November 24, 2017

Marci Alborghetti: Sanctity of Life and the Death Penalty

Death-Row2

Note from CM: I’m happy to introduce a guest author today, one who comes to us by way of our friend Jeff Dunn. Her name is Marci Alborghetti, and she is the author of several books. Marci’s most recent titles, People of the Nativity: Living the Christmas Story Then and Now, and Being the Body of Christ: What the People of the Passion Teach Us About Jesus Today, are published by Twenty-Third Publications. Twenty-Third will release her next book, Prepare to Heal!, in 2014. [You can see all of her books listed at Amazon HERE.] She has also been featured on Op-Ed pages of major newspapers across the country. Marci writes from the perspective of the Roman Catholic moral and social ethics tradition today about an ongoing issue of controversy in the U.S.

• • •

malborghettiSanctity of Life and the Death Penalty
By Marci Alborghetti

I’ve been to a lot of churches, met a lot of priests and ministers, and listened to a lot of sermons.  Sermons about the evil of abortion.  Sermons about the “moral emptiness” of contraception.  Sermons about the “slippery slope” of euthanasia. Sermons about the sinful despair of suicide.  Sermons about the sanctity of marriage, declaring that no good Christian should vote for any politician who supports choice, contraception or gay rights.  Sermons about the degradation of legalizing same sex unions.  One minister actually explained why “homosexuality and homosexuals” were “abominations.”  Didn’t stay for the end of that one, but I have a feeling the arc didn’t change much.

In churches, I’ve been told whom to vote for, harangued to sign marriage “protection” petitions, had collection baskets pushed in my face for anti-abortion efforts, and urged to participate in sidewalk “counseling” protests at family planning clinics.

And did I mention sermons about the evil of abortion?  One of my favorites on this topic was a sort of feint right, slam left deal that I heard around the time Obamacare was being condemned as the end of religious freedom in the known world.  The priest, on a weekend close to Veterans Day, respectfully asked all parishioners who were either veterans or service family members to rise.  How nice to recognize them, I thought, as a handful of people, with typical Catholic reluctance to be singled out, shuffled to their feet.  Turns out they had good reason to hesitate this time.  There was a smattering of applause and just as they were all finally straightening themselves up in realization that they did indeed have a reason to be proud, the priest’s benevolent features contorted into a mask of outrage as he snarled, “How does it feel knowing that you served or that your loved one died to ensure that young girls have free contraception?”

That was a moment.

As a Christian writer and researcher, I sometimes feel I’ve heard it all.  But here’s what I’ve never heard from a pulpit: I’ve never heard a minister condemn the death penalty as an attack on the sanctity of life.  I’ve never heard a pastor observe that only God should give or take life in reference to a death row inmate.  I’ve never heard a priest point out the inherent racism in the implementation of the death sentence, or the fact that the most active killing states are former slave states.  I’ve never heard a preacher point out that America’s global colleagues in execution are Iran, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, and China.  Wait, did someone say Axis of Evil?  Oh, I see, not for this.

I’ve never heard a priest declare that he would deny the Holy Eucharist to an elected official who supports the death penalty.  I’ve never heard a minister call legal murder an “abomination.”  I’ve never heard a preacher praise the European Union for denying EU entrance to any country with a death penalty on its books, or for refusing to export drugs that might be used in a legal lethal cocktail. I’ve never heard a pastor discuss the “slippery slope” of executing individuals with developmental disabilities.  I’ve never heard a minister compare a death row inmate to Moses, David, and Saint Paul, murderers who were redeemed by God’s mercy.

In churches, I’ve never been asked to sign a petition protesting a death warrant, donate to an organization advocating to abolish the death penalty, vote for or against a politician because of his/her position on legal execution, or join a March on Washington to protest against the 1976 law that allowed legal murder in the United States.

I most notably haven’t heard any of these sermons or had any of these experiences in the two months since the State of Oklahoma’s botched murder of Clayton Lockett, a death row inmate who witnesses watched writhe in agony after being administered the death drugs only to die later of a heart attack.

Just because I’ve never heard these sermons, doesn’t mean they’re not being preached.  In small, but dedicated, pockets of Christianity they are.  Indeed, I know from my own experience as an advocate and member of the Death Row Support Project, a Church of the Brethren ministry, that pretty much the only people fighting to abolish the death penalty and supporting death row inmates are church people.  The Quakers, some Catholics, Jews, and progressive Protestant congregants are often the only ones in the front lines, and also the only ones in the scant lines of protestors when a death warrant is signed and the moment of execution comes.

But when you consider Jesus on the death penalty – “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer … But love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  Mt. 5:38-39, 44.  – the numbers of Christians out there advocating against the death penalty simply don’t add up.  Because, just for the record, you can’t claim to follow Jesus Christ and support legal murder.  Aside from what He said and did, what He was and is cries out against such hypocrisy.  How can you worship and follow the Author of Life, Who was Himself legally executed, when you are advocating for the execution of another?

Still not sure how Jesus felt about the matter?  Not once in the Gospels does Jesus concede the power over life and death to secular – or religious – authority.  “Do not judge and you will not be judged; do not condemn and you will not be condemned.” -Lk 6:37.  Even as Messiah and Son of God, Jesus as Son of Man is reluctant to take on the mantle of judgment:  “Indeed God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” -Jn 3:17.

Jesus even denies Pilate, and thereby Rome, the greatest empire in the known world, the power to execute Him despite the fact that the Romans had already judged and crucified countless men in Palestine. When Pilate upbraids Jesus for not speaking to him – “Do you not know that I have power to release You, and power to crucify You?” – Jesus responds, “You would have no power over Me unless it had been given you from above.” -Jn 19:10, 11

Yes but, come the arguments, the Catholic church and many Christian churches are very clear on their official position against the death penalty.  Technically speaking, yeah.  Church hierarchies, especially those spending millions on favored social and political issues, are notoriously difficult to pin down on how much money they shell out for various causes.  But if you want an idea of how committed Christian organizations are to certain sanctity of life issues over others, there is a highly scientific experiment you can perform.  Google:  Christians against abortion.  Then, Google:  Christians against same sex marriage.  Note the number of results for both these subjects.  Finally, Google: Christians against the death penalty.  You can be sure that the money and manpower follow the numbers.

Why is the clamor of Christians against the death penalty not nearly as loud, unified, organized or financially powerful as protests against abortion and same sex marriage?  Why are those advocating against the death penalty poorly funded, scattered, and so far out of the mainstream that they are sometimes considered pariahs by some of their fellow congregants?

In part at least, because the people we advocate for are not easy to love.  Many of them have done terrible things, mostly after having had terrible things done to them. They cannot be presented as adorable, sad-eyed babies – though each of them once was an adorable, sad-eyed baby.  They are not thought of as church-going Christians – not like us – yet the death row convicts I know have spent years studying scripture and seeking God.  One has taught himself to read the Bible … in Hebrew.

However, the men and women on death row cannot generally compete in the annals of our affection with gurgling babies and Christmas card photos of smiling nuclear families with Mom, Dad, and children happily ensconced on the sofa.  Death row inmates do not make good subjects for ad campaigns.

But when did we get the idea that Christianity – true Christianity – was supposed to be easy?  Indeed, Jesus warns us repeatedly that it is not.  “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” -Mt. 10:16.  Later, on the eve of His crucifixion, Jesus warns the disciples, “Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world – therefore, the world hates you.” -Jn 15:19.

Moreover, where did we ever get the idea that we are supposed to love only the lovable?  How did the radical way of love, forgiveness and poverty, preached by Jesus Christ, become a religion of puppies and kittens, wealth and power, righteousness and cowardice?  How did we, and even worse, our Christian leaders, become so complacent, so eager to reach only for the ripest, low-hanging fruit?

In America today, we have elected officials who are so busy pretending to be God that they’ve stopped trying to follow God; for the essence of God is mercy and love.  Just as disturbing is the fact that too many Christian leaders and clergy have forgotten that too.

Comments

  1. Nowhere does Jesus condemn the death penalty carried out by the government. And there were plenty of them being carried during the time of Jesus.

    Jesus had much bigger fish to fry than that.

    • Let’s be careful with that argument. There are a lot of things that Jesus didn’t condemn, but that doesn’t always justify doing them. With that argument we could say that same-sex marriage is OK because Jesus himself didn’t condemn it.

      • Marcus Johnson says:

        With that argument we could say that same-sex marriage is OK because Jesus himself didn’t condemn it.

        Or abortion. Or rape. Or child molestation. Or voting for the “wrong” political candidate.

        Wow, Jesus missed a lot of stuff, didn’t he?

    • Danielle says:

      Jesus and the death penalty. Where oh where could there be a reference in the gospels to public, government-ordered execution.

      (I’m not going to build an argument based on this. However, I can think of topics that are far more obscure to Scripture than public executions.)

    • I think it is a far more cruel act (to the survivors – family, loved ones) to keep murderers alive.

    • “An eye for an eye” is a specific OT law that is given in the context of capital punishment. That’s what Jesus quoted in Matthew 5. So how can we say he didn’t speak about the death penalty?

      If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

      – Exodus 21:24

      • CM, it is important to note the context of Jesus’ statement. He is not talking about the role of the state; he is talking about how his followers are to respond to personal injury or insult. It is an a fortiori argument, from the greater to the lesser – if you must forgive even murder, how much more minor insults. As I noted below, Jesus is not making casuistic law, but making broad sweeping statements (often using hyperbole as a rhetorical device) about kingdom principles. To take his statement as a prohibition of the death penalty by the state is quite a stretch, and completely ignores the context.

        If Jesus statement is about the role of civil government, then (in the same passage, following his argument further than just this verse), he also prohibits the state from enforcing laws against assault (‘if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.’) and laws allowing credit checks (or even requiring debts to be repaid – ‘do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.’), or from Luke’s version, stealing (‘and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either’ and ‘from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.’). In fact, taking the verse the author quoted above, he even abolished the entire judicial system – ‘“Do not judge and you will not be judged; do not condemn and you will not be condemned.” -Lk 6:37.’ and ‘do not resist an evildoer’.

        The context of Jesus’ statements are clearly aimed at those who would follow him, and how they personally (and corporately, as the church) respond to personal injuries, not how the state should operate. Addressing the role of the state was simply not his concern (at least in this passage).

        • I don’t agree, but I don’t have time to respond fully at this point. Jesus is presenting himself as a new Moses here and giving a new law for the Kingdom. This is not about individuals vs. the state. This is about an entire way of living that he calls his followers to witness to. In this passage he says his way is to go beyond the law of retaliation to the law of mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment in the Kingdom. That is the law of the Kingdom as opposed to the law of Moses. Now, starting from there, we have to work that out.

          • Yes, CM. I agree. Jesus is giving a new law for the Kingdom (as the new Moses) and its subjects (us), but he is not prescribing law for the state. He is saying ‘this is how the Kingdom works, and how people of the Kingdom live’, but he is not addressing how the state works. Granted, he later tells the disciples to pray that his will would be done on earth (presumably affecting the state) and that his Kingdom will come, but that is different than saying ‘I am giving legislation for civil government’.

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            I am perpetually fascinated by the distinction many Christians make between those responsibilities they assign to the state and those responsibilities they assign to the state.

          • Patrick Kyle says:

            This whole discussion fails to take into account the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms. Those who believe Jesus prohibits capital punishment by the state conflate the Kingdom of God and the the Civic State. The Sermon on the Mount is not a blueprint for secular government, but marching orders for the Church.
            Through various magistrates, judges, and politicians the Kingdom of God may influence and inform secular rule, but the Church and the State are separate entities with different ‘jobs’ to do. Specifically, the Church is to proclaim the Word and make disciples. It operates by grace. The Lord has instituted secular rule to keep good order and for the punishment of evil doers. The State is a function of Law.

          • Patrick, I’m not ignoring two kingdoms doctrine, I’m making another argument altogether. And remember, there was no idea of “two kingdoms” in Israel. The law was the law.

