Sometimes, the death penalty may be warranted

The death penalty was abolished in Canada in 1976. Even in the ten years before that date, capital punishment was used only for the killing of on-duty police officers and prison guards.

Mostly, I agree with the policy. There have been many cases of wrongful conviction in Canada, which is a strong argument against the death penalty.

But sometimes, in cases where the guilt of the accused is established beyond a reasonable doubt, I could be persuaded to support the death penalty. This week, I feel that way about a local case which is making national news.

Four people were found dead in a car in the Rideau canal. Three of them were sisters, aged 19, 17, and 13.

Their parents and an 18-year-old brother are accused of murdering them.

The father, Mohammad Shafia, had two wives. The fourth murder victim, Rona Mohammad, was one of Mr. Shafia’s wives.

Reportedly, the parents disapproved of the boy that 19-year-old Zainab Shafia was dating. For this, they murdered her. That’s outrageous enough:  but what possible motive did the family have for murdering her two younger sisters and Ms. Mohammad?

The family originally lived in Afghanistan, where “honour killings” of “rebellious” girls is a repugnant cultural norm. But this case is extraordinary even by the standards of fundamentalist Islam.

As my colleague Les Perreaux, who has been to Afghanistan, wrote me last night, while killing a rebellious teenage daughter might fit with that view of justice, while killing the “other” wife might be understandable if hardly defensible, surely wiping out the lot of them, including the 13-year-old, is a stretch, even for the Afghan mind. “I can’t say I ever even heard of a mass family honour killing, even in Afghanistan,” Les wrote.

As I’ve already mentioned, three family members are accused of the crime. But is there any doubt that the father bears primary responsibility?

Mr. Shafia, a well-to-do businessman, was authoritarian and violent; Rona [his wife] feared for her life, her brother said.

Rona was unable to bear children — hence the need for Mr. Shafia to acquire a second wife. Polygamy is legal in Afghanistan. Here in Canada, where it is neither legal nor socially acceptable, the family passed off Mr. Shafia’s childless first wife as a cousin.

When it became apparent to Rona that she was an unsatisfactory wife, she asked for a divorce. Mr. Shafia refused to grant it.

His second wife is a veritable baby-making machine:  she has provided Mr. Shafia with seven children.

I am a strong believer in women’s equality. It seems to me that you can divide the world’s cultures into two camps:  those which respect women, and those which repress women.

Perhaps the single most telling test of a nation’s civilization is how women are treated.

Mr. Shafia’s cultural commitment is clear. It was once said of Herod the Great, “better to be his pig (Greek hus ) than his son (Greek huios )”. Likewise, better to be Mr. Shafia’s dog than his daughter.

Better his whore than his wife.

I could be persuaded to support the death penalty for this man, assuming that the evidence against him is overwhelmingly clear. Many details of the case have yet to be revealed. We don’t even know the cause of death:  although the four bodies were found in a car, submerged in the Rideau canal, autopsy results have not yet been released.

Earlier this week, Kingston Police Chief Stephen Tanner held a press conference to announce that Mr. Shafia, his second wife and his son were being charged with murder. He opened the press conference with a moment of silence to honour victims of domestic violence.

Amen to that.

GWDCS: Manifesto and Episode One

Post by nebcanuck, Stephen’s son.

GWDCS: Guys Who Do Cool Stuff. It’s the title of our summer men’s program at the Bridge Youth Centre. I’ve been volunteering for the Bridge since this past fall. It is a Christian organization geared around reaching out to “youth” from lower-income backgrounds within urban centres, with “youth” being a loose term that represents people ranging from 10 up to 25. Their tactics are unorthodox, their theology conservative. And often, it’s a stretch for people like myself (middle-class university kids) to get their heads around the world-within-a-world that exists even in innocuous places like downtown Peterborough.

Guys Who Do Cool Stuff is oriented towards young adult men that participate in other programs at the Bridge. It’s a males-only program, as the name implies, which might be politically incorrect in some of the better-off circles in our culture (Cubs is no longer boys only, for example), but hardly raises an eyebrow at the Bridge. And it’s refreshing, in a beat-the-pants-off-that-other-guy sort of way! 🙂

Because of the great time we had with our first get-together this past Wednesday (July 1st), and because I’m stoked for the rest of the summer, I figure I’ll post the videos to the blog, for your viewing pleasure. First, our man-ifesto (and the first taste of the male humour. Sorry ladies, for some of the lame jokes!):

And now the first week’s adventure:

And yes, that’s me, blowing it within three seconds by taking off a friend’s head.

