OPEN LETTER TO:
Reverend Albert Mohler President, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Dear Reverend Mohler,
You may recall that we met - well, I guess we didn't actually meet, so perhaps I'd be more correct in saying we appeared together - on Larry King Live this past June 22nd. At the time you said some things that have given me pause to reflect.
The reason for our being on the show was the execution of a young man by the name of Gary Graham (he preferred his chosen African name of Shaka Sankofa, but since that name was never used on the show I suspect it may not mean much to you). His life was "forfeit," as you put it, while we sat there talking about him.
I, impertinently I now understand, objected to the execution at the time. However, the power of your oratorical skills and your faith-based confidence set me into a quandary from which I have not yet fully recovered. As you doubtless noticed, your ability to speak for God and your fundamental grasp of the Bible left me somewhat tongue-tied.
As you said that evening in defense of the execution, "(t)he Bible makes very clear that God mandated capital punishment as a way of underlining and affirming the value of human life. In the book of Genesis, it is said God said, 'When a man sheds another man's blood, by a man his blood shall be shed, for God made man in his own image.'"
Well, see, I checked, and it's all there just as you said. God not only supports capital punishment, He requires it. You probably know this, but He says it again, in Leviticus 24, 17-18, "Anyone who strikes down any other human being will be put to death" So, Reverend, let me say it: I was a fool to doubt you. And, too, in that Leviticus one God adds, "and anyone who strikes down an animal, the same," which made me glad I'm a vegetarian. You too, huh?
Anyway, as you can imagine, I am humbled by this newfound knowledge and deeply grateful to you for exposing me to it. In retrospect, I'm embarrassed to recall my pitiful attempts to debate you. When I said, for example, that Jesus had repudiated the rationale for capital punishment in Matthew 5 by saying, "You have heard that it was said, 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,' but now I tell you, do not take revenge on someone who does you wrong," your immediate and learned riposte was "(w)ell, let me say also that the death penalty is clearly supported in the New Testament, which is a testimony to the gospel of Jesus, where the apostle Paul said that the government holds the sword to avenge evil and does so justly." So now, already humiliated by my ignorance, I am further embarrassed to confess that I had the poor taste to consider challenging your rejoinder by asking if since you countered the words of Christ with the words of Paul I should consider you a Paulist rather than a Christian. I shudder to think what your answer might have been to such effrontery.
But thanks to you I have seen the light and have endeavored to live by your example since that Damascene night. But I pray you will understand that as one new to Biblical literalism I periodically find myself somewhat confused in my studies and dearly hope that your unerring grasp of Scripture can once again enlighten me.
For example, what am I to make of Deuteronomy 17, verses 4 - 7: "If any man or woman violates the covenant, you must take this man or woman outside the city gates and there you must stone the man or woman to death. The witnesses' hands must strike the first blow in putting the condemned to death, the rest of the people following."
Now, I'm frankly a little queasy at the idea of stoning anyone, even covenant-violators, but I'm willing to learn. The thing is, what exactly is this 'covenant' and how do we know when it's being violated? Since this is from what we call the Old Testament, don't I have to assume the covenant here is between God and the people of Israel? This gets tricky, I think, because clearly Christians, as followers of Jesus, a Jew, but also God, must see themselves as the inheritors of the covenant and thus not violators of it. Mustn't they? But if that's true, doesn't that make Jews who don't follow Jesus violators? Either way, it sounds to me like there's a whole lot of stoning that's way overdue and I'd like to get started. Then there's the problem of finding the city gates. But I digress.
I have a son. He's a bit rambunctious at times, and certainly stubborn. I'm not sure I think it would be fair to call him rebellious, but I don't want to "spare the rod," you know? Deuteronomy. 21, 18-21, says, "If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not listen to the voice either of his father or of his mother and, even when they punish him, still will not pay attention to them, his father and mother must take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of the city. All his fellow citizens must then stone the boy to death." Now that's sort of tough, I have to admit, even for a newly dedicated believer. I mean there have been times, sure, when he wouldn't listen. Sometimes, when he got hard-headed, he wouldn't listen even after we punished him. But, being ignorant of the rules, we gave him another chance and he matured a bit and now he's a pretty good boy, if I do say so myself. But I guess that's self-serving, huh? 'Cause, see, the truth is I'd really rather not take hold of him and turn him over to the elders for the citizens to stone to death. You know, he's my son. And, I don't even know where the damn gates are!