    • I don’t think Jesus was anti death penalty.

      God wiped out a whole bunch of people in the Great Flood, and he ordered the Jews to kill off guys like the ones who were sacrificing their live babies in fires to their pagan god (Molech or whatever the god’s name was).

      I don’t think a God who is fine with exterminating entire groups of people flinches at a government sticking a guy in an electric chair for having murdered someone.

      Jesus seemed okay with a secular government collecting taxes, why would he not be okay with sec. govts carrying out something like the death penalty?

      • Robert F says:

        “I don’t think a God who is fine with exterminating entire groups of people flinches at a government sticking a guy in an electric chair for having murdered someone.”

        Heck, maybe Jesus even attended Roman executions at the local arena, cheering when some deserving miscreants met their end in the jaws of the lions…what do you say, Daisy? Hey, maybe he and Joseph even carpentered crosses for the Romans to execute people on!! After all, our God is no wuss….

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Born-again Christians are THE most Rah-Rah Cheerleaders for the Death Penalty. Legendary gallows groupies. You see them very prominent in the pro-death counter-demonstrations outside prisons during executions.

      THAT’s the reputation Christians have.

  2. Final Anonymous says:

    CM, would love more posts like this. Great questions.

  3. Marci – outstanding post! Thanks so much for this. While I am still somewhat hesitant to accept that the death penalty should be entirely outlawed, I do think it should happen in a tiny minority of cases worldwide.

    Your point about former slave states is *very* important, imo. And I somehow cannot imagine that Clayton Lockett’s horrific “execution” would have happened to a white inmate. I am sickened by what was done to him in the name of justice, even though his crimes were among the few that I can see as being viable grounds for the death penalty.

    Please keep speaking and writing and making us think and rethink what we thought we knew.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      >Your point about former slave states is *very* important

      +1

    • Numo, not everything bad that happens to black people is necessarily due to racism.

      Just like not every bad thing that happens to a woman is necessarily due to sexism.

      I’m firmly in the middle on this, btw. There’s a guy over at another blog I’ve been bickering with who seems to pretty much feel there is zero sexism in America – and I disagree with him on that.

      I feel that there is some sexism (and racism) in America, but not nearly to the degree liberals commonly think and say. This is 2014, we’re not in 1854 anymore, and not even 1952.

    • Numo, do you happen to know the racial breakdown on which group is executed more than others? I think you will find that whites are executed far more often than blacks with respect to their prison population. If I am wrong then I will be happy to be corrected. I think that naked appeals of “racism” are detestable as racism itself.

      • Richard provided info. just a couple of posts above.

        Fwiw, I used to live in an area where jail and prison inmate populations were overwhelmingly black, even though the area has a substantial white majority. Black people who are victims of violent crimes also had (likely still have) far less recourse to help from law enforcement of the legal system, just because.

        Some things just are, no matter how much we might wish otherwise – and believe me, I *do* wish things were different.

        • I wasn’t speaking about proportional prison populations on death row, I was just opining about who is is that finally gets executed. In other words if whites were, say 45% of prisoners, and blacks were 35% and the remaining hispanic (not REAL stats, just for discussion purposes) then to be fair the executions should match those stats. But they don’t. THAT is my point.

          • I checked out the population stats by race and then compared them to the executions by race, and it is as I suspected…whites are executed at a higher rate than blacks by far. The fact that there are so maqny blacks in prison is another issue all to itself. In the cases of murder, it is not mostly whites who blacks kill but, rather it is members of their own race. ANOTHER sad statistic that needs examination. The whole ting is a sad and tragic mess!

          • I think there’s more info. that would bear out what Richard and I have both said, though I’m too tired to try to round it up. Am sure Google will find it for you if you do a few searches.

            To clarify, when I mentioned imprisonment and violent crime, I was also thinking of people who rob (in a violent manner), mug, commit domestic violence, are rapists etc. – and their victims.

            Also, we’ve had a great deal of change over the past 150+ years on what is a hanging offense and what isn’t. People used to be executed for trivial crimes (small thefts of food or money carried out by the poor, for example). I wonder if the UK didn’t get the jump on us in their abolition of the death penalty, just as they did re. the outlawing of chattel slavery and the slave trade. In all these examples, they were among the worst offenders at one time. Worth pondering, I think…

  4. Faulty O-Ring says:

    So…are we supposed to sympathize with her for suffering through all those political rants, or applaud her political rant?

    • Maybe respond to what she’s actually saying? Have a discussion? Share your perspective? Participate?

      • Used To Be A Jackass says:

        She seems to assume that Christians should be against the death penalty, then spends the bulk of her article complaining that it isn’t on the front burner of the Church’s agenda. To my mind, that is pretty much the way it should be.

        Theoretically I believe a strong case can be made against the death penalty, but I cannot for the life of me understand why it should be a priority to fight so that Ted Bundy should be allowed to continue checking books out of the prison library and collecting payments from gullible women to cash at the prison canteen.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > her article complaining that it isn’t on the front burner of the Church’s agend

          I am not certain that was the thrust of her argument. I believe the point was that what constitutes the ‘front burner’ is (a) not a broad representation of issues but a narrow cherry picked set of issues and (b) that the ‘front burner’ is a selection of issues that sell easily and which match the nostalgic/sentimental notions of an particular America.

          Justice and popular sentiments often are currents at odds. When they are convergent there is reason for some skepticism. When even our priests will not cast a light on these issues we are in peril; we do not need them to tell us about what we WANT to believe and to see, we will see that for ourselves.

          > so that Ted Bundy should be allowed to continue checking
          > books out of the prison library

          Really?

          • Danielle says:

            “Justice and popular sentiments often are currents at odds. When they are convergent there is reason for some skepticism.”

            The specifics of pro and con-death penalty arguments aside, this is the much broader question raised. Given the wide range of issues that one could connect to the question of affirming “life” and the value of persons, why are we so quick to focus on some and not others. Some of them resonate with us and get tremendous backing easily, and there are reasons for this that must be examined. Others are passed over easily. There are reasons for this, which ought also to be examined.

            The high contrast in intensity over abortion and intensity about every other ostensible “life”-affirming or life-denying issue signals … what? That there is something particularly onerous about abortion? Perhaps, but I suspect that it also has something to do with the fact that abortion is a symbolic proxy for collective anxieties about sexual order and about women’s agency. We’ve got people not just opposing abortion of viable fetuses, or even early term pregnancies, but obsessing over questions of whether contraception might interfere with a fertilized egg, long before anyone could even be aware of pregnancy, and in the absence of any evidence that we should even be worried. If we were applying this kind of intensity toward any other issue leading to loss of life (life that is far more visible and obvious conscious), our approach would be strikingly different to a host of issues, wouldn’t it? The inconsistency suggests that we’re “getting something” out of our opposition to one practice, and getting less out of our opposition to the other. So, what are we getting?

          • Danielle said,
            “That there is something particularly onerous about abortion? Perhaps, but I suspect that it also has something to do with the fact that abortion is a symbolic proxy for collective anxieties about sexual order and about women’s agency.”
            —————
            I have more sympathy for an unborn baby who hasn’t done anything yet but suck his thumb,
            Vs. the 35 year old guy who maybe raped and murdered a woman.

            I suspect a lot of other folks who are both pro-lifers and pro-death penalty (such as myself) look at it this way.

            I’m just as strict on kids who do awful things, btw. There was some red haired weirdo kid in the 1990s (who was around 9 or 10 at the time, I can’t remember his name) who sodomized a little two year old neighbor boy and killed him. IMO, even he should have gotten the death penalty (the ten year old – and yes, when he was ten, don’t house him in prison until he is 20, or 30 and then send him to the chair).

          • Danielle says:

            I understand the argument, but it strikes me as more sentimental than substantial. The rational, core issue is whether someone’s life is valuable and sacred, such that any resort to violence by me or the state ought to be measured. The emotional issue is how I feel about the object of violence: Do I like them? Do they inspire my sympathy? Or do they repulse me? Do I secretly want to go further than is strictly necessary just because I want to attack the symbol of what I hate and fear?

            You’ve included many specific examples in your posts today …. from the heinous sex crimes to the guy who climbs in your window and “creeps you out” to the bully at work to the dog-kicking jerk …. and you kind of wish you could put these folks in their place….and you don’t like the fact that some people would give these people cover or excuses. That is human, and very understandable. However, being an extraordinarily dispassionate person when it comes to making judgments, I get nervous when I see emotion driving people’s sense of justice. Emotion is important and beautiful, but its also chaotic and I don’t trust it any further than I can throw it.

      • It IS a rant never the less, with naked emotional appeals and the using of scripture outside its original intent.

    • Dan Crawford says:

      One would hope you would share her dismay at the number of bishops, priests and ministers who are thinly-disguised social darwinists whose “pro-life” views extend to the limits of their biases.

  5. I personally do not support the death penalty, not because I hold it to be unjust (although in very many cases it is) but because I see any legal method for the government to kill its citizens, however dangerous/depraved/vile those citizens’ actions may be, as a overreach of the state and a foot in the door for all kinds of terrible government police actions (plus the fact that the death penalty, in practice, is implemented in a racist manner and doesn’t actually deter crime).

    However, I can’t justify speaking against the death penalty from the pulpit, on behalf of the church. I do not view the Old Testament prescriptions of capital punishment as mandatory for today’s justice system, but I also do not see any biblical justification for opposing the practice as a matter of church doctrine. Passages like Romans 13, in my opinion, make clear that Christians are not to construe the doctrines of grace, mercy, and forgiveness to overrule the laws of the land, and Jesus’ statements to Pilate cited in the article seem to me to be more about God’s sovereignty than about any specific authority granted to government or not.

    I understand where this is coming from, though. I do support political action on behalf of the church to stop abortion (I oppose most ways in which the church has become politicized) and can understand how that argument could be extended to protect any life at all, innocent or not.

    • Marci Alborghetti says:

      Jacob, I appreciate your thoughtful response. But why are we Christians so quick to defer to Paul at the expense of Jesus? Why give an interpretation precedent over the source?

      • Robert F says:

        ” But why are we Christians so quick to defer to Paul at the expense of Jesus? Why give an interpretation precedent over the source?”

        I oppose the death penalty. I do so not for absolute religious principles, but because I believe the state abuses its power and authority when it uses a fallible system and process to come to a judicial conclusion in which an irreversible, total and humanly exhaustive form of punishment is administered. When the death penalty is utilized, nothing is left to even make a motion in the direction of redress where there has been a miscarriage of justice.

        But I resist separating the testimony of Paul in the New Testament from the testimony of the rest of the writers. We have nothing that Jesus wrote himself. All we have are witnesses to Jesus’ words and life and death, and the meaning of those things in the life and will of God.

        Paul is one of those witnesses, and an early and important one. If you tease Paul’s testimony out from the NT, it loses an essential witness to the meaning of Jesus’ life and death and teaching, and to the place those things play in the life of God. In fact, in my opinion, if you remove Paul’s witness, the NT unravels. For this reason, I can’t support pitting the words that Paul himself wrote against the reported words of Jesus.

      • Robert F says:

        In briefer words, the entire New Testament is interpretation, whether in narrative, as the gospels, Acts and Revelation (?), or not, as the Epistles. Some of Paul’s letters are in fact the oldest documents in our NT canon, written within a few years of the events of Jesus’ life; while there are thick strands of tradition in the gospels that go back to Jesus’ life, they are placed in the context of narrative structures, which necessarily interpret those events, and also were composed a number of decades later than many of Paul’s Epistles.

        • Though I agree with your reconstruction, Robert, for Christians I believe weight should always be given to the Gospels, even as the Jews give weight to the Torah. That is a canonical argument rather than one based on the historical background to the composition of the NT. I think we see it clearly in the history and tradition of the church in our liturgy, which lifts up the Gospel above all other readings.

          And I would not characterize the rest of the NT as “interpretation” as much as “translation” of the Gospel message to the Gentiles and “application” of that message as to how this new era of a universal people of God is to be lived out.

          • Robert F says:

            CM, although I don’t think we should uncritically accept every world of Paul’s as straight from the mouth of God, I think it’s self-defeating, and unwarranted, for Christians to treat Paul as someone we need to get behind, to over-ride, in order to get to the true “source,” as Ms. Alborghetti puts it. Paul was far closer to the historical “source” than any of us, and his involvement in the early life of the Church and its witness mean that he is in fact part of the source, when the source is understood to be, not only the details of the life of Jesus and his words, but the inextricable intimacy his of continued existence and presence with the continued existence and presence of the Church.

            You simply can’t get closer to Jesus, the “source,” by getting behind Paul; Paul is at, and in, the source.

          • Patrick Kyle says:

            While we may give the Gospels more weight than the rest of the NT, there is no warrant to pit Paul against Jesus or refute Paul on the basis of the Gospels. (Which often comes next in these discussions.) Paul is the chief interpreter of Jesus in the NT, and we are on thin ice trying to ignore or contradict Paul on what amounts to an argument from silence in regards to capital punishment in the Gospels. Jesus in fact tells Pilate that the authority he has over Jesus was given ‘from above.’ (John 19:11)

      • Marci: thank you. I would answer that question in two ways. In the first place, as someone who believes in what might be termed the sacramentality of Scripture, I see Christ as substantially present in His Word, and thus believe Jesus to be speaking through Paul just as surely as he speaks through the four Gospels. Although the narrative arc of Scripture culminates in the person of Jesus Christ and His incarnation, death, and resurrection, which is told specifically in the Gospels, and although I think it important to consider this in our interpretation of Scripture, I nevertheless would not diminish the weight of other biblical texts in comparison to that of the Gospels because I believe that Christ speaks to us through all of them.

        Secondly, as Greg argued above, I simply do not think that Jesus’ teachings about mercy in the context of the Kingdom of God can be prescriptively applied to apply literally to the actions of the civil government. Jesus is talking to the church – and to individual believers – and as such I think his teachings must be interpreted as a challenge to the idea of personal vengeance and not justice in the context of society. The rest of the New Testament seems to confirm the idea that God has a completely different mission for civil government than his mission for the church (to “bear the sword”; to punish the evil and commend the good, as Paul writes).

        To echo other comments: when Jesus says, “turn the other cheek” I do not think it proper exegesis to apply this passage to the civil justice system; the same goes for other passages in the sermon on the mount that deal with theft, lawsuits, etc. That includes the matter of capital punishment. However, I do not think that Scripture encourages capital punishment either. I respect that many Christians, led by their reading of Scripture, have come to different conclusions on this matter, but I do not think that the Bible provides enough clarity on the issue for the church to officially take a position one way or the other.

      • Why does everyone ignore Jesus’ words when he comments (Mat 26:52) “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” I suppose that there is some sort of gyrations on interpreting this one, right?

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > a foot in the door for all kinds of terrible government police actions

      Slippery-slope arguments are fallacious. Lots of terrible – and great – things happen, without leading to the next [perceived] logical thing. They also just aren’t necessary – and they easily become feed-back loops for the paranoid and mentally ill; keeping slippery-slope arguments out of public discourse is a healthier choice.

      Make arguments for/against based on data, not on speculation.

      > plus the fact that the death penalty, in practice, is implemented in a racist manner
      > and doesn’t actually deter crime

      These facts are plenty and all the reason I need to say the Death Penalty is a bad idea; no slope required.

      Aside: the “deterrent” argument doesn’t move me one way or the other. You’ll discover there are *VERY* few effective deterrents to malicious or violent behavior. Humans don’t work that way. The threat of prison time is clearly not an effective deterrent either. Because humans don’t work that way; certainly not desperate, isolated, angry, or ill humans – humans when emotionally charged up exist in the now, not in the what-might-be-next.

      • I don’t think it’s necessarily a fallacy, but I think I did put what I meant to say quite badly; the bottom line is that ultimately I don’t think that the government should have the right to kill its citizens, whether they deserve it or not. For the government to implement the death penalty is for it to assume the right to kill its citizens. It is not a slippery slope but a clearly drawn line. To see the crossing of this line as dangerous and potentially leading to further exercises of this assumed right on behalf of the state is not a slippery slope fallacy but a necessary inference. Apologies for being vague and unclear earlier.

        On your other points (including the one you made below about there simply being no good reason for the death penalty, I agree.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > don’t think that the government should have the right to kill its citizens

          We agree. When stated as a clear assertion I accept this completely.

          > It is not a slippery slope but a clearly drawn line

          Yes, and lines are something we can draw to a mutual understanding, and thus discuss.

  6. Patrick Kyle says:

    The apostle Paul clearly states that the power of the sword is given to civil magistrates (whom he calls servants of God) for the punishment of evil. In his day that most certainly included capital punishment. Jesus told Pilate that he had no authority or him except that which had been given him from above. It fits right in with what Paul says.

    Also seems like the comparison of the death penalty to things like abortion is a false moral equivalence argument. Apples and oranges.

    • See my comment above. “An eye for an eye,” which Jesus spoke specifically about, is an OT law speaking directly to the death penalty.

      • CM, I can’t agree with that. The practice that necessitated “an eye for an eye” was to stop the revenge killing of someone for a lesser offense, which was the pracice of the society that the Jews (Hebrews) found themselves in, Ask any rabbi.

        • The thing about asking any rabbi is that opinion and interpretations vary widely. That is part and parcel of the Talmud, and of Jewish thinking on moral and biblical questions. I wish xtianity was half as open to discussion and debate!

          • Little debate on the “eye for an eye” law, I’m afraid. Do some research.

          • But that law has not been *practiced* for a very long time, per Judaism and Jewish society min the ancient Near East.

            As for Talmudic discussion and debate, maybe it would be helpful to delve into that a bit, but??? Your mileage may vary.

        • Oscar, did you read Exodus 21? These are case laws for all kinds of violence and murder, and the appropriate penalties. The “eye for an eye” passage is a summary of the law of retribution exemplified in these cases.

          • That’s right…proportional retribution instead of the reverse. If you carry that out to murder where does that lead?

    • Danielle says:

      One difficulty here is that the New Testament writers never see their mission as telling the civil magistrates what to do. In fact, they don’t really think about changing the social rules of the Greco-Roman world of their time. We do see a lot of instructions for how those following Christ are supposed to live their lives in the world they inhabited.

      You can take that as an endorsement of the powers the Roman government wielded, or of the way people at the time understood household order or slavery. Or you can take it as evidence that Paul and others simply didn’t question the assumptions of their social universe. Or you can take it as evidence that their primary mission was doing something quite separate from staging a social revolution, so this was all quite besides the point. (Also, it’s not like Caesar was asking Paul for advice on running the empire.) In any case, that’s what we’ve got: instructions for living in a godly manner under Roman rule.

      • YES! This is it exactly. Even Jesus speaks about how his Kingdom operates, and how those in that Kingdom should live, not about how civil government should function (although when his Kingdom fully comes that IS how government will function, whatever that ‘fullness’ looks like). The New Testament writers (specifically) don’t seem very concerned at all about what goes on ‘outside’ or how those outside the church live – they are concerned with how God’s people are to live, particularly in relation to each other.

        Jesus himself is speaking (particularly) in the Sermon on the Mount NOT about civil authority or practice, but the practice of individual disciples. It should also be noted that Jesus’ examples (again, particularly in the SOTM) are just that – examples of general principles, sweeping statements with little qualification (which, other writers sometimes add later – such as Paul’ addition to Jesus’ teaching on divorce [1 Cor 7]). They are not to be taken as casuistic precepts (case law) but rather as examples or illustrations of what ‘Kingdom life’ looks like.

        Now, whether Christians in OUR society should support or oppose practices of government is another question entirely (and I’m not supporting or opposing the death penalty – just calling for some reflection on what the New Testament in particular actually says about these things – which is very little). But to say that since Jesus said to love our enemies, not to judge (which is often the catch-all to justify anything, and quoted by the author to support her position), or turn the other cheek (which in that culture had much more to do with not responding to insults than allowing yourself to be bludgeoned to death) means we should oppose civil justice is misappropriating his teaching. If we should oppose the death penalty because it isn’t ‘the Jesus way’ shouldn’t we oppose imprisoning people altogether? The author did say it’s wrong to judge (suggesting that civil authorities should not do this), so shouldn’t we just let people do what they want?

        • Rick Ro. says:

          Yes. Jesus (and Paul) didn’t come for Rome. He (they) came for Romans. He (they) didn’t come to change Rome. He (they) came to change Romans. I think it’s as people change, so the government will change. But it has to begin with the people. Or so I think Jesus and Paul would say.

        • Danielle says:

          I think we agree on what Jesus and Paul are teaching.

          However, I would push back a bit against the idea that the Sermon on the Mount (or other teachings) cannot inform questions of civil government. I think they can, and should, if the question you are asking is: “How shall a Christian magistrate govern?” or “How might one formulate a Christian approach social ethics or legal questions?” The trick is that when we pose that kind of question, we have to realize that it is foreign to the concerns Jesus and Paul had in mind when they were teaching. Paul up all night worrying over his disciples spread all along the Mediterranean, and anticipating his own likely death at the hands of Roman magistrates. Constantine’s problem–how shall I Christianize my new empire?–isn’t even on his mind. So we shouldn’t just lift proof texts out of Jesus or Paul’s teachings and drop them into our arguments.

          For example, Patrick notes that Paul tell believers to remember that the government has the authority to carry out justice for crimes. It’s wise to remember that when Paul says that, he’s taking his usual approach to questions about the power structure: he takes for granted present-day authorities are in charge, assumes they will remain in power until Christ’s return (which he thinks is immanent), and urges people to act virtuously and beyond reproach for the sake of the gospel. So we must obey the magistrates, our parents, our husbands, and our masters. Be good Romans! That is not quite the same thing as saying that whatever Roman law says, and what ever Roman jurisprudence teaches, is always good. In fact, I doubt he could have thought this in any ultimate sense: they were the source of the church’s persecution. The souls before the throne in Revelations 6, which you quote in the comments below, are protesting the actions of the Roman magistrates.

          • Danielle says:

            “If we should oppose the death penalty because it isn’t ‘the Jesus way’ shouldn’t we oppose imprisoning people altogether?”

            This is an interesting question. As you point out, the Sermon of the Mount probably can’t be made be translated into a set of legal principles. And it seems to be addressing problems quite beyond and more important than the question of civil justice.

            But I suppose one might argue that the rule of mercy in the Kingdom, and the sanctity of human life inherent in the doctrine of creation, and the story of God’s self-sacrifice and salvific action in the world, could inspire an approach to questions of justice and violence. I might argue that Christianity requires that the use of violence, although necessary, be tempered as much as possible. Any exercise of justice must affirms human dignity and the possibility of redemption as much as possible. Violence should not be gratuitous: one exacts as much harm as is necessary, and no more. So, if it is not necessary to kill someone, you do not kill them. Perhaps imprisonment is enough. Perhaps imprisonment is too much, if the person can be changed. That would be one approach, anyway.

          • I agree. I just think it is going a little too far to say that Jesus’ teaching for his followers, about his Kingdom, is what he is prescribing for civil government. That is why I noted that how we respond to issues like this NOW is another matter, and our responses should be informed, and shaped by, Jesus’ teachings (as well as the other biblical writers). We certainly should seek government that, as far as is practical, follows those principles, but the problem is (in this yet-to-be-perfected world) those teachings are very impractical – is it possible to have a society where mercy is the rule and no-one ever receives punishment for wronging others or doing evil? Even Paul addresses those issues within the church – cf. I Cor 5 – and calls for some judgment and justice.

          • Danielle says:

            Greg,I think that is very well put.

            BTW, I know I seem to be weaving back and forth. I think that is because I am convinced that Christianity should drive what questions we ask, and what priorities we have, and what our loves are. In other words, there is a “Christianly” conversation to be had on the topic; Christianity is relevant. But I stop short of saying, “The New Testament writers require…” an exact stance.

  7. Julian McMahon says:

    Jesus was executed on false testimony, by a weak cowardly politician. Paul was involved in a stoning, but lived a good life. Its hard to translate legal norms from that time to our time. Its not hard to see that the death penalty in the USA is unjust. The states that hated and enslaved blacks do most of the killing. Overwhelmingly, almost 100% of the time, the prisoners who are executed are poor and have white victims. Despite its greatness, America is unjust in this area. Unjust like Iran, Saudi Arabia, China and Nth Korea. Think about those bedfellows and ask “Are they the friends I choose to copy?” People, religious or not, democrats or republicans, should seek to better their country, to fight against injustice. Most of the free world has slowly come to cease executing, for the very reasons that normally appeal to the American sense of justice and decency. In truth, it seems only stubbornness and spiteful politics maintain the urge to kill. The time is well past to pretend that it is just. Certainly for those who listen, the facts are there – 40 years of research, mostly in America but also around the world, demonstrates conclusively that execution does not operate as a deterrent. Recent American research continues to highlight the occasional executions of innocent persons – estimated to be about 4% of those executed. To condemn killing by killing is a nonsense. There are many injustices in the world, much dreadful violence. The Government killing prisoners does not need to be one of those acts of violence. Like slavery, child labor, the burning of witches – its time to leave the past behind and take what steps we can to improve the world. That includes less killing by the Government. When America stops executing, the free world will stop executing. Its time again to lead with courage.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > The Government killing prisoners does not need to be one of those acts of violence

      Ditto. That the death penalty is simply *unnecessary* is the strongest argument against it.

      There is no practical supportive answer to “Why execute people?”

      Moral Conservatism wins this argument.

      • Jazziscoolithink says:

        Can you elaborate on the argument that “the death penalty is simply unnecessary”? I don’t disagree; I’d just like to see your thoughts.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          It is really simple.

          Execution has no payback to society, and it is divisive, so why do it?

          If we get rid of the death penalty what is the cost to society?

          • Jazziscoolithink says:

            To play the devil’s advocate (literally, in this case ;)), how would you respond to someone who says it costs more money to imprison someone for life than it does to get rid of them altogether?

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            But that is a devils trick. He want’s to argue “why not do X?”; that is an argument I’ve learned to always avoid. Make a case FOR something – we should do X for reason Y – like “We should execute people because…”, this is much clearer than if capital punishment should be legal. FOR arguments make people state their case.

            And I didn’t say Moral arguments do not count. But practical arguments should not be set aside to discuss Moral arguments [moral arguments NEVER actually exist outside a practical context]. Most of the time the practical arguments should be primary, and then, if a FOR argument survives practical analysis MORAL issues enter into it. Making it the other way around (a) doesn’t facilitate discussion between differing factions/sects [where practical concerns can create common ground] and (b) permits moral discussions to happen in a make-believe vacuum which nourishes only fundamentalists, conflict mongers, and those with rhetorical flourish.

            The statement “We should kill people because it costs money to house them” can be answered “What is the threshold? When is a life to expensive to preserve? What is the cost to society of the continued division and injury resulting from this issue relative to the monetary cost of three squares and a roof? What is the ratio of value between that of a convicted criminal and an ‘innocent’ citizen in need of medical care? How is the graduated scale of level of offense established relative to that ‘innocent’ life?”. I have every confidence the demonic nature of such arithmetic will make itself readily apparent.

          • Have you ever spoken to a homicide detective who has worked a case of heinous multiple homiletic and mutilation? What do they say about “justice”? Keep them alive and afford them basic care, food, housing, etc.? Have you spoken to the family members of homicide victims? What do THEY think?

            Can anyone out there answer those questions in the affirmative? Probably NOT!

      • Wayne Essel says:

        The fact that it is *unnecessary* is a minor argument. I agree that it is so, but IF it is so, then the fact of taking any life is especially abhorrent. The fact of possibly taking an innocent life is even worse.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > The fact that it is *unnecessary* is a minor argument.

          I disagree. It is the FIRST argument. The direction of moral and civic calculus exercised on these type of issues is backwards.

          One does not ask “Is it moral for a man to burn down his home?” If you do the only ration answer is “What? He wouldn’t do that”. It is easier, more effective, less divisive, to START with the PRACTICAL questions and if something passes those then move on to MORAL questions – *not* the other way around. You’ll be surprised how quickly numerous sticky issues unstick.

          I had the discussion on “is profanity a sin” innumerable times during my young Evangelical days. It is a dumb discussion – and a good example of going in the wrong direction. Does cussing contribute to communication? Does it edify? Does it encourage? Does it do anything other than possibly divide and offend? There you go – I have no need to determine if dropping the F-bomb is a sin and spend hours in the moral weeds.

      • Stunning idea, Adam. Why have I not thought of that. Killing the prisoner is unnecessary, so why do we do it? I have heard that it costs more to kill an inmate than keep in prison, if money is our reason. Think of the ways we could help this person, whilst in prison. What would Christ want us to do? Ignoring our feelings of revenge, hate of the killer, etc., trusting our Lord’s instructions.

      • As I said below, if I have a firearm and someone breaks into my house at night, I would not hesitate to blow that person’s head off …

        Should not make a difference if it’s me doing it in the heat of the moment, or if I call 911 and a police officer comes over and blows the guy’s head off on my behalf, or, if the guy shoots and kills my family who is staying with me, so the state later gives the guy the gas chamber for it.

        I can’t imagine many Christians expecting me to just lay there and let some intruder rape and murder me – you’re really just quibbling over when, who, and how the creep gets his life taken from him.

    • Certainly for those who listen, the facts are there – 40 years of research, mostly in America but also around the world, demonstrates conclusively that execution does not operate as a deterrent.

      I have never understood this argument. It is not about being a deterrent. It guarantees the person never does it again. One more bad apple off the street and not harassing citizens. We do not have capital punishment in my country. Life imprisonment means in 10 years they are out to repeat the crime.

      I lived in Saudi Arabia for 8 years. For the law abiding citizen it is a very safe place. People know that if they commit an offence punishable by death that if convicted, they will not get off. No matter how good the lawyer is.

      The only way to get out of it is if the family of the murdered one chooses to forgive.

      I remember meeting a lady from Oregon who had been there some 20 years. She said to me that it was safer than Oregon for her as a woman.

      When there was a violent crime justice was quick, after all court appeals ended and an appeal to the king.

      I never had to worry about my wife or children. When I came to Canada I had to start to educate my children not to trust strangers.

      • Ken said,
        “It is not about being a deterrent. It guarantees the person never does it again”

        Yes, that is true – plus, it’s a matter of justice. Someone takes a life, they have to pay with theirs.

        If you don’t want to get the death penalty, if you live in a state that has it, simple: don’t murder someone.

        If you don’t want to get a ticket for drunk driving, don’t get drunk and drive. Don’t want to be arrested for shoplifting, don’t steal from the store. It’s not that complicated.

      • Ken, in numerous countries, a principle justification for the death penalty is deterrence. Your instinct is correct , supported by much research – it is a fallacious justification. As for Saudi Arabia, Im afraid you must have seen only the bright side, for those who have some access to resources.Have a look at the ‘justice’ the poor receive there, eg poor Indonesians. In mid 2011 Indonesia had to ban its women travelling there as workers until improvements were guaranteed. And thats a reality from a country very friendly to Saudi Arabia. Look at the ‘black magic’ cases, where Indonesian maids are punished for problems in the houses where they work. Not safe for them. It saddens me that you approve of Saudi justice. Do you know of the beheadings? The crucifixions? The torture in jails?
        Your point about 10 years and out is very valid.

        • I am quite aware of the beheadings. They took place publicly on Friday after prayer. The expats referred to these public squares as chop-chop square. I never went there on Fridays. I had no interest.

          If you were a westerner you would be pushed to the front so you could see what justice was.

          I am sorry but I always laugh (not at you) when I hear the liberal westerner say this is fallacious. It worked in Nazi Germany and also in Iraq before we toppled Hussein. If you have a government that is serious enough about crime and mean enough it does cut down on crime.

          I lived it, I know. There was little crime in the kingdom.
          In the meantime in Canada and the US crime is rampant. People have to watch that their kids don’t get kidnapped, there are whole areas of cities people don’t go to.

          It just seems to me that Canadians in the positions of power are too concerned about the rights of criminals and rehabilitating them rather than the society as a whole, I find it ironic that Canada is very serious about traffic rules and it means that the vast majority of people are very compliant. Lots of money spent on traffic enforcement. Yet very lax on crime.
          If someone busts into your house and steals stuff unlikely they will be punished much of caught. Yet if you had a vicious dog who did them in or you shot them you would likely be charged.

          • Thank you Ken! I am highly suspicious of “life” sentences in the USA because the legal system is subject to arcane gymnastic gesticulations which can, and HAVE, led to “life” sentences resulting in the perpetrator being let out on parole. Jesus said “They that live by the sword will. die by the sword”, probably his most ignored saying.

            Never the less, if I was a family member of a murdered loved one and it was MY responsibility to “flip the switch” I would demure. it is a terrible act to take another’s life. Just ask a veteran who served in a time of war.

          • Ken the fallacy in your argument is that you are suggesting showing mercy equates to no punishment. I’m not saying that. I’m saying that Jesus taught that the law of strict retributive justice is not the law of his kingdom. Mercy supersedes judgment, it does not throw it out altogether.

            Those who take life should suffer severe penalties such as life imprisonment. But in Jesus’ kingdom, love goes beyond giving others what they deserve.

  8. Orwell observed that British pacifists in World War II were in effect Nazi supporters. Everybody who is HONEST supports a death penalty. Some of us support a death penalty for murderers. Others support a death penalty for the innocent victims of murderers. In effect.

    • Robert F says:

      You are confusing and conflating the questions of the issues surrounding war with the those surrounding the death penalty. They are two different sets of issues.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        +1. This is mega-conflation.

      • Robert said,
        “You are confusing and conflating the questions of the issues surrounding war with the those surrounding the death penalty. They are two different sets of issues”

        I think the two topics are somewhat related, as I said in much longer posts below.

        • Robert F says:

          They overlap, but are not co-extensive enough that deciding in favor of or against one decides your position in the other.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Orwell observed that British pacifists in World War II were in effect Nazi supporters

      You do realize that Orwell was a satirist? [as well an, at least borderline, polemic – which might just be part-and-parcel with being a satirist, I increasingly wish God would just rapture all the satirists up to heaven … or wherever satirists might go… ]

      > Everybody who is HONEST supports a death penalty.

      Nope. I’m not certain what an “honest” human is; but there are plenty of people I personally consider honest on both sides of this issue.

      > Some of us support a death penalty for murderers.

      Clearly.

      > Others support a death penalty for the innocent victims of murderers.

      I’ve fortunately never met such a person, at least to my knowledge.

      > In effect.

      Nope.

      • Robert F says:

        Adam, in his essay “Pacifism and the War,” Orwell was not being satirical; he meant exactly what Clark took him to mean. Orwell was not a pacifist, and he believed pacifism was morally dishonest and irresponsible, especially given what was at stake in WWII.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      As I said above, Born-Again Bible-Beleiving Christians are the most Rah-Rah Cheerleaders for the death penalty.

      • It’s likely because, deep down, the ‘elect’ don’t give a rat’s behind about the rest of humanity. They were going to hell anyway, after all…

  9. Thank you for bringing up this touchy subject. I have come to oppose the death penalty (in MOST cases) which is a change from my beliefs as a young woman. My concern is the impossibility of commuting the sentence if an innocent person is exonerated later on. You can release a prisoner, but not a corpse.

