A Baptist blogger and peace activist says Christians should speak out against the execution of condemned former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
“We worship One executed by a brutal tyranny on false charges,” Michael Westmoreland-White wrote Saturday on his blog and cross-posted at MainstreamBaptists. “That One was executed along with two who were guilty of terrorist acts.”
“Thus, Christians must oppose the death penalty at all times precisely as part of our defense of the value of human life,” he said. “Every life, even one as brutal and guilty as Saddam Hussein’s.”
Westmoreland-White, a former academic theologian and ethicist who has taught at Fuller Theological Seminary and Spalding University, since 9/11 has worked primarily as an organizer and educator for Christian peace organizations including the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America and the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
His blog, Levellers, is named after a radical movement for democracy, justice and religious freedom during the English Civil War. It was led by Richard Overton, a Mennonite-influenced General Baptist and pacifist who in 1640 coined the term “human rights.”
“The world may operate with judicial revenge (although more and more nations are abolishing the death penalty)–a revenge that creates false martyrs and more imitators,” Westmoreland-White wrote. “We who follow the Crucified and Risen One are supposed to be free from this spiral of violence, this dance of death.”
Westmoreland-White, also a freelance writer working on a second book tentatively titled Mapping Peace, said he made the same argument against executing Timothy McVeigh. McVeigh was put to death in 2001 for the April 19, 1995, Oklahoma City bombing, which claimed 168 lives, considered the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history, aside from the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“We are free to choose life,” he wrote. “We do not value life, as some pro-lifers say, because of innocence. Christ died, as Romans 8 reminds us, for the justification of the godless.
“Hussein is not the type of person who would ever show mercy to us. That is all the more reason we who are Christians should show mercy to him. Let’s lift our voices.”
An Iraqi court in Baghdad condemned Saddam to death Nov.5 for the killing of 148 Shia Muslims after a 1982 assassination attempt against him. He is likely to hang within the next few months, and perhaps before the end of the year.
International reaction to the verdict was mixed.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair broke ranks with his American allies to side with the European Union in opposing the death penalty for the deposed dictator.
Iran called on Iraq to carry out the death sentence. Shia Iraqis asked that Saddam’s execution be televised. “We want to watch the last drop of life exit his body,” 31-year-old Salam Mohamad said in the Times of London
A New York Times editorial called for deferring Saddam’s execution, saying that Iraq “got neither the full justice nor the full fairness it deserved” in his trial. The newspaper, which opposes capital punishment in general, said Iraq needs to hold Saddam fully accountable for his atrocities, but first must heal and educate the nation “he so ruthlessly divided.”
Westmoreland-White in his blog cited another blogger, Princeton Theological Seminary student D.W. Congdon, also urging Christians to denounce the execution of Saddam.
“I propose that as the church, it is our duty as followers of the Crucified One to denounce the execution of Saddam Hussein,” he wrote, “just as we must denounce the execution of any person.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.