Who is Praying for McVeigh? by Terry Mattingly

David Virtue DVirtue236 at AOL.COM
Mon May 21 00:07:51 EDT 2001

Who is praying for McVeigh?

By Terry Mattingly

As every movie buff knows, condemned prisoners always get to say a few
final words.

Some apologize, while others protest. Some repent. Some rant. All have
a last chance to confess to an eternal judge.

A decade ago, an infamous killer in South Carolina quietly offered
words of thankfulness and acceptance. When Rusty Woomer died in the
electric chair, he was not the man whose Quaaludes-and-whisky fueled
binge had left four tortured and dead.

"I'm sorry," said Woomer, whose prison years included many acts of
selfless service to others. "I claim Jesus Christ as my savior. My only
wish is that everyone in the world could feel the love I have felt from

It's hard not to contrast this with the arrogance shown by America's
greatest terrorist, said the Rev. Lee Strobel, a former Chicago Tribune
legal-affairs reporter who is now a writer and teacher at the massive
Saddleback (Calif.) Community Church. Nevertheless, anyone who takes
Christianity seriously must pray for a moment of repentance and grace
before Timothy McVeigh is executed by lethal injection.

"After he is declared dead, McVeigh will stand trial once more," said
Strobel, before the now-delayed execution date. "This time, there will
be no secrets, no defense attorneys, no legal maneuvering, not
rationalizations, no excuses. And unless something happens before then,
he will be found guilty once again and sentenced to a hellish eternity
in a place utterly devoid of hope. ... This will not make God happy."

During his media offensive, McVeigh has said his last blast of
political rhetoric will include lines from William Ernest Henley's
"Invictus." In this anthem of defiant individualism, the poet briefly
thanks "whatever gods may be," yet concludes:

    It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scrolls,
    I am the master of my fate:
    I am the captain of my soul.

That doesn't sound like a humble confession of sin. Strobel's sermon,
entitled "What Jesus Would Say to Timothy McVeigh," noted that the
bomber has refused to apologize and even called his youngest victims
mere "collateral damage." Thus, McVeigh has become the soldier from
hell -- a poster boy for all that is evil. Can this man be saved?

"God is just, but God also is merciful," said Strobel. "So McVeigh's
soul can saved. That is the word of hope that he needs to hear. ...
There is always a chance that someone can repent and be forgiven. We
are supposed to believe that, no matter what."

Debates about heaven and hell, salvation and damnation, become even
more complex when linked to an issue as explosive as the death penalty.
Strobel said he opposes the death penalty, in part because of the
cracks in the justice system that he probed during his years in
journalism. He also would agree with Pope John Paul II that nations
today can efficiently fight crime "without definitely taking away the
possibility of self-redemption."

Strobel said Christianity clearly teaches that McVeigh -- whatever his
legal fate -- can repent and find salvation. So the most disturbing
question is not, "Can McVeigh be saved?", but, "Why aren't more
believers praying that he will be saved?"

Of course, there are "universalists" who don't believe in hell and,
thus, believe that McVeigh will go to heaven with everyone else, no
matter what. People who hold this belief tend to stay quiet during the
days just before the execution of notorious criminals.

Meanwhile, other believers proclaim salvation by grace, but in practice
this doctrine of radical forgiveness tends to make them nervous, said
Strobel. Most people find it easier to imagine God forgiving their own
"garden-variety sins," or those of a kindly neighbor, than God
forgiving the likes of Jeffrey Dahmer, Karla Faye Tucker or, should he
repent, McVeigh.

But sin is sin, said Strobel.

"If anyone ought to know how much he needs God and how much he needs to
be forgiven, it ought to be Timothy McVeigh. But that doesn't mean
we're supposed to be cheering as he dies and calling him the world's
greatest sinner. Doing that only makes it harder for us to see the sin
in our own lives and how badly we all need to be forgiven."

Terry Mattingly (www.tmatt.net) is senior fellow for journalism at the
Council For Christian Colleges and Universities in Washington, D.C. He
writes this weekly column for the Scripps Howard News Service.

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