    I do not hold this prohibition as an absolute, however, although the circumstances would have to be unusual and the guilt irrefutable. I do believe that in rare cases, a human may be so badly damaged and such a danger to society and the lives of others that the death penalty is reasonable and necessary.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > the death penalty is reasonable and necessary.

      Why? A human is so damaged and dangerous they cannot simply be detained?

      As someone who has lived in the presence of violent mental-illness – this is not true.

      There are no super-heros / super-villians. The death penalty is operationally unnecessary; it is supported only because people *want* it.

      • And people want it because it is right. When considering the threat these people pose to other prisoners and prison staff; when considering the attorneys who will eventually spring anyone after enough time; when there is always the possibility of escape; when veterans are dying in the hallways of VA hospitals while killers enjoy the gym, color TV, and three squares a day; and finally considering that we really don’t believe murder is the ultimate crime if we do not impose the ultimate punishment — we must have a functioning death penalty.

        I sincerely question that opponents of the death penalty really care about protecting the lives of children. In fact, abolishing the death penalty is the equivalent of declaring open hunting season on innocent victims.

      • Adam said,
        “Why? A human is so damaged and dangerous they cannot simply be detained?”

        There was a guy who raped a 9 yr old girl, buried her alive, and she died in a hole in the ground. Forget what his name was, but this was a big news story several years ago.

        There are sickos who burn baby animals to death in microwaves and ovens, there are women who repeatedly hack a dog or bunny head in while it is alive on camera so men watching on video can “get off” on it (these are called “crush” videos)…

        All of these are complete scum and do not deserve to live even more second on planet earth, not in a jail, not anywhere.

        They forfeit any claim to humanity when they torture and kill children, old people, and animals.

        Not an ounce of sympathy from me, doesn’t bother me in the least if/when they get the electric chair, lethal injection, etc.

    • flatrocker says:

      Pattie,
      From the Catechism (para 2267)
      “Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

      If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

      Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”

      This, I believe, is what Adam is referring to. We have the wherewithal to protect society from truly dangerous people by means other than execution. As long as this capability exists, the Church teaches we can not justify capital punishment.

      • flatrocker says:

        And I think the seroius introspective question becomes why do we, the faithful, want it? Or need it?

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > Or need it?

          This is the money question. Answer – I have no idea. Vengeance, perhaps?

          • flatrocker says:

            As a related observation, how do we see hell and how is it populated?

            View 1: I know there is a hell and I pray it is empty.
            View 2: I know there is a hell and it damn well better be full.

            I wonder if how we line up on these divergent views of damnation helps to see how we line up on capital punishment – if we’re really honest with ourselves.

          • Danielle says:

            Adam and flatrocker, I agree that more ugly questions simmer just below the surface of the death penalty debate.

            I can understand and perhaps affirm a conversation about how best to stop a dangerous person from hurting others. In modern America, we are always or most always able to lock them up. (Preventing injury to others maybe harder to rule out entirely, given violence inside prisons.) In other contexts, the only way to stop some people from continuing to hurt others is simply to kill them where they stand. Life, and history, are the suck: much of what we do forces us into moral compromise.

            I can understand the question of dealing with “justice” in a way that affirms the dignity of victims.

            What I find very disturbing is the fact that there is a certain schadenfreude that creeps into discussions of the death penalty. Some people are just so evil, the conversation begins. And so, the speaker continues, we have to do something to them. “I wish I could string up the bastard myself!” (The theological equivalent does seem to be the way some people discuss Hell: “You know who is in Hell? All the people I love to hate.”) There’s a certain amount of righteous anger to statements like this — we’re repulsed by what we see as evil and we want to expunge it, turn it into a symbol of some kind, separate from ourselves and the community, and then obliterate it. We want to get clean. And we want to get, far, far away from what frightens us. But, this is also where things get dangerous. For one thing, we are far more apt to make certain people into hated symbols and expunge them, than to make other people into symbols. For another thing, at some point, a point quite early in the conversation, the issue has stopped being about the simply matter of reluctantly putting down a rabid dog that might bite someone, and has become a an act of public, ritualized violence about something much bigger than their the perpetrator or the victims. I don’t trust this aspect of human psychology. It is universal, and powerful, and highly dangerous.

          • Danielle, you are so right about the accompanying schadenfreude.

            Daisy, I couldn’t read more than the first sentence of your recent comment, because the example are deeply disturbing and I don’t want to have any nightmares. Honestly, I think everyone here knows about horrific acts like these. Details obscure the discussion of the actual issues re. capital punishment. Like Danielle said above, I certainly understand the emotions these things evoke, but appealing to emotions alone (or primarily) pretty much moves us away from ethics and into the realm of Quentin Tarantino movies.

    • Radagast says:

      I am Catholic and Pro-life and though I know many Catholics are not, I do know that the Church’s position is pro-life… from beginning to end. That being said I take some of the Catholic commentary in this article with a grain of salt. Some of this article makes it seem that the Church is some right leaning, narrow minded organization. Now… I m right leaning, but I definitely do not see the Church leaning particularly in this direction. They may seem right on issues such as contraception, abortion and marriage but then they could be perceived as left on death penalty, social justice, distribution of wealth and the like (and they should be).

      My experience with the Church on the death penalty in particular has always been, pray for the sinner and that we as humans do not have the authority to end what God created. My takeaway from this article is… A woman with liberal leanings chastising the Church on its perceived conservative leanings and its view on the death penalty in particular. In my view, when it comes to church lets leave politics out of it. When it comes to the Catholic Church look around at who is ministering to the folks on death row. In my neighborhood it is Catholic Religious.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > A woman with liberal leanings chastising the Church on its
        > perceived conservative leanings

        I am politically Left, and I perceived the same thing. My perception of the Catholic Church is that it is a rare bastion of advocacy on social justice issues. From prison ministry and support of single mothers to advocacy for public transportation – the Catholic Church is there, in practice, on the ground. The Catholic Church is a rare organization that is, without a doubt, at the bat for the welfare of my community and its citizens – however any of them may disagree with it on particular issues. They are a heavy-weight slugger on social justice compared to any of the traditionally `Left` mainline Protestant sects, or all of them added together. If I could disagree on some issues with more institutions in the way I disagree with the Catholic Church it would be a good day.

        I believe the author has a point on what issues get the most chatter or presentation; it is not a broad representation of issues or actions the Catholic Church is involved it. It would be better if the front-and-center message was broader at least for the practical reason that it could involve more people in the conversation.

        I disagree with the authors final tone – it is not a tone which is inviting or encourages dialog.

        • Rick Ro. says:

          ->”I disagree with the authors final tone – it is not a tone which is inviting or encourages dialog.”

          I agree with you completely. That last paragraph is extremely heavy-handed and melodramatic. Almost discredits all that comes before it.

      • Dan Crawford says:

        I really do wish that the Catholic Church in the United States were committed to social justice and other pro-life issues. That was true 25-30 years ago, but today’s prelates have dug themselves in a hole embracing the Randian politics and economic darwinism of the Ryans, Boehners, and the crowd of sycophants supporting the corporate oligarchy in the US. Perhaps we may see a change now that Francis is pope – he seems to believe that we ought to be willing to sacrifice ideology for human beings, not the other way around.

        • flatrocker says:

          “embracing the Randian politics and economic Darwinism” ??

          And where might this Catholic Church exist? Is it in their spare time after they are done ministering to the poor in their soup kitchens, healing the sick in their hospitals, or sheltering the immigrant farm worker in their sanctuaries?

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            The Christians who’ve made Ayn Rand the Fourth Person of their Trinity are NOT Catholics.

            Try Evangelical Culture Warriors.

        • Radagast says:

          Dan,

          Then you may not have spent time around Catholics in the urban areas. Sometimes the social justice focus of some in the Catholic Church can be too left leaning for me… until I stop and think, this is exactly the group who should be doing this (in my small government mindset). Randian politics?… maybe from an individual perspective but if you are watching the news these days its the Church who is sheltering the newly undocumented, championing immigration reform, and calling for livable wage, not conservative thought in my book… but then they are in the business of taking care of the lost, poor etc.

      • Christiane says:

        Hi RAD,
        you wrote: ” They may seem right on issues such as contraception, abortion and marriage but then they could be perceived as left on death penalty, social justice, distribution of wealth and the like (and they should be). ”

        I think you are right. I am Catholic and pro-life (but not willing to control the health decisions of women and their doctors, no) . . . I am against the death penalty in principle because I am pro-life (from beginning to ending); but I understand the people who yell ‘fry him’ when faced with a man who broils his baby alive in a super-heated car, because my gut is also yelling ‘fry him’ with them out of frustration for the hell the baby suffered before it passed into God’s Hands) . . .

        thing is that I want the best without giving up what is human in myself . . . my own need to want to make my own decisions and my own need to see justice done harshly and quickly for the sake of a little one who suffered . . . but ‘my’ isn’t the operative word when I sincerely pray ‘Thy Will be done’ . . .

        we are a strange people . . . we seek what is holy and pure, yet we don’t trust enough to let go of our own worldliness . . . and the conflict is real and upsetting, and must be faced, even if I am no where near to resolving it in myself . . .

        I hope others are more pulled together . . . but I suspect we all struggle in some way with integrity in this life.

    • > a human may be so badly damaged

      When we as as Christians make a comment like this, are we not also saying that another human being is beyond the reach of God’s gift of grace and salvation in Christ and thereby removing any opportunity for him (or her) to accept that gift?

      This is not to say that there shouldn’t be punishment and removal from society in general but by taking this life we are, as another commenter stated, taking away what God has created.

      Just some thoughts from a long time reader and a first (hopefully not last) commentator. 🙂

  10. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    > Christmas card photos of smiling nuclear families with
    > Mom, Dad, and children happily ensconced on the sofa

    Which is a picture that only describes a demographically thin ribbon of the American citizenry.

    > How did we, and even worse, our Christian leaders,
    > become so complacent, so eager to reach only for
    > the ripest, low-hanging fruit? … we have elected
    > officials who are so busy pretending to be God that
    > they’ve stopped trying to follow God

    I’m with the author up to this point; but I do not accept this analysis at all. Most people, and most [good *1] public officials, ‘low ball’ primarily because they exist in a sphere of cultural exhaustion. The push-back against *anything* mounts like a rapidly oncoming storm while supporters come out as a thin drizzle. Existing as an advocate of anything in a culture of knee-jerk panic and suspicion is exhausting. So many people spend so much time repeating to themselves and others why nothing can happen, nothing can be done, nothing can change,…. setting aside the reality that lots of things do get done (usually on schedule and under budget – yes, this is *TRUE*) and lots of things get changed (very often for the better). I’ve met hubris, it exists – I have met a lot more exhaustion, despair, and a lot of well-intentioned people who have just been barked at too often.

    People create their leaders – if you despise your leaders, start by looking in the mirror. Is your default action to bark?

    [*1] Of which there are very very many. Note that almost everything here almost always works: electricity, drinking water, the phones, sewage, storm water, traffic signals, toll gates, buses, trains, airplanes, … All because of people/employees, including public officials, doing their jobs every ^@&$% day. If you believe making all the moving parts of the 21st century west ‘go’ is simple or automatic you are catastrophically ignorant.

  11. I am very thankful for this article. I believe it to be a very important issue if one identifies themselves as being “pro-life.” I personally believe that Jesus changes everything. The New Covenant is a covenant of hope, of life, and of mercy – and it has no room for the death penalty for it was already paid.

    People often cite Genesis 9:6 to support their belief that the death penalty is biblical: “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.”

    The common argument that I’ve heard is that if you have killed someone made in the image of God, you have given up your right to live. How do others of you interact with this?

    • That’s also the basis of the Hebrews’ law of retribution, “an eye for an eye,” which was a vast improvement for justice over the practices of the nations in their day. However, Jesus spoke specifically to the issue in Matthew 5 where he said “an eye for an eye” was not his way. Here mercy triumphs over justice, recognizing that the killer is also made in the image of God and worthy of forgiveness.

