Al Mohler defends death penalty in CNN debate with Phil Donahue
Tuesday, Jun 12, 2001
By Michael Foust
NEW ORLEANS (BP)--The execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was a just penalty that underscores the value of human life, R. Albert Mohler Jr. said on CNN's "Larry King Live" June 11.
Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a supporter of capital punishment, debated Phil Donahue about the merits of the death penalty during a live broadcast of the nationally televised program. Donahue, who once hosted his own television talk show, is an outspoken opponent of capital punishment.
"The Scripture clearly calls for the death penalty, and civilized nations throughout history have understood that the ultimate crime demands the ultimate punishment," Mohler said. "Any society that calls itself civilized [and] that refuses to use capital punishment for the most extreme of crimes really makes clear that there is nothing for which it would execute anyone. Human life is therefore not valued; it is undervalued."
But Mohler said that McVeigh's execution -- which took place by lethal injection the morning of the broadcast -- should not be celebrated. It happened, he said, for the "satisfaction of justice."
"We look back on that with no glee, with no gladness, but also with no sorrow for him, for this was exactly what he deserved, given the gravity of his awful crime," Mohler said.
McVeigh bombed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, killing 168 people and injuring hundreds of others.
The Larry King program featured a host of people -- including family member of victims and McVeigh's attorneys -- who witnessed the execution. Former United States Attorney General Janet Reno also made an appearance.
Donahue took exception to Mohler's argument that the Bible supports capital punishment.
"Your faith -- the faith to which your have devoted your life -- was founded by a man who was wrongly executed," Donahue said to Mohler. "A man who incidentally on the cross looked heavenward and said, 'Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.'
"To use the Prince of Peace as a vehicle to justify the premeditated killing by the state of one of its citizens takes irony to a new level," Donahue said. "I don't think Jesus would approve of this barbaric behavior, and I think there are millions of Americans who are coming to recognize that this is a meaningful exercise which does not make us safer."
Mohler, though, pointed out that Jesus never condemned capital punishment.
"Mr. Donahue made a serious statement, and it deserves a serious response," Mohler said. "The fact is that the Lord Jesus Christ, who was sinless, did indeed die innocently by execution. He died, the Scripture tells us, in our place, and thus satisfied the just requirements of God's justice. He literally died where we should have died [in order] to pay the penalty for our sins, so that all who believe in him might have life everlasting.
"But it's very important to note that Jesus Christ said that every single jot and tittle -- every little spot of grammar in the Word of God -- would remain and would be unshaken. Jesus Christ never condemned capital punishment. The Scripture clearly -- in both the Old and the New Testaments -- stipulates that capital punishment is the appropriate penalty for those who take life and for those who commit the crime of murder."
Donahue argued that capital punishment is inherently wrong because it rewards one act of vengeance with another act of vengeance. He said life in prison is a more fitting punishment.
"I think we have become the thing we hate, Larry," Donahue said. "We've actually somehow convinced ourselves that it's OK to kill somebody because they killed somebody. It doesn't work. It's arbitrary. It happens with pro bono lawyers who sometimes fall asleep at the trial. ... Attorneys available for this work are substandard -- sometimes to the point of malpractice."
King noted that the Catholic Church opposes the death penalty and that European nations have banned the practice.
"It's interesting to note," Mohler responded, "that even though the European union outlaws capital punishment, polls continue to show that a majority of Europeans support it. When it comes down to it, I think there's something very basic in the human psyche that is actually put there by God that demands justice."
McVeigh's case is unique in that his guilt has not been an issue, Mohler said. Instead, the argument has been over the death penalty itself.
"It's very interesting to look at the case of Timothy McVeigh, and [to] understand that this really gets down to the core issues," Mohler said. "There is no doubt about his guilt. There is no doubt about the awfulness and the extent of his crime. I think virtually everyone understands that the ultimate penalty is here called for, and the vast majority of Americans -- not because of blood lust and not because of vengeance -- but for the satisfaction of justice support the death penalty in this case and in others."
Donahue said that politicians such as former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and current Illinois Gov. George Ryan have set examples that should be followed. Cuomo opposes the death penalty; Ryan has ordered a moratorium on executions in his state.
King gave Mohler the final seconds of the show to respond to Donahue.
"There has never been demonstrated a case where an innocent person was executed in the American criminal justice system," Mohler said. "Everyone who is on death row and in jail says that they are innocent. But the guilt of these persons is almost always without doubt beyond question. The death penalty needs to be administered with equity and with justice. If the American death penalty needs to be fixed, let's fix it. But we must affirm the dignity and inherent integrity of every human life."