The death penalty has been brought before our consciences again by three recent events. The first was Pope John Paul II's visit to St. Louis in January, where he persuaded Missouri's governor to commute the death sentence of Darrell Mease. It did not matter to the pope that Mease had been convicted of a triple murder and had never shown any special amendment of life.
Soon, perhaps in a matter of days, the impeachment trial of President Clinton will be over. Clinton will, presumably, remain in office after receiving some kind of censure. Lots of people will heave a sigh of relief simply because the ordeal is over. Indeed, the temptation will be to want to forget entirely about the whole tawdry saga, from Linda Tripp to Robert Livingston.
There's lots of talk about "Christian formation" and "faith development" these days, provoked by a great transformation in the ecology of faith: churches can no longer count on a thick network of Christian institutions to shape people in the faith.
It seems that every few weeks we read another report touting the health benefits of being religious. Scientists have discovered, for example, that people who study the Bible, pray and go to church are less likely to have high blood pressure. Another study has found that smokers who go to church live longer than smokers who don't.
The purported last year of the old millennium started with a vivid reminder that eschatological hopes and fears will be flourishing in the months of 1999. In Jerusalem on January 3, Israeli police arrested a group of U.S. Christians who were planning either to kill themselves or to have themselves killed in an effort to hasten the Second Coming of Christ.