      • How are forgiveness and the death penalty mutually exclusive? Forgiving a man for a crime does not place him beyond punishment for it, else society would seek to both forgive and forget, but we generally don’t conflate the two. Why must forgiveness and forgetfulness be conflated only with respect to the death penalty?

      • Mike,
        I understand as Christians we should not seek revenge, but does the text you’re quoting from the Sermon on the Mount apply to the State? Do you apply this principle beyond the death penalty? Should we ever punish people for stealing, rape, abuse, or murder? Or should we petition the state to just turn the other cheek and let them go? And if we should still punish people for crimes, then we cannot take the death penalty off the table simply because we as Christians are not to seek revenge. There are other good reasons for not having a death penalty, but I don’t think this one reference is it.

      • AND He said “They that draw the sword will die by the sword.+ Now THAT one was in context.

        • Danielle says:

          Um, about the context. Jesus was telling one of disciples, the impulsive one, to put away a sword he’d just drawn in self-defense.

          The whole verse goes,

          “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”

        • oscar,

          I think it is going a little too far to see Jesus’ saying about living/dying by the sword as an endorsement of capital punishment, particularly since he says that to Peter, and again to the persecuted saints in Revelation to discourage them from taking up the sword. His point seems to be directed at the ‘sword lifestyle’ (that often typifies criminals) warning that ‘if that’s how you choose to live, that’s probably how you will die’ – pretty much like the sowing and reaping statements. They are not prescriptive, but rather descriptive. It probably was a common proverb (given the varied contexts in which it’s quoted) that Jesus used to teach his followers about his Kingdom and the exercise of power in his Kingdom. It is also worth noting that those who live by the sword often do die by the sword (which is supported by homicide statistics in the US, as well as history – it’s good to be the king, right up to when they cut off your head!).

    • I don’t think all murders necessarily merit the death penalty, but I would agree that in committing a particularly vile crime, one’s life becomes forfeit. Is there truly *no* crime whatsoever that merits the death penalty? I can’t believe that.

      • You are asking a different question, Chris. All murders merit the death penalty. The point is that mercy triumphs over justice.

        • > Mercy triumphs over justice

          +1 Chaplain Mike

        • Even when it’s cheap? Even when it’s lavished on merciless monsters by those far removed from the crimes committed and the victims thereof? No, sir. If we are to be a people of laws and not of sentiment, justice must, at least sometimes, prevail over mercy.

          • Ichabod says:

            Ask yourself how the OT God of justice and law treated the murderer Cain. Seems like his punishment (banishment) was more akin to a life sentence. God spared his life; brother who turned on brother in the first fratricide received mercy.

          • Ichabod, your comment is one of the best in this thread.

            Deserves a post – or a few paragraphs – of its own, I think.

        • “The point is that mercy triumphs over justice.”

          Yes, of course. But is this intended to carried out on a personal level or a societal level? Whereas as an individual I am compelled to forgive others–unilaterally, unconditionally, unending–the civil authorities are not compelled in the same way as they must carry out justice, both for its own sake and for preventive purposes.

          If the “mercy triumphs over justice” argument were applied to the criminal courts then it would follow that we should never incarcerate anyone who asks the judge for mercy.

          Therefore, and with all due respect, simply saying “mercy triumphs justice” w/o providing further support for how this would apply in society is a bit simplistic and a non sequitur.

          • Rick Ro. says:

            I agree with you, CC. A thought occurred to me: since this site is about Jesus-shaped spirituality, what would “Jesus-shaped justice” look like? While justice might be “shaped” by mercy, I’m not sure justice is “triumphed” by it. I see “mercy triumphs over justice” as much more individualistic “this is what Jesus calls me to be and do,” but not necessarily able to be applied into the laws of a land and through the justice system.

          • As has already been noted here, Jesus did not address many issues, including the criminal justice system. And until the persecutions ended and Christians had a voice in government there was not much they could do to influence government one way or the other.

            By the time of Augustine, however, Christian thought on civil matters received a voice. For instance, here’s Augustine on the death penalty,

            “The same divine authority that forbids the killing of a human being establishes certain exceptions, as when God authorizes killing by a general law or when He gives an explicit commission to an individual for a limited time. The agent who executes the killing does not commit homicide; he is an instrument as is the sword with which he cuts. Therefore, it is in no way contrary to the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill’ to wage war at God’s bidding, or for the representatives of public authority to put criminals to death, according to the law, that is, the will of the most just reason.” (The City of God, Book 1, chapter 21)

            This, and other treatises like it, in and of themselves prove only that the church sanctioned capital punishment until more recent times.

          • Robert F says:

            When is it that you occupy only a personal role? When you suffer an injury, don’t others always necessarily suffer from your injury, too? Family, wife, children?

          • Robert, I don’t think you understood or are following my argument. I often fail to make my point clear so let me express it with greater clarity.

            The dichotomy I am making is with regards the opposing actions victims and the criminal justice system will take when a crime has been committed.

            For instance, if an eight year old girl is kidnapped, raped and murdered, the father and mother of the girl may take no action of vengeance or retribution whatsoever against the criminal; they may even forgive the rapist and murderer of their child and wish him well. The state, on the other hand, will arrest, indict, prosecute, condemn, and either incarcerate for life or execute the criminal.

            That’s the personal/civil difference I’m referring to. I hope it makes better sense.

          • Robert F says:

            CC, you were sufficiently clear, I just read something you did not say into what you did say. I realized it after I posted my comment, and then re-read yours. My comment missed your point.

          • Robert, I frequently do the same thing, especially when to comes to an emotionally charged issue such as abortion.

            With regards capital punishment I am not as emotionally attached as I have some ambivalence towards it. On the one hand, I believe that the state is justified in executing criminals for certain heinous crimes. But on the other hand it appears that the poor and minorities are disproportionately executed, and that overzealous, sloppy and/or unscrupulous prosecutors indict and successfully prosecute a few innocent people.

          • Calvin, re. your most recent reply to Robert, I’m pretty much in the same place on this issue. I think the death penalty should be carried out very, very sparingly, if at all – but still, I wonder…

        • CM said,
          “The point is that mercy triumphs over justice.”

          I disagree in the context of a death penalty discussion.

          You’re basically letting serial killers and other vile individuals off the hook in the “here and now,” and I don’t believe the Bible supports that view at all. I don’t think sitting in a prison cell until one dies is justice for some sicko who say, rapes a kid and buries her alive and she dies alone in the dirt.

          • I think you are missing the points that Ms. Alberghetti and CM are attempting to make.

  12. While reading this article, I noticed that one word in particular was missing: victim. I know we are not to love only the lovable, but are not the victims of death row inmates worthy of love, as well? One of the most unsettling aspects of anti-death-penalty advocacy I’ve noticed is a tendency to treat the victims of murder and violent crime as mere abstractions, as if criminals were placed on death row for completely arbitrary reasons–at which point, both victim and perpetrator become abstractions, idols even, to the piety of well-intended activists. Ms. Alborghetti seems to be suggesting that we give perpetrators of some of the most vile and unspeakable crimes imaginable the utmost benefit of the doubt in assuming they are fully human–while dismissing the cries for justice coming from society and family and friends of the victims as mere animal bloodlust. Irony abounds, but many anti-death-penalty activists, I’ve noticed, seem to have no sense of it.

    • Chris, IMO your point balances, but does not do away with the author’s point.

      Overflowing mercy, grace, and love for the victim is also a part of Jesus’ teaching, i.e. the Good Samaritan, among other passages.

      • CM said, Overflowing mercy, grace, and love for the victim is also a part of Jesus’ teaching, i.e. the Good Samaritan, among other passages.

        No, not always. This is the same Jesus who said things like,

        1 He [Jesus] said to His disciples, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! 2″It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble.
        (Luke Ch. 17)

        • -Sorry, my comment was in the context of the guys sitting on death row, who are there because they murdered someone.

          Jesus of course showed compassion to victims of crime and other sins.

        • Daisy, I don’t thing anyone here is disputing that there are people who do things that are almost beyond human comprehension. I also think we all get that same kind of gut reaction to these crimes.

          But that isn’t the focus of the discussion, is it?

      • CM, PLEASE! Nothing in the story of the Good Samaritan have any relation to the death penalty! Now if your point was the one Jesus was making when He asked ” Which one was his brother?” then, yes, you might make a point. But to equate any of those characters to a violent murderer is way off point.

  13. I would list myself as ambivalent on this subject. Ms. Alborghetti (and most commentors) seem to view this issue as necessarily binary, capable of being expressed only with a thumbs-up or with a thumbs-down but with no middle ground. And to some extent, this makes sense. Contrary to the words of Miracle Max, one cannot be “mostly dead.” The only two choices are dead or alive.

    Let me stipulate her points on the injustice of the manner in which the DP is practiced in the US. No argument there.

    But I would ask if there might be ANY conceivable manner in which the DP would be justified and could be carried out justly? I am confident that Ms. Alborghetti’s position would be an unequivocal “no.”

    I”m not so sure she is right…but then again, I’m not so sure she is wrong either. That’s the ambivalent part.

    If slippery slope arguments are fallacious then the fallacy cuts both ways. Slippery slope thinking tends to lead to All-Or-Nothing thinking. I strongly suspect that AON thinking may be ultimately unhelpful to the cause. Is it possible to find a place where the DP can be carefully proscribed AND carried out in a manner that is consistent, unbiased and acceptably free from error?

    By carefully proscribed — I mean a penalty that would apply to clearly deserving cases. There is a difference between the government executing someone as a penalty for murder and a government executing someone who they believe poses a threat to the power on the seat. I make a distinction there. In our society, however, the issue of personal bias tends to blue the line — judges, jurors, lawmakers, tend to conflate the two under the rubric of “threatening our way of life.” Hence the need for “unbiased.”

    By unbiased – I mean whose application would be free from racial, economic or other inherent biases. I also mean free from broadly political bias. By political, I mean the broad considerations, mechanisms and institutions (formal and informal) of how people live together.

    By “acceptably” free from error — I reject the argument based on “if we save just one it’s worth it.” I could apply the same calculus to the other side of the ledger. I think there is a line to be drawn, but I admit that I am not sure where to draw it. I’m not sure it’s even possible to draw it justly anywhere east of zero, but I think it is worth considering. I have this sense that the common law concept of “weregild” plays in there someplace.

    Moreover, there are the practical considerations of whether the technology and methodology are available to insure reliable convictions. The bar should be high, but I think perhaps not insurmountable.

    Finally, as with the subject of abortion, I would agree with Ms. Alborghetti that the church is called unequivocally to befriend the condemned and minister Christ to them. We are taught that In Christ, even in chains, we are free. If this is true then we should be making disciples in prison and even on death row. This is a good reminder.

    Mostly thinking out loud. Hope this was semi-coherent.

    Nice post. Good comments. Thanks all.

  14. 57 comments and…yup, I predicted the first commenter easily.

    In other news, reading through this book called Mere Churchianity again, it’s quite good, very refreshing. And convinced one friend last night to pick it up as it may be just what he needs at this moment.

    Is there a bulk discount on the book for IMonkers?

  15. David Cornwell says:

    As the Church we must recognize that the State can do whatever it wants as far as dealing death or permitting life. It has these powers and will do as it sees fit.

    However the Church must stand for something different. It is not our job to mirror the State is its death invoking power. We stand as a witness against all that the State can deal out, whether it be the death of our young in fighting the wars of the State, the death of the criminal at the end of the rope, chair, gas chamber, or injection table, or the death of the unborn in a sterile hospital or a dirty backroom. For the Church, Christ has died on a cross to pay whatever penalty is due, however we want to define it. Justice has been done, and if it has not been there will be a Day when that finality will be pronounced.

    As was mentioned a day or so ago, we are ambassadors of another Kingdom. While here we are its representatives.

    • @ David C.

