By / Aug 7

Editor’s Note: Today, we have the privilege of hearing from three busy wives and moms–with other ministries and responsibilities outside of their homes–who have banded together to answer the oft-asked question, “How do you do it all?”

Megan Hill: Are we wrong about what “all” is?

I well remember the time I confessed to a group of women: “Sometimes being a mom is boring.”

You could have cut the resulting silence with a pie server.   

I love my kids. Their stories, their questions, their Lego creations.  I take seriously my responsibility to care for them as my children and as my fellow human-beings. My roles as wife and mother rightly have high priority in my life (Titus 2:3-5).

But if, while I am stirring the macaroni and cheese, my mind turns instead to the wonder of the incarnation or the problem of systemic racism or the challenge of writing a fresh metaphor, is that wrong?

The question of doing (or having) it all was resurrected for my generation by Anne-Marie Slaughter in her July/August 2012 cover article for The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” Her piece was followed by Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, a slightly different perspective on the same situation. For Slaughter and Sandberg and many women my age, “doing it all” means being able to find success and fulfillment in a wide range of simultaneous roles: wife, mother, employee or employer, creator, friend, citizen, volunteer.

Many conservative Christians take issue with Slaughter and Sandberg. They would say that godly women should define “doing it all” as being able to find success and fulfillment in a smaller number of simultaneous roles: wife and mother.

But whether women define “doing it all” with a list of a hundred roles or by reducing that to one or two roles, we are wrong about what “all” is.

Yes, being a wife and mother is my highest earthly privilege; my conduct in those roles even influences what other people think of my God (Titus 2:5, I Pet. 3:1-2, Eph. 5:22-33). I can also take satisfaction in work done well.

But I am not dedicated finally and completely to being a wife or a mother or a writer. In the words of the Heidelberg Catechism: “I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.”

If being a peanut-butter-sandwich-making and laundry-folding mom is sometimes boring, it’s because those tasks are not intended to be ultimate. I do them heartily, yes, but I do them as for the Lord (Col. 3:23). I take every thought captive—whether thoughts about mac ‘n cheese or thoughts about global poverty—to obey Christ. (2 Cor. 10:5) And I bring my children up in the way of the Lord, submitting to my husband as is fitting in the Lord (Eph. 5:4, Col. 3:18). I pour water and cook dinner and buy clothes and, yes, write articles for my Jesus (Matt. 25:40).

In the words of Charles Wesley’s hymn: “Thou, O Christ, are all I want; more than all in thee I find.” How do I do it all? By daily remembering that “all” is not to be found in the sum of my different roles. It is found only in the one all-consuming and all-worthy work of a lifetime: “to live is Christ.” (Phil. 1:21)

Gloria Furman: Whose do we think we are?

It’s easy to look at your schedule, family, church, work, interests, and yourself and conclude: God has given me roles, tasks, circumstances, strengths, and weaknesses that compete with each other. How do you do it all?

To answer the “how” we need to know what we mean when we say “it” or “all,” as Megan mentioned. But we also need to know the “who” and “whose.” We don’t need to dwell on our gifts, opportunities, personalities, passions, and strength-finders nearly as much as we need to know and love the God who has revealed himself to us in his Word. Who is this God from whom and through whom and to whom are all things (Rom. 11:36)? We must know whose we are.

God is triune, and God is one. There is no disunity in the eternal council of the Godhead. God ordains, designs, calls, equips, strengthens, holds us accountable, and rewards us. The Spirit’s distribution of spiritual gifts to Christ’s body (1 Cor. 12:11, Heb. 2:4) doesn’t collide with the Father appointing us to his service (1 Tim. 1:12). The finitude and weaknesses that God has designed for us don’t thwart Christ’s grace and power but are strategic in their display (2 Cor. 12:9).

We belong to God by creation and by redemption. “You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men” (1 Cor. 7:23). God’s sovereign purpose and calling cannot, by definition, conflict. We can rest easy when we look to the Good Shepherd for his loving, capable, coherent leadership.

I do not contend with these truths, but sometimes my feelings don’t line up. Do you ever feel like you would be happier if God had used a different stitch when he knit you together in your mother’s womb? Or if he would call off one of your callings?

As one who struggles with thinking the grass is greener for other sheep, it helps to ask: What is it to me that Jesus wills this or that for someone else when according to his wisdom he is pleased to call each of us to follow him (John 21:22)? With our gaze fixed on Jesus (even in the valley of the shadow of death) we can see with eyes of faith that we’ll never look back on our lives and conclude, “I was robbed.”

While we’re on the subject of other sheep and their callings, our distinctly Christian worldview must also take into account the reality that union with Christ makes us members of one another. How do y’all (the church) do all God has given youse guys to do? But that’s another question for another day.

