WNBA player Brittney Griner has been sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia on drug charges, including the possession of marijuana. From the standpoint of biblical principles, this is an unjust sentence for a couple reasons.
For one, in God’s law, given through Moses, prison is never commanded or authorized as a punishment for crime. In the rest of the Bible, it is only ever the pagans and the tyrants who lock people in prisons. For civil offenses, the authorized punishments are of two kinds: either against the person of the criminal, or against his wallet. The punishments are either corporal (as in capital punishment, banishment from the community; and, public whipping) or economic (the payment of restitution).
Justice is not done in or through prisons. This is especially true in for-profit prisons.
Another injustice in Griner’s case is that she’s being punished for having a plant. There is no biblical law against the possession of a substance. There is a New Testament command against drunkenness (which I’d grant might extend to any loss of sobriety, not just that caused by alcohol), but no right or obligation given to the civil government to punish it. That’s a sin that should be addressed by individuals, families, friends and churches.
I have seen Christians, however, reacting to her sentence almost gleefully. This is disgusting but hardly surprising. Most confessing believers don’t know their Bibles and don’t care to. I don’t say that as an attack, but simply as a statement of self-evident truth.
(I offer my own, highly unscientific observation as evidence. I’ve preached in many churches, and have often asked if anyone in the congregation thought they could give me the Ten Commandments in order. I’ve never had anyone raise a hand: not once.)
Now, granted, Griner acted foolishly in the entire affair. From a purely pragmatic standpoint, if you play stupid games, you’ll win stupid prizes. Knowingly taking banned drugs into Russia would qualify as a stupid game. However, again, if we’re seeking to shape our ethics according to biblical teaching, the fact that Griner did dumb things doesn’t erase the fundamental injustice of prison, or of drug laws.
There’s a more basic reason why Christians have been in favor of the injustice done to her, though. She committed the unpardonable sin of not being very patriotic in public. She didn’t sufficiently hallow the flag, or the anthem, or, she may have said disparaging things about them. She supported Black Lives Matter, I hear. In most evangelical churches, these are things you just can’t come back from. Whatever may happen to you after you sin in this way, well, you got what was coming to you.
Patriotism, however, is not a biblical virtue. Real love of your country includes the willingness to offer stiff rebukes to her failures, and to hear those rebukes without freaking out.
We don’t know our Bibles, and precisely because of that, we whiff in all our swings at doing justice. It doesn’t have to stay that way. It shouldn’t. We need to do better. I’m not asking you to do something difficult. Just start reading the book you claim to love, and be open to letting it correct your opinions.
Gordan Runyan is the pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Tucumcari. Contact him at: