.

There are a variety of factors that contribute to a person’s likelihood of being incarcerated.  Race, class and zip code are high among them.

Everyone behind bars isn’t a degenerate.  Some have made horrific choices; others have succumbed to horrific circumstances.

The charges that resulted in the Apostle Paul’s incarceration were quite grave: Jewish apostate; Roman defector.  Yet, Onesiphorus dares to eagerly search until he finds Paul at the place of Paul’s last imprisonment in Rome.  Then, while so many other ‘Good Christians’ were abandoning Paul, Onesiphorus laid his personal reputation and the well-being of his family on the line by constantly visiting Paul in jail with food and words of encouragement.

Onesiphorus could hardly have known that his visits to Paul in that dark, damp jail cell were actually helping to inspire the premiere theologian of the Christian Church.

But no one really knows just how much possibility and potential are locked behind prison bars.

God, help us to look for you and to find you, even in the places of imprisonment. Amen.

Kenneth L. Samuel is Pastor of Victory for the World Church, Stone Mountain, Georgia.

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