So, we remember the nature of the one, triune God who does all things for his glory, in whom there is no conflict of interest. His grace frees us to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness because he will give us everything we need to do that which he calls us to do. It’s that simple. We are free, indeed.

Aimee Byrd: Loving the simplicity of faithfulness

Well, you know what they say: The first step is admitting you have a problem. My name is Aimee Byrd and I think that I can do it all. With a child in high school, one in middle school, and one in elementary, my life often feels like the American Ninja Warrior par course. I’m trying to make it to the buzzer at the end of a day of packing lunches, writing deadlines, and housewife-miracle-working, without falling in the water and being disqualified.

I used to think this whole parenting thing would become less busy once the kids were out of diapers and in school. But now I’m dealing with three different social circles, ball teams, school projects, and rites of passage. They all seem to involve much driving. Every season of life comes with its new batch of challenges. You may have different vocations than me, but we all have obstacles that hinder us from the mountain of accomplishment and that blessed buzzer.

So often we women expect to take on all our ambitions and responsibilities at once, like the freshly married couple who presumes they’ll move into a house much lovelier than their parents’. But we just can’t do it all. In God’s providence and his perfect timing, we strive to please him where we are called.

It’s really as simple as that. Just keep faithfully serving where we are called in good stewardship. But no one likes that answer. It usually takes humility, stress, and good old-fashioned grit. I take my opportunities when I get them, and I plod along to the end. Remember, the tortoise won the race. We have a race that we are in that is called the Christian life. The author of Hebrews encourages us to run with focus and endurance (Heb. 12:1-2). For most of us, it’s going to be a while before we reach our reward.

Building on athletic metaphors, an exhortation just a few verses later alludes again to Grecian Olympic games: “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees” (Heb. 12:12). Basically, get back up! You will fall in the water. But our Savior has already run ahead, and he will see us to the end.

No, I do not run the world. But my sinful default is to get caught up in the lie that I do. Thankfully, I am set back on course at the beginning of every week when all God’s people are called to worship the One who does. This covenant renewal ceremony reminds us that we are receivers of all God’s blessings in Christ, who “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3b). Here we are given a glimpse of what is to come, our great reward. We are in a sense recalibrated as God delivers his Word and sacraments by his ministers, “doing it all” as we worship. We are then sent back out into the race with a benediction, confident that since we are in Christ, he will bless all of our efforts.

By / May 29

Capital punishment, or the death penalty, refers to the execution by the state of those guilty of certain crimes.

Theologically, most mainline Protestant churches, such as Presbyterian Church in the USA, many Episcopal, and Lutheran churches, oppose the death penalty. Even some historically evangelical churches such as the United Church of Christ and many Methodist and Baptist churches opposed capital punishment. The Roman Catholic Church supports capital punishment in principal but holds that current application is unnecessary since we have matured as a culture. On the other hand, most Protestant conservatives, including the majority of members of the Southern Baptist Convention, and other growing evangelical movements such as Reformed Christians and Conservative Baptists, support capital punishment on biblical grounds.

What is the Southern Baptist Convention’s official position on the death penalty?

In a resolution in 2000, the SBC affirmed support for the fair and equitable use of capital punishment by civil magistrates as a legitimate form of punishment for those guilty of murder or treasonous acts that result in death.[1]

The SBC also resolved:

  • That capital punishment should only be administered when the pursuit of truth and justice result in clear and overwhelming evidence of guilt;
  • That because of the deep reverence for human life, profound respect for the rights of individuals, and respect for the law, the SBC calls for vigilance, justice, and equity in the criminal justice system;
  • That capital punishment be applied as justly and as fairly as possible without undue delay, without reference to the race, class, or status of the guilty; that civil magistrates use humane means in administering capital punishment;
  • That members of the SBC commit to love, to pray for, and to minister the gospel to victims and perpetrators of crimes, realizing that only in Christ is there forgiveness of sin, reconciliation, emotional and spiritual healing, and the gift of eternal life.

What Does the Bible Say About the Death Penalty?

The Bible clearly states that immediately after the Noahic Flood God mandated the use of the death penalty. In Gen. 9:6 God instructs Noah and his sons, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, his blood will be shed by man, for God made man in His image.” (HCSB)

God’s reason for issuing this mandate is that humans are created in the image of God (Gen. 9:6). Mankind’s creation in the image of God is what makes all human life sacred and can bring a penalty as severe as death for its violation.

The right to exercise capital punishment is reserved for the state, not the individual. There is no place for personal revenge in the administration of this punishment (Rom. 12:19). It is the state’s responsibility, as God’s civil servant on earth, to protect its citizens and to punish those who harm them (Rom. 13:4,6). Capital punishment provides the state the means to apply the appropriate punishment to the crime (Deut. 19:21).