Afterwards, we discussed how men should treat women, and what to look for in a woman. There were life stories, and Biblical examples. Even though we were short on guys, the conversation was solid and the event was great fun. And best of all, we’re reaching out to young people that Sunday morning services simply fail to connect with!

Men’s faces, women’s bodies

An observation courtesy of songwriter Bruce Cockburn:

Men’s faces / women’s bodies
On the magazine stand

I suppose we won’t have true equality of the sexes until men’s faces and women’s faces are represented in equal numbers on magazine covers. Also, men’s bodies and women’s bodies.

But women’s bodies are a lot more interesting to look at, aren’t they? I think it’s simply a matter of aesthetics — like the difference between the Nissan Cube and a Porsche.

Porsche 911 turbo

Or maybe I’m just a biased, heterosexual male.

The Problem of Headship part 1: The Beginning

…spawned from a series of comments on a previous post of mine, this post is the second in a larger debate going on between my father and I. The first was entitled “Where the women aren’t”, in which my father argued that it is possible to derive from scripture an understanding that women are equally suited to leadership and teaching roles. In this post, the first of my responses, I seek to discuss the relevancy of my more Complementarian understanding of gender roles in today’s age…

What’s the first thing that springs to mind when you think of the word “leadership?” How about “leader?” I can’t speak for the world, but as a fairly young adult, the images that are conjured in my mind automatically are ones of great political figures, many grounded in relatively recent history. Hitler is a perfect example of our society’s image of a “great leader.” Videos and pictures of him, standing in front of a crowd, stirring up uncomparable fervour with a wave of his hand, or a single sentence, or even merely exiting his vehicle, all remind us of something very, very relevant to the discussion of leadership: Power. Hitler’s sense of command is one of the most powerful instances of leadership to ever blow through this world, and although his term in command was relatively short compared to others (such as his more paranoid counterpart, Stalin), his flame burned so brightly that he, above any other, is the figure that defines 20th century politics — for better or worse.

Of course, when we’re debating Biblical leadership, such images are left behind, and sometimes more of a distraction than an aide. The Bible — particularly the latter Testament — is more concerned with leadership on a daily basis than large-scale political decisions. The two most talked about forms of leadership in the New Testament are that within the household, and that within the Church. To mistake these for the leadership of a fascist country is to confuse an egg with a dinosaur, and, if the latter image is retained when discussing the first, one can come up with some very frightening propositions. But then, it’s probably self-explanatory that we don’t want to mistake a husband for Hitler.

However, the Hitlerian image brings up, as I said, the idea of power. This idea is very important for the sake of my discussion on headship, both of the household and the Church. I want Hitler to be kept in mind for the duration of this conversation, so that we can adequately compare today’s image of leadership with a Biblical one, and perhaps work out some sort of understanding of where Paul, Peter, and many others were coming from when they advocated the headship of the men — as in the gender, not the race — within the two aforementioned structures.

But first, let us swing back to a time long before Peter, Paul, Luke, or any of the other apostles. Let’s shift back an indefinite amount of time to come to a period which is viewed only through the mist of time. A mist which makes sense, really, since it’s also the beginning of time about which we will be talking:


Yes. The dreaded word itself: Creation. One of the most hotly contested episodes in the Bible, which has been the source of much ado throughout most spheres of American life, from politics, to education, right through the household. Why is Creation important? Simply, because it tells us about the fundamental nature of the universe. Creation — that is, the source time from which all things on Earth spewed forth — necessarily affects our view of how the world around us operates, as well as the world within us.


Where the women aren’t

Nebcanuck and I were recently discussing complementarianism. It’s a doctrine, popular among some evangelical (or fundamentalist) Christians, which states that men and women have different, complementary roles in the Church.

I reject complementarianism in favour of the alternative position, egalitarianism. It’s an issue of longstanding importance to me. I’m happy to return to the issue from time to time because the strong arguments in favour of egalitarianism bear repeating.

The complementarian position

So-called “complementarianism” attempts to put a positive label on the politically-incorrect notion of male headship:  i.e., that women are always to be under male authority. Scriptures like 1Ti. 2:11-13 are regarded as determinative of church practice:

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. (Today’s New International Version)

I end the quote at verse 13 because the reference to the order of creation is crucial. Complementarians argue that this is not a transitory rule, required only in the first century context. The rule is rooted in creation and therefore permanent and universally binding.

