Monday, November 19, 2007

The Gospel and Hanging in Jamaica

I'm learning a lot about life and ministry in diverse cultural and political contexts. I was never very astute when it came to American jurisprudence. But now I'm having to learn something about an entirely different world.

Two things are increasingly apparent:
1. Assumptions about the world and how it should operate can be widely divergent (no surprise there, but it's helpful to keep this recognition on the radar); and,
2. There are tremendous gospel opportunities to be explored in these divergent views.

For example, my wife passed along the following short piece regarding sentencing in Jamaica.

KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) – Jamaican lawmakers are considering resuming hangings in response to rising violent crime, almost two decades since the last person was executed by the noose in this Caribbean nation.

Jamaicans have pushed for the measure, Karl Samuda, general secretary of Prime Minister Bruce Golding’s ruling party, said Saturday.

"Based on our observation, there is a strong sentiment in the country for hanging to resume,’’ Samuda said. ’’We want to make sure the people get their wish.’’

The last hanging occurred in 1988, and five years later, Britain’s Privy Council – the highest court of appeal for many former colonies – ruled that inmates who spend more than five years on death row should receive life sentences.

The ruling, coupled with international pressure to eliminate the death penalty, has led to a reluctance among Jamaican authorities to order hangings. No other type of capital punishment has since been used.

About 45 inmates are on death row in Jamaica, which reported a record 1,671 homicides in 2005 and is considered one of the most violent countries in the world.

At first blush, hanging seems abhorrent and barbaric. Wikipedia lists 18 countries currently practicing or with a history of legalized hanging. What truly "developed" and "enlightened" nation would consider such a thing? And given the U.S.'s history of lynching, I'm particularly loathe to see talk of it in any country.

But on second thought, did not God hang His own Son at the hands of wicked men? Jesus hung on the tree and died an agonizing death.

Hanging is barbaric. So was the crucifixion. But the gruesome nature of criminal hangings and the Son of God's crucifixion points to the more gruesome ugliness of our sin. Jesus suffered in every way known to man--including the torture of hanging--to identify with us in our suffering and to become for us a perfect High Priest.
I have a lot to learn about life outside the U.S. But the gospel keeps speaking despite my ignorance.

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