God instituted capital punishment as a legitimate punitive option for every state. Its institution predates Israel’s birth as a nation and Moses’ divinely inspired directions for the nation’s governance, eliminating the possibility that capital punishment was mandated solely for Israel. God issued guidance on capital punishment to earth’s only surviving people (Gen. 7:20-24); these people and God’s instructions to them provided the foundation for all subsequent governments.

In the New Testament, Paul affirms that the governing authorities “do not bear the sword (machaira) for nothing” (Rom. 13:4). It is likely that Paul is expressing the general principle that the state has the right to punish its citizens for breaking its laws. More specifically, however, since the machaira (sword) is typically an instrument of death in the New Testament, and certainly in Romans (cf. Rom. 8:35-36), it is evident that the state’s authority to administer justice includes capital punishment.

The state possesses this power of death to punish evil (Rom. 13:4; 1 Pet. 2:13-14); however, only those acts identified by God as evil justify the use of capital punishment (Isa. 5:20). A state that uses capital punishment for something other than punishing evil as defined by God abuses its power and violates God’s standard for its use. 

Application and Guidelines for Capital Punishment

In order to assure the fair administration of justice God established some important guidelines for Israel, which any state would be wise to adopt, especially in a matter as serious as capital punishment.

The accused person must have committed a crime for which death is the appropriate punishment. (Deut. 19:21).

Clear evidence of guilt must be provided by two or three witnesses. One witness was not sufficient to result in capital punishment (Num. 35:30; Deut. 17:6). God is aware that unscrupulous people may attempt to use the death penalty for evil purposes. Therefore, he requires multiple witnesses to the supposed crime.

Those charged with crimes must be treated in a uniform and impartial manner, regardless of status (Deut. 1:17) or class (Lev. 19:15). Any society that favors some people and discriminates against others because of class or status, or deprives some of adequate defense, intentionally or through neglect, diminishes its integrity and creates serious doubts about its commitment to justice (Lev. 24:22).

Though capital punishment remains a legitimate option for the state, this option must be exercised under the strictest of conditions. The state that chooses to exercise the power of life and death over its citizenry must be certain it has done all it can to assure that it is punishing the right person, that the punishment fits the crime, and that everyone, regardless of class or status, has had an adequate, vigorous defense. Anything less may bring the condemnation of God on that society.

Common Christian Objections to Capital Punishment

Despite the clear Biblical mandate and authorization in both the Old and New Testaments, some Christians oppose the implementation of the death penalty in modern societies.

The following are some of the most common objections and the responses frequently offered in rebuttal. (Note: The arguments made on both sides of the capital punishment are often complex and nuanced. The summaries below are intended as an overview, not as a full presentation of the representative arguments.)

     Objection: The incident with the woman caught in adultery is evidence that Jesus opposed capital punishment (John 8:1-11).

     Rebuttal: Jesus’ reaction in this incident was not directed at the prescribed punishment, but rather at those who sought to trap Him into participating in an act that was illegitimate for several reasons (John 8:6). First, the scribes and Pharisees did not constitute an official governing body. Their efforts represented an illegitimate attempt to exercise the power of the state. Second, there is no indication that there was any formal presentation of charges against the woman or official declaration of her guilt. Third, there is no evidence that the witnesses to the crime were present. At least two witnesses were necessary to prove capital cases and, in many instances, they had to throw the first stones (Deut. 17:6-7).

     Objection: The Old Testament required capital punishment in Israel for a variety of crimes and sins. Since we no longer apply the death penalty in those situations, we have no right to apply them in others.

     Rebuttal: Because God held his covenant people to a high spiritual standard, he specified capital punishment for the above acts. Since no other nation has this same relationship with God, he has not specified that these acts are subject to the same penalty in other societies. However, because God mandated capital punishment prior to Israel’s establishment, at the very least, it is a legitimate response to murder in other societies.

Genesis 9:5-6 provides the Biblical basis for capital punishment in the case of murder. Since this covenant is “everlasting” (9:16) and “for all future generations” (9:12), it’s as applicable today as it was in the age of Noah. Unless Christians adopt a form of supersessionism in regards to this covenant, we must recognize that this Noahide Law is still applicable and binding on all mankind.

     Objection: Even if it is warranted, the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment.

