President Obama called the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, Jeffery Lurie, to offer his congratulations to Lurie for offering Michael Vick a second chance, following Vick’s felony conviction for dog fighting. Knowing the difficulties convicted felons face when trying to re-enter the job market, President Obama implicitly held up Lurie’s move as exemplary, presumably as a move that ought to give other employers the courage to take a chance on employing someone who is trying to get a life back together. Knowing people who have found it almost impossible to sort out their lives after a conviction, I thought the President’s choice of affirming Jeffery Lurie’s deed to be commendable. Why not shine a light on the practice of encouraging people to reclaim their lives and dignity through work?
Tucker Carlson, filling in as host on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News, thought differently. He denounced the President’s decision to weigh in on Michael Vick’s rehabilitation:
I'm a Christian, I've made mistakes myself, I believe fervently in second chances. But Michael Vick killed dogs, and he did in a heartless and cruel way. And I think, personally, he should've been executed for that. He wasn't, but the idea that the President of the United States would be getting behind someone who murdered dogs? Kind of beyond the pale.
Now, whether or not you agree with the legitimacy of President Obama’s assessment of the benefits to be conferred by giving felons second chances is not what I intend to address. Instead, I want to consider Tucker Carlson’s understanding of the Christianity he professes. Prefacing his remarks by saying that he’s a Christian who believes in second chances, Tucker Carlson proceeds to offer his opinion that Michael Vick’s crimes are of such a horrendous nature that Vick ought to be executed for them. What I have a problem with is not Carlson’s opinion that dog killers ought to be put to death; it is an opinion, after all—not widely shared, thankfully. (As an anti-death penalty pacifist, I think he casts the execution net a bit too casually and a bit too widely; but, then, I think that of the death penalty as a general rule anyway.) My problem with his rant has to do with his nonchalant linkage of a highly contestable opinion on the death penalty to Christianity.
What I want to ask Mr. Carlson is, “In which denominational variation of Christianity is it acceptable to execute dog killers—especially those who are seeking to make amends for their past misdeeds?” (e.g., Vick has taken on a nationwide speaking tour on behalf of the Humane Society for the purposes of ending dog fighting. PETA also has forgiven Vick, saying that “we hope Michael Vick spends every second playing ball.”) Moreover, the death penalty notwithstanding, in what version of Christianity is it acceptable for T.V. talk show hosts (or anyone else) to determine of sins, “These are forgivable; these . . . sorry about your luck?”
I want to state for the record, categorically and without real fear of contradiction, that the brand of Christianity evinced in Tucker Carlson’s vision of Christian justice bears not even a passing resemblance to the Christianity Jesus sets down in the Gospels. It is also critical to add that I’m not one of those sentimental types whose understanding of Jesus paints him in gauzy tones as enabler-in-chief, as the inaugurator of the modern liberal political social contract that says something like, “You stay out of my business, and I’ll stay out of yours.” On the contrary, Jesus had a variety of strong opinions about what is and is not acceptable behavior for those who claim to follow him. Heal the sick; feed the hungry; clothe the naked; encourage the despairing, and forgive—turn the other cheek, give up your cloak also, forgive the debtor, forgive seventy times seven times, forgive even (perhaps especially) your enemies.
Please understand, I’m not suggesting we turn a blind eye to transgressive acts. Let us speak the truth about the evil we commit against one another, as well as the evil we commit against God’s creatures whose greatest crimes are being bought or bred for malevolent purposes. Furthermore, I am not questioning whether Tucker Carlson is truly a Christian. (How would I know?) I’m only saying that his implicit assertions about the nature of Christianity and forgiveness don’t pass scriptural muster.
We who follow an executed criminal are generally suspicious of anyone who seems altogether too sanguine to off folks considered to be a detriment to a well-ordered society. It may be idiosyncratic, but it is, I think, a thoroughly Christian idiosyncrasy.