Sorry! I didn't mean to use that word. I'm just a bit scared. Because now that I've learned the Way I find that there are some pretty tricky obstacles in the path of one who wants to be a good Bible-believer. See, a lot of people would say, 'Forget it. Your son was young, you didn't know the rules. It's in the past. You don't have to kill him now.' But it says in Deuteronomy 17, 12, "If anyone presumes to disobey the priests, that person must die." And, again, I guess that must have meant Jewish priests and all, but if this covenant has been passed I guess I have to think of you as one of them now, don't I? And if that's so and you say the Word is the Word, I sure don't want to disobey you, do I? No sirree!
Listen, off the subject just for a minute? I know you live in another part of the country and all, but now that I'm trying to learn the Way I'm hoping that I can open a Bible believer's bank account or whatever you have down there. I'll need you to help me figure that one out. I ask because, as you know, in Deuteronomy 23, 20-21, it says "You are forbidden to charge interest whenever you loan money – unless the borrower is a foreigner." Sounds like a good deal to me and even though I know California is thought of as a bit weird, I don't think I should be considered a foreigner - at least any more - do you?
And you know, this Bible study business has really helped clear up a couple of other things for me. Leviticus 20, 10? "A man who commits adultery, and the woman he sleeps with, will be put to death"? Now I know why we don't see Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart around any more.
But back to my point. I live in Hollywood, Reverend Mohler, and I work, God forgive me, in show business. Deuteronomy 22, 22, says "If a man is caught having sexual intercourse with another man's wife, both must be put to death - the man who has slept with her and the woman herself." Now I'm not one who goes along with all those who think of Hollywood as Sodom and Gomorrah (of course I'm open on that), but I kind of have a sense some of that happens out here. Is 'caught' the operative word? Should I assume that it's our job to sniff out and smite adulterers? If so, I guess "The National Enquirer" has to be seen as part of the Lord's Army, which may explain their popularity with the faithful. See, I'm learning! Now note I was careful to say "smite" because God didn't specify the how of the putting to death in this case. Can I ask how you managed that with Jim and Jimmy?
Anyway, I guess that about covers it for now, Reverend. This death thing, that is. I just kind of need your guidance on what my responsibilities are. I mean I could tell that you had pretty much taken on the job of reassuring people that it was okay to kill Shaka er Gary Graham, so that they wouldn't be confused by the misguided ramblings of (former) infidels like myself, or doubts about his guilt or stuff like that. But now, from my reading, I see that ours is a bigger task than that.
It's certainly not limited to executing people - though I must say it seems to involve that a lot. Deuteronomy 22, 23-24, says "If a virgin is engaged to a man and another man encounters her in the town and has sexual intercourse with her, you will take them both to the gate of the town in question and stone them to death: the girl, for not having called for help in the town, and the man, for having exploited his fellow-citizen's wife." That one takes some real pondering, you know? First of all, I had no idea that 'encountering' someone could lead to sexual intercourse in the first place, so you can rest assured I've put an end to that in my life. And as for her "not having called for help in the town," for goodness sake, what's the matter with her? What is she, embarrassed, ashamed, mute? I say, if you don't have enough self-respect to call for help in the town it's the gate and the stones for you, baby.
Sorry, I don't mean to be flippant, but this reading has given me a whole new way to look at things. And I have you to thank for it. Speaking of which, and I'll just keep this between us as it's not what you might call P.C. (smile), but Leviticus 25, 44-45: "You may freely purchase male and female slaves – and the slaves become your property, and you may leave them as a legacy to your sons" sure does put another face on some of the things those Big Government boys have been shoving down our throats, doesn't it though?
Two small notes, Reverend, and I'll let you get back to your evangelizing. I'm not sure what "an abomination to the Lord" is. The dictionary says abomination means abhorrence and disgust. I guess I can figure that God isn't happy about something like that, but it doesn't call for stoning or burning or anything, does it? As you know, Deuteronomy 22, 5, says "A woman who wears trousers is an abomination to the Lord" and, well my wife is a woman I know well, I was just wondering.
And, this may be silly, but I have a friend who dresses like a clown and juggles and makes people laugh and all. And occasionally he makes things appear out of a hat, or disappear, or whatever. I was just wondering, because Leviticus 20, 27, says "Any man or woman who is a magician will be put to death; they must be stoned to death" and well I certainly won't hang around with him any more, but you know. Do I have to?
Thanks for your attention.
Anxiously awaiting the Word,