      So when Christians see evil happening, like a young girl getting gang raped in a public park (which sadly has, in fact, happened several times in American in the last 15 – 20 years, I’ve seen two or three such news stories over my life time), we should stand there and do nothing, because God forbid we call the cops, who will use force on the child raping scum?

      We’re supposed to just stand there and “love on” the rapists from a distance and hope they stop raping the girl? Maybe offer them a Gospel Tract and tells them Jesus loves them?

      If I was the girl in that situation, I know I would want every person standing there to jump in and defend me, even if that meant cracking open the heads of my rapists, and assuming the rapists survive the head cracking, they get the death penalty.

      Showing such a “lovey dovey” view towards wrong-doers – that it’s always or mostly wrong to use force or intervene or apply the death penalty – is not Christian or loving at all.

      It’s actually the neglect of duty and responsibility to keep others safe. It’s also very, very naive.

      Justice needs to be carried out down here on earth, not just in the afterlife.

      I’m afraid that you’re not living in the same reality I am, where stuff like this happens:

      CBI set to dig up bodies in Badaun gang-rape and murder case

      The Central Bureau of Investigation has decided to exhume the bodies of two young [teen aged] cousins who were allegedly gang-raped and hanged from a mango tree in Badaun’s Katra Sadatganj on May 27.

      • If you’re going to use rhetoric use it FAIRLY. Nowhere did David say we should stand by while someone is being raped. Are you so intent on winning the argument that you will twist and add on to what someone has said just so you can have the smug satisfaction of winning the last word? So much for Christian charity.

      • Daisy, why are you trying so hard to disrupt the discussion with all these links and such? It is hard to stomach; almost like you’re deliberately attempting to derail the whole thread.

        As for me… I grew up w/kids whose parents were Holocaust survivors. I think most anyone past a certain age who knows about that (directly or indirectly) would never dispute the evils committed by humans. The unthinkable became real, and it continued in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, through the genocidal war in the former Yugoslavia, to Rwanda, to… pick a time and place, and someone was/is killing and torturing other human beings. Let me bring it even closer to home – white Americans’ genocidal wars against the Native/First Nation peoples (from Massachusetts to Hawaii). Did any of *us* get tried and imprisoned for that? Maybe a handful of people. Do you think that all those who raped, tortured and killed native peoples should have been executed (or given long, long sentences), or allowed to walk – and in some cases, become the objects of public adulation?

        See, this discussion has to be more balanced. While I realize that I’ve gone off topic in bringing up mass genocide, the reality is that each and every one of the people involved in those acts had the tacit, even explicit, approval of the state.

        Maybe you can see parallels between this and the discussion at hand. At least, I hope so.

        • numo, if you can;t stand to see the details how then can you be an advocate for the victims’ families and loved ones? Is it only the murderer who deserves mercy? The reason the death penalty exists is to punish perpetrators of such crimes and give closure to those impacted by the crime.

          Could it be that if you admit that death is “justice” that you feel you are becoming a murderer yourself? When the martyred saints cry out “How long o Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge out blood on they that dwell on the earth?” they are NOT crying out for forgiveness for their murderers, but JUSTICE!

          Justice does not always feel good…

          • Oscar, like I said, it’s not about a case by case accounting of reprehensible crimes, of which there are uncounted numbers. I did mention that in the post just upthread, but you didn’t acknowledge that section of my comment, which is more relevant to the general discussion than the remarks I made about Daisy’s repeated descriptions of inhuman behavior.

            I know you and I don’t agree on many things, but for the sake of keeping things on track, maybe we can concentrate on the moral and ethical concerns re. capital punishment, OK?

          • Robert F says:

            “Justice does not always feel good…”

            That’s just the problem in human psychology: people easily come to love watching “justice” visited upon other people, and it can feel very good. That’s why the Romans held public executions and people loved to watch, that’s why right through most of the Christian era executions were well-attended public events that amounted to entertainment for the masses.

            Psychologically, the way people justify this sadism is by seeing those who so suffer as somehow less than human, as somehow different from the general run of humanity. But if they paid attention to their own pleasure in the suffering of the condemned, they would see that, in fact, such bestial/demonic proclivities are all too human, and that any human being is in fact capable of doing anything, once the thin veneer of socialization is pierced by whatever combination of events.

            numo’s reluctance to hear the details of such atrocities is a morally healthy way of preventing herself from seeing other human beings as somehow different in kind from herself. This in turn helps her to not surrender to the ferocity that is in every human heart, and that can as easily be seen in the sadism of crowds gathered to watch an execution as in the crimes of the violent perpetrator being executed.

          • Danielle says:

            Robert, this is it. Exactly.

            I do not dispute the need to punish crime and mete out justice. But place before me a scene where a thief or (if you prefer) a murderer is going to be hanged or beheaded or what not, before a jearring, excited crowd whose relish and fascination is palpable, and I am inclined to be just afraid as the crowd as the criminal. This is a dimension of humanity from which I am inclined to run screaming, if for no other reason than that this instinct is in me, as well.

          • Robert and Danielle – yes! You both captured much that I was trying to say but couldn’t articulate.

            This discussion has been very interesting so far. Am thankful for blogs like this one, believe me!

          • Danielle – yes to the whole sorry “spectacle” of public executions, as with hangings in England until very recently.

            Don’t know if you’ve ever seen “The Great Train Robbery” (w/Donald Sutherland; not the silent film), but there’s an incredibly chilling scene of the crowd at a public hanging. I have a feeling that they got the atmosphere and feeling right, even if some of the details are inaccurate or exaggerated for effect. Lord knows, there are *many* written accounts of public executions, and they’re very hard to read. Lots of spectators glowsting and reveling in it, kinda like Madame De Farge in A Tale of Two Cities…

          • Err, that should be “gloating and revelling” above.

            Blasted Autocorrect!

          • Robert F says:

            “This is a dimension of humanity from which I am inclined to run screaming, if for no other reason than that this instinct is in me, as well.”

            Yes, Danielle. Such mobs frighten us not only because we recognize that violence from them could easily target us, but, more profoundly, because we recognize ourselves in them.

    • This is what I’ve been trying to say.

  16. Rick Ro. says:

    I’m a fence-sitter on this issue, leaning a bit toward the “capital punishment is an unfortunate necessity” camp. The argument “how can I be pro-life while supporting capital punishment” is a good one, but doesn’t push me over the edge. Yes, perhaps it’s a hypocritical stance, but I think most controversial stances are filled with hyporisy. For instance, take the pro-choice camp, which probably has many environmentalist “save the planet” types in it. I envision these people waving a “Save the Whale” sign in one hand even as they wave a sign supporting the killing of unborn babies in the other. Really? Whales over babies?

    But I digress. The point is that the seeming hypocrisy and using that as an argument is weak to me.

    The real tough one for me is trying to apply Jesus’ seeming elimination of “an eye for an eye” against what society needs from the justice system. Where does elimination of “an eye for an eye” begin or end in the justice system? Do we show mercy only to murderers? Should we begin applying mercy and leniency for other crimes? “I know you deserve 30 years for beating your wife to a pulp and leaving her in a coma, but we’re going to have mercy on you. 5 years.” To me, the justice system exists to mete out justice. It’s not the place for mercy and leniency. (That’s a generalized statement – there are times for mercy and leniency.) It’s a place for dealing with those who harmed society and thus a danger to society. Jesus’ elimination of “an eye for an eye” can be factored in, but should not trump what is required of the justice system.

    Personally, I believe capital punishment should be rarely used, but I think there are cases when it is okay. The guy who goes into a 7-Eleven and shoots the employee in the face, killing him? Not so much. The guy who bursts into a home and sodomizes the family with a curling iron before killing them? Yeah, probably.

    And how about this one, those of you against it: Should the people responsible for the killing of millions of Jews, including women and children, during WWII…should they have been executed? To me, the answer is easy. At some point, justice for the crimes committed involve a forfeiture of life. But that could just be me.

    • Just a note: Pro-life advocates are against abortion because it kills an INNOCENT being,NOT because “all life is precious”.

      Pro death penalty proponents want to see the GUILTY person punished.

      Guilty versus innocent…how can we have gotten so twisted in out thinking? Pro abortionists are pro life when it comes to murderers of innocents. THIS does NOT make sense!

      • Final Anonymous says:

        As someone stated above, at least 4% of those killed by the death penalty are later found to be innocent. There could be many more, because justice is distributed widely unevenly; people who are guilty of worse crimes than death row inmates sit in prison for life, based not on the degree of their innocence but the privilege of their birth and state and financial circumstances.

        If there is a high likelihood that INNOCENT people will be killed in our dogged pursuit of the death penalty for the guilty, how is it different from the anti-abortion argument you used?

        Note: The traditional reason for opposition of abortion was indeed the sanctity of life.

        Another note: The term “pro-abortionists” does not belong in a civil discussion of the matter. Because then we’d have to use terms like “anti-freedom” or “anti-women or “misogynists” or “power-hungry weiner-mongers,” and the discussion would just go downhill from there.

  17. I look at this issue as one of justice, and in fact, one of degree (in a sense). Granted, mercy is preferable to strict justice (and I’m glad God treats us with mercy), but this issue is not how Christians treat those who have injured them (Jesus seems to be pretty clear on that, but see below) but about the state’s role in distributing justice, in order to maintain a safe and peaceful society. I realize that mistakes can be made in our justice system (and I sometimes wonder where ‘justice’ really is, and some governments are simply unjust), and it does seem an inordinate percentage of death row inmates are minorities, as is the majority of the prison population (for various reasons I’m sure). But the bottom line is that if the state has authority to punish (and yes, that is what ‘justice’ is about, not rehabilitation) then, other than the finality of the punishment, what is the difference (as far as showing mercy) between a life sentence and death sentence? If mercy is the guiding principle, it would seem a life sentence is equally unmerciful to a death penalty.

    As for Christian attitudes toward justice, I am reminded often, and somewhat troubled by, a passage in Revelation 6. The martyrs are under the altar, calling for God to avenge their deaths – that doesn’t sound like a very ‘Christian’ attitude, and yet they are in the very presence of God (who, it seems, will in fact, avenge their deaths).

    ‘When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.’ (Rev. 6:9-11)

    They are comforted and told to wait a little longer. Doesn’t sound to me like they learned much about mercy from Jesus! It sounds like even those in God’s very presence still have a strong sense of justice, even toward those who have injured them personally. I’m not using this to justify a position (I too am ambivalent about the death penalty), but simply to point out a passage, that deals with this issue, that troubles me, and might even add some perspective to Jesus’ teaching.

  18. How just is this:

    Cost to keep a prisoner in jail in Canada $113,000 a year.
    Yearly pension by government of Canada paid out after a career of mandatory premiums: $11,840

    Victims of crime: just deal with it.

    It is nice to sit around as arm chair critics and talk about how bad it is to put to death the Son of Sams of this world, but there are real world consequences either way. The reality is that often murders/rapists walk free after a time and get to do it again. How does that fit Marci?

    Would you want them released into your neighborhood?

    But when did we get the idea that Christianity – true Christianity – was supposed to be easy? Indeed, Jesus warns us repeatedly that it is not. “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” -Mt. 10:16.

    Would you be willing to say we should have communities where anti-death penalty people can live and we release violent offenders to go and live there? Because that would be what one should do if they really believe that we need to practice a ‘hard Christianity’

    • +1

      • Klasie Kraalogies says:

        You know Clark, I am really not interested in your Jesus, if your beliefs (not actions, none of us are even remotely perfect) are any reflection of his teachings.

        • Insulting a poster is not an argument.

          • Klasie Kraalogies says:

            Oscar – it is an opinion. An opinion formed by a continued display of a loveless, “hard ass” religion. This is what you guys are telling the world about your Jesus on these pages.

    • Klasie Kraalogies says:

      You could do that same math for mentally ill people you know. Have you thought about that?

      • Klasie Kraalogies says:

        Or terminally ill. Or vegetative. Or…..

