Going Off the Rails is a Verb: Judge Wendell Griffen
Judge Wendell Griffen recently ruled to block the spate of executions the Hutchinson administration scheduled in Arkansas. Then he went outside his court and joined the anti-death penalty protesters. By this act he demonstrated that he was not judging the specific issues of the cases on their merits in the law, but rather reacted to his personal abhorrence to the death penalty. The state supreme court banned him from hearing any more death-penalty cases because of concerns that he would impose his personal feelings over the letter of the law in such cases. He wrote about his thinking on the issue in his blog which is called "Justice is a Verb".
Look, I like opinionated people who let their opinion's be known a lot. I am one myself. I am even in the middle on some of these issues. For example I think judges should be allowed to comment on their view of the legal reasoning used in precedent-setting cases. Not cases before them, but prior cases. They should be allowed to do what the judges in the actual case did- write an opinion. They are currently banned from doing so in campaigns for office- but that is the only way that voters can make an informed choice about who to vote for. I think judges should be elected, but electing them from a position of ignorance, as the current rules in this state demand, only gives us the illusion of choice.
Did Griffen go too far in this case? Yes, obviously. He was ruling not on the facts or the law, but based on his personal political views. But I suspect that almost all of them do it. Griffen just did us the favor of being radically honest in showing his bias. I can't hate the man for that. Really, I have more against the ones who do it but pretend to me that they are being objective. Giffen is just a bad judge. They are bad and dishonest judges.
I also have mixed feelings about the death penalty. Not on whether it should be banned because it has its place, but rather I question whether the way it is being currently used is just. In this particular case I find the Governor's proposed kill-a-thon of dubious integrity. One reason for that is because it appears that our government lied to the drug company about what they intended to use the drugs for. The pharmaceutical company has asked for them back and the state seems to be in a hurry to get these guys dead before the drug companies get a court order for Arkansas to return the drugs. It seems to me that except in war, justice and deception are uneasy companions. In some of the cases, I don't think there are two eye-witnesses to the crime. As a believer, I am mindful that under the law of Moses the death penalty was permissible, and even demanded in some cases- but it also emphasized that "a person shall not be put to death on the testimony of one eye witness" (Deut. 17:6 ESV).
Judge Griffen's blog is titled "Justice is a Verb", but I am here to tell you that mindless virtue-signalling is also a verb. Self-righteous moral preening is a verb. Going off the rails is a verb. That is what Griffen is doing with his thinking here. He starts off fine, but a few paragraphs in he quotes Matt. 25:44-45 and uses the scriptures badly out of context. It appears even his religion is subservient to his politics. I find the abuse of scripture, the attempt to co-opt God and harness His name to advance one's political agenda, to be equally morally offensive whether coming from left or right.
I don't favor mixing religion and politics for politics always seems to come out on top and abuses religion. Instead I favor politics being subservient to religion, but that is a very tricky thing for our self-deceiving human hearts to pull off. Though Griffen may be honest about his biases as a judge, he is not honest enough to master that. Few of us are on a consistent basis. I am certainly not immune from the temptation. I had written to the Judge about this before in the relative privacy of his own blog, but those comments seem to have vanished. I suppose they "didn't fit the template".
What does he write about the classic passage about the sheep and the goats? "That nurture has helped me realize that the way we treat marginalized and vulnerable people, those Jesus described as least among us, is the way we treat God. This insight challenges us to see marginalized and vulnerable people as surrogates of God in every society, regardless to our notions of empire"
and later he writes.....
"Do we see God in people without healthy food? Do we see God in people who do not have clean water? Do we see God in homeless people? Do we see God in sick people?Do we see God in people we mass incarcerate and kill in the name of empire? Do we see God in immigrants we refuse to welcome?Do we see God in people who are desperate, destitute, hated, and helpless?Lord, when did we see you …?Do we see God in murder victims?Do we see God in their grieving loved ones?Do we see God in the people who killed?Lord, when did we see you …?I am struck by the moral and ethical inconsistency of people who insist that justice requires society to kill people who are condemned because they killed others. "
First of all let's talk about his distortion of God's word. In the Matthew 25 passage when Jesus says "the least of these" He is not talking about every human being on the earth. He is talking about "these". And "these" by looking back a few verses to verse forty, are His brethren. So Christ is making a statement about seeing Him in His brethren. Griffen hijacks the words of our Savior and attempts to apply them to several of his preferred victim's groups regardless of the relationship with Jesus Christ that any individual in those groups may or may not have. In so doing he bends religion in an effort to turn it into a political statement. When the right does that, its a sin. When the left does it, its a sin. When libertarians do it, its a sin. When I do it, its a sin.
We are supposed to respect human beings because Adam was made in the Image of God back in the beginning, and because it is still His intent for us to be in that image, but murderers are not "surrogates for God". Illegal aliens are not "surrogates for God." Neither are poor people, at least not simply on the basis of their being poor. That is not what this passage of scripture teaches. Rather, human beings are surrogates for God only on the basis of their relationship with God- whether or not they are The Lord's brethren. This passage of scripture is properly a call to be saved and to see God in people who are saved, not a call to some political action on behalf of selective victim's groups.
And indeed Griffen is being selective. When he insinuates that we should view "immigrants" (without of course distinguishing between those who came legally and respected the laws of our nation and those who crept in like thieves) as surrogates for God he is ignoring the pain that many of them have caused people in this nation. Mexico has run off much of its criminal underclass into our nation and we have suffered for it. Seeing the victims of these illegal invaders as "surrogates for God" would imply that we should take political action to stop illegal immigration, but that is not the side of things that Griffen wants to see. The same muddled thinking displays itself with his insinuation that we are to view as "surrogates for God" both the killers and the families of the victims- as if God was somehow at war with Himself.
All of these groups, and ourselves, are morally accountable beings. That does not make us "surrogates for God." We can only honestly see God in them after they have asked God into their hearts. Until then they are but men, though made after the likeness of God and still due respect. That respect includes holding them morally accountable for their actions and not treating them as some brute beast merely caught in nature's wheels and therefore no more accountable for their actions than when the fox kills the hare. Yes, when Christians break the law the price for that lawbreaking should be paid. Even other Christians should insist on it, for there is no other way to operate with justice.
We can talk about the integrity of the process in giving out the death penalty, but for someone who claims the name of Christ to oppose the death penalty itself is fake moralizing and empty virtue-signalling. It makes out the moral preener to be more righteous than God Himself, for Genesis 9:6 declares "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed....". That was God Himself talking, yet some people will, in His name, pretend that their contrary position on this issue is more righteous than His. And Griffen has the nerve to complain that he is "struck by the moral and ethical inconsistency of people who insist that justice requires society to kill people who are condemned because they killed others". The one he claims is God has that position! So Griffen thinks that his own God is morally and ethically inconsistent. Talk about one's politics hijacking one's faith!
The good news for Judge Griffen, and all of us, is that God is able and willing to forgive our impudent and ill-reasoned assaults on His character and wisdom. He is able and willing to forgive our attempts to subordinate His Word and His desires to our mere political views. Yes, we have sinned in doing those things. We should not excuse ourselves because there is no excuse. Our sins are real- but if we humble ourselves and repent then they are also forgiven - the price for them paid through the suffering of Christ Jesus.