Extra-judicial killing...

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It's not every day a pastor of the Presbyterian Church in America is put to death. But now it has happened twice in successive Septembers.

September 3, 2003, Paul Hill, one-time PCA and OPC pastor and graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary, was executed by the State of Florida for the killing of abortionist John Britton and bodyguard James Barrett in 1993.

His death passed without comment within the PCA and Reformed Seminary communities. No mention of his execution (or connection to the PCA) was made on the PCA web site. No emails asking prayer for his wife and young children made the rounds of PCA presbyteries. To the best of my knowledge, no PCA church volunteered to hold a memorial service for his grieving family.

A student at Reformed Theological Seminary's Jackson campus told me the day following Hill's execution that he was unaware of a single official (or unofficial) reference to Hill's death on the Reformed campus; the execution of the school's most famous graduate passed like a thief in the night. It was as though he had already ceased to exist for the Reformed community; having repudiated him in life we ignored him in death. He died unlamented, unnoticed, not even remarked upon as a negative example.

September 22, 2004, a PCA pastor disappears leaving behind suicide notes. His body is found September 29. His death--his murder--comes by his own hand. Yet how different our reaction to this death....

On its home page the church he pastored ("...the flagship Presbyterian Church in America congregation" within its region) "praises God for his life and that he is now in God's loving hands." Messages of condolence and words of love flow from throughout the PCA. A large memorial service is planned. A member of the church's staff is quoted in the local paper: "We trust in God and know that he's there with him."

Is it sin to kill man? Is it truly always murder to kill extra-judicially what is created in God's image? If so, then are some extra-judicial killings more sanctified than others? Should we refrain from speaking against extra-judicial killing whenever the murderer is also the murdered? Could it be that fear of man drives our voice in these matters--fear of the consequences of examining the underlying issues in either of these deaths? Why the disparity in our treatment of these two men, both of whom were at one time PCA pastors, both of whom put men to death, both of whom died as a consequence of their own extra-judicial acts of killing?

Praise God that His grace is sufficient to reclaim killers, for the apostle Paul and King David who give us evidence of God's abounding grace to killers. But where is the Church's "NO" to the sin of suicide? If we have said amen to the execution of Paul Hill, should we not be equally careful to note the sin of the second PCA pastor before speaking words of comfort and granting what appears to be absolution of his sin?