Guest Blogger: Lynn Hopkins on the Death Penalty

Homicide, other duties as assigned

On November 10th, a small group of men entered the dwelling place of a man in Virginia, bound him, transported him to another location, and killed him.  It was intentional and premeditated, planned in detail. No one claims that the homicide was self-defense or that this man posed any imminent threat.  This killing was not a criminal act; in fact, those who did it were legally required to do so.  They were paid by the government to take a man’s life. It is part of their job, as public servants, to kill people.
The one they killed was not a good man; many would say he was a personification of evil. He killed several people without warning or cause. He also persuaded or manipulated a teenager, desperately in need of guidance, into this grisly activity.
John Allen Mohammed was a terrible man who brought great suffering. I offer no justification for his existence, except this: he was a human being. Whether it was sickness or sin, his own deliberate evil or some tragic consequence of his life that led to his depraved acts, he was a human being.  Christians might say he was created in the image of God. I claim that, as a human being, he had inherent worth and dignity.
I have no sympathy for Mohammed; the truth is, I have hated him. My sympathy lies with family and friends of those he shot. They gain nothing from this additional homicide.
There is also his family; as far as I know, none aided or encouraged his crimes. They now live with the loss of a family member who, though horribly flawed, was part of their lives and their being. I mourn the part of them that was killed last night.
I mourn, too, something that is lost or destroyed in those who carried out this homicide. It is inconceivable that a person is unchanged by engaging in a willful killing. In order to kill a person in good conscience, we must either see the other as a lethal threat, or view the other as something less than human. The men who killed Mohammed knew him, and, though they may have despised him, knew that he posed no threat from his cell.  They disposed of him, as unwanted property of the State.
I wonder what damage we do to people when, in order to do what they believe is right and what the law requires of them, they must learn to see other human beings as objects fit for disposal. It is for them, the righteous killers, that I weep today.
Bio: Though born and baptized Methodist, I am a lifelong heretic with a relentless obsession with systematic and practical theology. I spent my first 30 years in Northern Virginia, and now live in Decatur, Georgia with my same-sex spouse of 21 years. With Bachelor of Information Technology and Master of Divinity degrees earned relatively late in life, I am a forty-something evangelical Unitarian Universalist pursuing ordination to ministry in that tradition.


4 thoughts on “Guest Blogger: Lynn Hopkins on the Death Penalty

  1. I too would like to see the death penalty eliminated, but I think my reasons may be different than yours. I would be interested in your further thoughts of why every human has “inherent worth and dignity.” I admit, this thought sounds good, but why is it so? Is it because America says so? God says so?

    To me the idea of inherent worth comes form a westernized American understanding within the context of liberal democracy.

  2. I am sorry I missed your comment when you posted it Danny.
    No, the source is neither America nor God. America as an idea has no real meaning to me, and God as a person has even less. There is a good bit of Unitarian and Universalist history behind it, going back to Origen, but for me it comes in a more panentheist flavor: deity expressed throughout the range of incarnation.
    I am certain of it through life experience, having found the sacred in some of the least possible places. I make sense of it by imagining that creation is made of, not made by, divine stuff.

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