After the horrifying attack outside a Tucson area grocery store, U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' condition continues to improve. God willing, she will make a miraculous full recovery from her devastating injury. Still, this much is clear in the wake of the tragedy: at least six people will not.
Evidence continues to be revealed about the frighteningly disturbed animal that committed this atrocity. And like all criminal defendants, he is to be guaranteed his due process rights. But when the trial has concluded and the inevitable verdict is rendered, there is but one punishment appropriate for this monster...death.
I don't say this out of spite. I don't know Jared Lee Loughner; I know only what he did. I don't say it out of vengeance. I don't know any of his victims; I know only that they were human beings made in the image of God. And that is the crucial element that is persistently being lost in our increasingly rancorous debate over the death penalty in America.
In the weeks and months to come, as the shock of this gruesome act begins to subside and as the state of Arizona pursues its expected case for the execution of Loughner, we will undoubtedly be subjected to the typical misdirection tactics of those who oppose capital punishment.
They will admonish us with their bumper sticker logic that asks, "Why should we kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong," and lecture that any society executing its criminals lowers itself to the same standard of those they are attempting to punish. Their logic suggests that since the two acts of murder and execution end with the same result - the death of a human being - they are morally equivalent.
Such reasoning is emotionally driven and tragically flawed. After all, while rape and marital sex both end with intercourse having occurred, we do not regard them as morally equivalent. While kidnapping and incarceration both end with someone being deprived of their freedom, we do not regard them as morally equivalent.
And while similar examples could be cited to overcome this sophistry, we need only recognize that often the very ones who articulate this erroneous rubbish simultaneously champion so-called "reproductive rights." In other words, while they seek to deprive society of being able to choose to execute the worst human rights offenders among us, they demand an individual be able to choose to murder an innocent human in the womb. Such moral incongruity should destroy the credibility of anyone who suffers from it.
We will also hear from the experts who tell us that the death penalty is not a deterrent for violent crime. They will cite their easily manipulated statistics to prove their case, not even realizing that ultimately it doesn't matter. First, the United States executes such a tiny portion of violent offenders, there is no way to accurately measure whether criminal executions deter others from committing similar acts. Secondly, whether they do or don't is a moot point.
Executions, properly understood, should never be viewed as a solution to crime. No punishment is a solution to crime, but rather a reaction to it. The question we must confront as a society then is not whether executing killers prevents more killers. Rather, is there any other punishment besides death that is appropriate for the heinous act of premeditated murder?
According to the Judeo-Christian ethic - the backbone of our civilization - there is not.
The ancient Noahic covenant that God made with humanity following the cataclysmic flood of Genesis is unlike other covenants throughout the Biblical text. According to Scripture, God insisted that this would be a covenant for "all generations" and that His rainbow would signal its "everlasting" nature. And while most of us remember God's end of the bargain whenever we see the rainbow, we tend to forget one of our obligations laid out in Genesis 9:5-6: "I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. Whoever sheds human blood, by human beings shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made humankind."
Because man is made in the image of God, he is set above all other living things. This is what shapes the Western cultural understanding of the sanctity of human life - we are valued not for what we do, but who we are...beings made in the likeness of our Creator. Because of that unique status, whoever destroys such a life necessarily forfeits their own.
The Christian teachings of the New Testament further confirm the consistency of this command. While death penalty opponents will often point to the Apostle Paul's counsel in Romans 12 to "not take revenge...but leave room for God's wrath," they fail to note what he writes in the succeeding chapter. Speaking of civil government, Paul warns, "For the one in authority is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God's servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer."
In other words, we are not to lash out personally against those who do us wrong. We are to leave vengeance up to God. And God carries out His wrath on earth through His agent, the civil government. Personal forgiveness does not run counter to this demand for civil justice. Even Christ on the cross gave the repentant thief paradise, but did not excuse him from the just punishment for his earthly deeds.
When Loughner's trial ends, the death penalty must persist as the silent witness to the sacredness of life made in the image of God. No lesser punishment is adequate.