Friday, 26 December 2014

St. Stephen, Patron of the Cruelly Punished

Today is the feast of St. Stephen, when we remember the cruel death of a young man by stoning, in his case for holding different religious views from the majority (Acts of the Apostles 7). 

If Stephen's death, and our remembrance of it in our Christian liturgies, is to mean anything, it must help us develop our praxis, helping us reflect and act upon our faith in the social reality in which we practice it. 

It should help us ensure that no one else is allowed to suffer pain or death for what Stephen said or did. or suffer death as he did. 

Stoning is a legal method of execution in 13 countries, and an extrajudicial method in several others. 

The process of stoning someone to death usually involves burying a man upright up to his chest (or a woman up to her shoulders). Islamic law dictates  that the stones used be of a size not so large as one or two strikes would result in death, but not so small that the stoning would take an undue amount of time. Preferred stones are therefore about the size of a hand; the process can take up to 20 minutes.

But this isn't simply an issue within Islam; several extremist Christian groups in the US and elsewhere, as well as individual clergy, laypeople, and politicians (posting or commenting on social media where, bizarrely, they seem to think no one can hear them) have expressed their desire to reinstate stoning as a 'biblical' punishment for a raft of crimes. 

St. Stephen is remembered as the patron saint of altar servers, casket makers, and- in what I think to be somewhat poor taste- headache sufferers. 

I prefer to think of him as the patron saint of those who must endure cruel and unusual punishment

Please support Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in their efforts to ban both cruel and unusual punishments and the death penalty worldwide. 

Holy St. Stephen, pray for us.

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