The egalitarian position

It is obviously true, biologically, that men and women have different and complementary functions. But complementarians elevate this into a general principle, and forbid women to exercise leadership in the church or to teach men. I suppose complementary in this context means, “I rule and teach, and you follow and learn.”

But if women are no less intelligent than men, no less responsible, and no less vessels of the Holy Spirit —

“In the last days,” God says,
      “I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and your daughters will prophesy,
      your young men will see visions,
      your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
      I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
      and they will prophesy.”

(Acts 2:17-18, TNIV)

— how is it that complementarians prohibit women from leading or teaching men?

Texts in tension

It’s important to note that the issue doesn’t turn on one side remaining faithful to scripture while the other side repudiates scripture. The issue turns on which scriptures are regarded as paramount. While complementarians emphasize 1Ti. 2 (and other, similar texts), egalitarians emphasize Acts 2 (and other, similar texts).

In other words, an interpretive problem arises when we try to reconcile one thread of New Testament teaching with another thread of New Testament teaching.

For example, St. Paul says (1Co. 14:33b-38 ) that women are to be silent in church. He states that this is the rule in all the churches (taking the latter half of verse 33 with the verse that follows — translations differ on this point).

But elsewhere in the same letter, St. Paul refers to women prophesying and praying. Indeed, as long as women wear a symbol of authority on their heads (1Co. 11:5-16), Paul indicates that it’s OK for them to pray and prophesy during corporate worship.

On the face of it, there’s a contradiction between these two texts, even though they were written by the same author in the same letter. One of the texts must be qualified (interpreted narrowly) in order to bring the two texts into harmony with one another. The question becomes, Which text is paramount, and which text must be construed narrowly?

Rules vs. actual examples

New Testament texts diverge in a similar fashion on the topic of leading and teaching. As with the 1 Corinthians problem, the pattern is this:

  1. On the one hand, there is a rule that women are to submit to male authority (which makes it out of bounds for them to teach men) ;
  2. On the other hand, there are actual examples of women carrying out ministries that involve leading and teaching.

Thus we can rephrase our earlier question:  Is the rule paramount? — or is the church’s practice paramount?

In one of his books, John Stott (a leading evangelical) lists the following biblical examples of women leaders:  Huldah, Miriam, Deborah, the first witnesses of Christ’s resurrection, Philip’s four unmarried daughters (who prophesied), the women who prayed and prophesied at Corinth, Priscilla, Euodia and Syntyche, Phoebe, Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, and Junia.

That’s quite a list! It establishes an a priori case that God approves of women ministering in ways that necessarily involve leading and teaching. As in Acts 2, we see the Sovereign Lord pouring out his Spirit on women and empowering them for ministry.

Two images from Afghanistan

woman in burqa; girls on swings

From a series of twelve news images published here.

I will leave the interpretation of the images up to the viewer. But I thought they were provocative, in juxtaposition like this.

Lucky to be black

Barack Obama is “lucky to be black”, Gerraldine Ferraro notoriously claimed:

If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position.

Ferraro’s pro-Clinton bias aside, this is an interesting question. I think we can safely assume that there’s some reluctance to vote for a black candidate; likewise, that there’s some reluctance to vote for a female candidate. So is it a worse disadvantage to be black, or to be a woman?

Let’s consider some data about the impact of racism on Obama’s candidacy. Here’s a table adapted from Steven Waldman at

white voters who said race was important margin of victory or defeat
Oregon 7% Obama +16
North Carolina 8% Obama +14
Indiana 10% Obama -2
Kentucky 18% Obama -35
West Virginia 21% Obama -41

There’s a clear correlation, as Waldman observes:  “The more white voters who think the candidate’s race matters, the better Clinton does.” Correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation, but the data are nonetheless suggestive.

Then there’s the anecdotal evidence. For example, this video from al Jazeera (who knew that al Jazeera had English features?) :

Or this anecdote from George Packer:

I spoke with half a dozen men eating lunch at the Pigeon Roost Dairy Bar outside town [ Inez, Kentucky ]. … They announced their refusal to vote for a black man, without hesitation or apology. “He’s a Muslim, isn’t he?” an aging mine electrician asked. “I won’t vote for a colored man. He’ll put too many coloreds in jobs. Coloreds are O.K.—they’ve done well, good for them, look where they came from. But radical coloreds, no—like that Farrakhan, or that senator from New York, Rangel. There’d be riots in the streets, like the sixties.” … Here was one part of the white working class — maybe not representative, but at least significant.

Coloreds?! That expression turns the clock back about 50 years, don’t it?

What about the other scenario? How has sexism impacted the Clinton campaign?

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