     Rebuttal: This objection conflates an American legal objection with a universal theological reason. The death penalty has been applied in American law for 350 years, when the Supreme Court case Furman v. Georgia came along. In this 1972 capital punishment case, the majority in the United States Supreme Court declared the statues to be unconstitutionally “cruel and unusual.”[2]

Historically, the Supreme Court’s decision in Furman was in itself unusual. Previously the Court utilized the words cruel and unusual but not in direct relation to the death penalty. For example, the Court supported capital punishment in these cases: in Wilkerson v. Utah, 1878, death by firing squad; and in In re Kemmler, 1890, death by electrocution. Both cases had been endorsed by the Court in the nineteenth century. More than 50 years later, the Court further endorsed the “strap[ping] [of] a prisoner into the electric chair a second time after a faulty system failed in the first attempt” (Louisiana ex rel Francis v. Reswebe, 1947).

On the hope that the Court would allow the death penalty in other cases, state legislatures wrote laws to adapt to the Supreme Court’s new view of limited or “guided discretion” laws for juries. In other words, states tried to write laws that did not call for mandatory death penalties, but called for “rational” or “objective standards” for juries when imposing the death penalty. The state effort to bring back the death penalty was successful. In 1976, the Supreme Court “held that capital punishment per se was not unconstitutional” (Gregg v. Georgia). In the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, states that brought cases which reflected limited or guided discretion laws (for juries to apply the death penalty) were upheld by the Supreme Court.

From a Christian perspective, the death penalty cannot be considered “unusual” since it has been applied throughout history since the days of Noah. However, the consideration that it can be “cruel” is a valid consideration and should limit the way capital punishment is applied. When imposing the death penalty, the state should respect the inherent dignity of the person to be executed and avoid unnecessary infliction of pain.

     Objection: Capital punishment is an expression of vengeance which contradicts the justice of God on the cross.”[3]

     Rebuttal: This argument rests on the assumption that outlawing private revenge frees governments from the responsibility to implement God-mandated capital punishment. However, during the implementation of the death penalty, any individual involved in the pursuit of justice, whether judge, jury, family member or friend of the victim, must first set aside personal revenge and hatred by acknowledging that the convicted is made in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27) and must be afforded value, dignity and significance. The convicted must also be judged as primarily responsible for the death of another valued human being. As St. Augustine said, “Penalties must be applied. I don’t deny it, I don’t forbid it; only let it be done in a spirit of love, a spirit of caring, a spirit of reforming.”

     Objection: In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus places calls for an end to the lex talionis, the law of retaliation (Ex. 21:23-24; Deut. 19:21; Lev. 24:20-21): “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Matt. 5:38-39)

     Rebuttal: Jesus did indeed put a radical limitation on what was once considered an individual right to justice. The passage is both inspiring and intimidating; the very thought of living such a life is humbling. But we should carefully note what Jesus did not say in this passage. What he left out of the verse he quoted is as important as what he included. Exodus 21:23-24 states: “If there is an injury, then you must give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot . . . ”

Notice that Jesus starts quoting at “eye for an eye” instead of “life for life.” Murder was not, nor had it ever been, a matter of individual vengeance—that is, an issue that can be adjudicated under tort law. When a person commits murder they are committing an offense against God himself and not against a mere individual, his family, or even society. Jesus’ command only applies to individual vengeance; it does not abrogate God’s command in the Noahic covenant.

     Objection: When governments implement the death penalty, then the life of the convicted person is devalued and all possibility of change in that person's life ends. The resurrection of Jesus Christ and that the possibility of reconciliation with Christ comes through repentance. This gift of reconciliation is offered to all individuals without exception and gives all life new dignity and sacredness. [4]

     Rebuttal: We tend to think of rehabilitation as a means of restoring a criminal to society. And modern defenders of capital punishment focus almost exclusively on the deterrent or retributive values of the death penalty. But when the death penalty was first imposed in America, it was expected to encourage offenders' repentance. “Rehabilitation was one of the primary reasons that capital punishment was imposed in early America,” notes law professor Megan Ryan, “and there are several stories of brutal murderers being rehabilitated on death row.”[5]

We need to be reintroduced to this view of rehabilitation that has been all but forgotten yet corresponds with the Christian view of dignity. Imposing the death penalty can help the murderer restore the broken relationship with their Creator, not just with humankind. While we have an interest in a criminal's return to society, we should be even more concerned with the state of their soul.

 

[1] Southern Baptist Convention, “On Capital Punishment,” http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/299

[2] Maiman, R.J., & Steamer, R.J. (1992). American Constitutional Law: Introduction and Case Studies. St. Louis, MO: McGraw-Hill, Inc., p. 35.

[3] The is the position of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). See: http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/101/capital-punishment/

[4] This is the position of the United Methodist Church. See: http://archives.umc.org/interior.asp?ptid=1&mid=6385

[5] Meghan J. Ryan, “Death and Rehabilitation,” SMU Dedman School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 112. Accessed from http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2128175