        • Klasie

          How would you feel if you lived somewhere that had state paid medical and there were long lineups and at times people died waiting for procedures and it was illegal for you to pay for treatment even if you could afford it? And healthcare is rationed because the medical system is starved for cash.

          In Canada our prisoners live better than our poor.

          Imagine your sick parent waiting for care. And yet that same state paid $113K a year to keep a murderer in jail who killed several children and would call parents of his victims from jail and taunt them?

          And this man, because he was a prisoner, would get timely medical care?
          Google the name clifford olson and find details

          This is no longer an academic question, I am giving a real life case.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            When America gets a Dictator, this will all sort itself out by decree.

            (And several guys I know give the USA around 10 years before its first military coup.)

          • Klasie Kraalogies says:

            FYI: I am a recently laid-off Canadian. I would still choose to live in this country than in one where we terminate the criminals- especially if they are from the poor underclasses etc etc. You are welcome to pack your bags. And no, the health system is not starved for cash. Not rolling in it either, but when my daughter needed an emergency appendectomy 6 weeks ago, it was there for her. And when she needed EEG’s for her migraines, it was there. Etc etc. And it dis not cost me anything except my taxes. So stop spreading bs.

          • I am a health care worker

          • I am a health care worker and we do ration medicine. Generally we try our hardest to triage cases and I think we mostly get what people need, especially high acuity cases like your daughter.

            And people do die while waiting for procedures. And even if I was a multi-millionaire I cannot pay for my medicine if I want it in a timely fashion, unless I go to the USA.

            I could try Cambie Medical clinic in Vancouver, but there is ongoing problems there, many people would like to see it go away so that Canadians have no choice. They are probably wrapped up in litigation with people trying to get them for violating the Canada healthcare act by charging for medicine.

            We are constantly looking for ways to save $ because we do not have enough to service the population and fill our mandate. Somewhere around 60% of BC tax dollars feed the medical system and it is not enough.

          • Klasie Kraalogies says:

            There are lots of healthcare problems in places, rich places, with the death penalty. You are drawing false equivalencies to make right wing political hay – anyway, the proportion of inmates that are as dispicable as that are few, very few. One should never argue from the exception.

            Anyway, a lot of that 113K p.a. goes into personnel salaries etc, thus making it back into the economy, if you really wanted to make an economic argument.

            BTW, I live in SK. Today I had another follow-up visit for my daughter with her surgeon, which, again, did not cost me a cent other than parking and taxes.

        • Klasie:

          My point is when you are in a country where government funds a lot of things, including medicine and education it is not out of order to question other spending when you have limited budgets. It all comes from the same pot.

          So questioning the spending on corrections Canada is very valid when we have a long wait for MRI or surgeries.

          And a little pet peeve: your visit to the doctor is not free in Canada. He bills the province for your visit. So someone actually pays, it is just not you at the moment.
          My pet peeve is because there is lots of abuse from what we call ‘frequent flyers’ that clog up the system and cost money. And obviously you didn’t, but we do see lots.

          • Klasie Kraalogies says:

            Of course someone pays, I’m neither stupid nor naive. But what are you actually saying? Shoot the bastards so that the rest might have it bettet?

          • Klasie

            I would not have thought of mentioning it except twice you have mentioned that it did not cost you anything for your daughters recent medical procedures. I am just pointing out that someone pays, it is not free.

          • Sorry, I correct myself, you did mention paying through taxes. But I think you see my point.

    • Radagast says:

      I am pro-life so I am anti-death penalty by definition. That being said… nothing in that definition says anything about rehabilitation/release/etc. There are some that are simply too dangerous to ever let out in society. Are we paying for these folks – yes. But then we are also paying for the folks on death row who may go decades before being executed. I do not sign up for letting them go just because we do not execute. This goes for mentally ill patients who are also too dangerous to live in society.

      I am not one who sits around and thinks about the poor guy on death row. Personally I’d rather see the person spend their life in a prison cell. That to me would be harder to withstand than a quick death. But then I’d also like to see prisoners doing something constructive, like building roads instead of having free time. It might then be a deterrent and we would get something accomplished at the same time.

    • Robert F says:

      If you want to go that route, it’s commonplace knowledge that in the U.S., it costs far more to get someone to the point of execution than to keep them in jail the rest of their lives.

      The rest of what you say is for straw men to answer.

  19. Bravo. Well said.

  20. Joseph (the original) says:

    doesn’t this fit in with the concept of legislating morality? Jesus wouldn’t do it, so we shouldn’t either???

    in a pluralistic society we can grant certain leeway on political issues, or other culture war issues such as same-sex marriage, but we must also strive to eliminate public access to abortions and the death penalty???

    since we are not a ‘theocracy’, or even a NT version of a Christianized nation, do we need to be concerned about the way the ‘state’ permits the execution of criminals??? is this an attempt at spiritually sanitizing the state’s actions in order to appease the consciences of those that are staunchly against the death penalty or any other governmental action, or even inaction???

    what, there is no civil law against divorce? or greed? or calling somebody ‘Raca’ or ‘you fool’???

    what else did Jesus say, or condemn that has no equivalent in civil matters today? can we cherry pick this one issue, the death penalty, and overlook others that may not have such a finality attached to it???

    after all, didn’t the writer of 1John 3:15 state that anyone who hates his brother is a murderer???

    is the death penalty really anti-Christian? or only if The Church had the authority to handle criminal cases???

    any miscarriage of civil justice is indeed regrettable. if the death penalty is practiced I would hope the one being executed is guilty of the crimes they committed. however, in light of the recent actions of those overturning previous criminal case finding based on new evidence, I can understand the hesitation to have the death penalty enforced due to its abuse and plain old mistakes made during evidence gathering, etc. I think that is the better argument without having to drag Jesus into the civil court system ala the scenario of the woman caught in adultery.

    I think it should be up to the victim’s survivors to determine if the death penalty should be carried out, if, in fact, the criminal court system has found the perpetrator guilty. if grace can be granted, then the victim’s survivors should have the right of refusal; yes the perpetrator is guilty with a death sentence, but in this instance we choose to change it to life imprisonment. at least you have the option of those that are anti-death penalty to exercise their say in the matter…

    Lord, have mercy… 🙁

    • Joseph (the original) says:

      addendum…

      and what was Jesus implying in His statement recorded in Matthew 18:6?

      “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

      hyperbole? metaphor? graphic illustration for impact only???

  21. Dana Ames says:

    The ideal of “Sanctity of Life” comes from somewhere, and it would be good to consider where it comes from and what it includes; I agree with the o/p author that so often we do not.

    WRT to the death penalty: We are fish in the cultural water of where we are in the US of A in the 21st century. Because of the inheritance of our way of conceptualizing, I think “justice” has simply become another concept for many people. I think we really don’t know what “justice” is, other than our own ideas about what certain people deserve – both good and bad “deservings.” I take to heart St Isaac of Nineveh’s (Lord, have mercy on the people of Iraq…) warning:

    “Do not hate the sinner. We are, indeed, all laden with guilt. If for the sake of God you are moved to oppose him, weep over him. Why do you hate him? Hate his sins and pray for him, that you may imitate Christ Who was not wroth with sinners, but interceded for them. Do you not see how he wept over Jerusalem? We are mocked by the devil in many instances, so why should we hate the man who is mocked by him who mocks us also? Why, O man, do you hate the sinner? Could it be because he is not so righteous as you? But where is your righteousness when you have no love? Why do you not shed tears over him? But you persecute him. In ignorance some, who are considered to be discerning men, are moved to anger against the deeds of sinners.

    “Be a herald of God’s goodness, for God rules over you, unworthy though you are. Although your debt to Him is so very great, He is not seen exacting payment from you; and from the small works you do, He bestows great rewards upon you. Do not call God just, for His justice is not manifest in things concerning you. And if David calls Him just and upright, His Son revealed to us that He is good and kind. ‘He is good’, He says, ‘to the evil and to the impious.’ How can you call God just when you come across the Scriptural passage on the wage given to the workers? ‘Friend, I do thee no wrong: I choose to give unto this last even as unto thee. Or is thine eye evil because I am good?’ How can a man call God just when he comes across the passage on the prodigal son who wasted his wealth with riotous living, how for the compunction alone which he showed, the father ran and fell upon his neck and gave him authority over all his wealth? None other but His very Son said these things concerning Him, lest we doubt it, and thus bore witness concerning Him. Where, then, is God’s justice, for while we are sinners Christ died for us! But if here He is merciful, we may believe that He will not change.”

    (The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian, I, 51, translated by the Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Boston, 1984. 251.)

    For the one with ears to hear, I offer this: http://glory2godforallthings.com/2014/06/27/the-marriage-of-love-and-hate/

    Dana

    • Joseph (the original) says:

      re: the sanctity of life and how this should be championed in a pluralistic society:

      according to the author then, all wars declared by the USA also something that they have exercised outside of any divinely ordained authority???

      or local police forces that do take the lives of those involved in shootouts for whatever reasons???

      if pacifism is indeed the moral obligation of all ‘Christians’, then they should not place themselves into situations where the taking of life is possible???

      I do know a few such pacifists that would not serve in such capacities because they would have to use lethal force. I think this is acting according to one’s conscience, but it does not override the state’s manner of dealing with criminal activity, or to a nation’s military actions for whatever reasons…

      I think the issue the author is making is the fact that yes, most, if not all, Christians do have differing levels of hypocrisy when they profess one thing, but their actions don’t match up clearly. the topic of the death penalty is one example of this. and if we did take to the nth degree Jesus’ statements about turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, love our enemies (personal, civil, criminal, national???), then being a true pacifist that would legislate any form of taking a life as, well, illegal, then how does that impact/affect a pluralistic society as a whole???

      i’m not trying to argue for the sake of argument. I think the issue is indeed different under the Royal Laws of the Kingdom vs. the human forms of government at all levels. where does the conviction of the True Kingdom trump the worldly government and then take the form of laws that maintain social order for all citizens???

      I think this discussion has the unintentional result of bringing focus on the fact that human governmental authority is indeed imperfect and can never be. so comparing how the Perfect Law of Love within the Christian church/community truly ‘trumps’ secular law is a difficult argument to defend even if the idealistic perfection of what some consider Jesus’ view of life’s sanctity and how that should (or shouldn’t) translate into secular criminal codes regarding punishment, will remain unresolved.

      did Jesus endorse life imprisonment vs. the death penalty? if forgiveness is the optimum goal, should there be any incarceration for crimes then? which of these become excess to the crime(s) committed and tried? how do we drill down to the ‘right’ or appropriate way to handle anti-social criminal acts that can be the most heinous imaginable? lock them up in solitary? bread and water only? hard labor? what is okay for the Christian to choose as the Kingdom appropriate punishment for the perpetrator no matter the seriousness of the crime committed???

    • William Martin says:

      I have received so much from you have written here Dana. These things you have posted have me hungrier than I have been for some time. I seem to be sensing the fear of God in his justice. Something I am on the edge of. I have for sometime believed that the arms to the war we are called to are not the sword that would cut off an ear. I have the hardest time ever seeing Christ killing people who have made agreements with the twistedness of evil. I have cried over the evil which has befallen those who would do such terrible things to others and have realized what kind of horrible pain and torture they must live in. I too have cried for the victims because they too were tore apart by such evil. I wonder when there will be a generation of those who refuse to kill anymore and instead would rather die themselves so that others may live. I wonder if then Christ would return for the bride he has waited for. I also wonder if I would have the fortitude to lay aside everything for this. It is then I realize in of myself I am not capable of such a great love. I would have to know Him. Inside of this maybe and I mean maybe then I would be worthy of such greatness. I will keep reading this till I get it, what ever it is I have not fully received just yet. Thanks

  22. Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

    I generally oppose the death penalty for ethical reasons. However, I would like to point out that this article is just as much a “culture war” piece as anything by Al Mohler. Different side of the issue, same methodology (seems like we had a post about this sort of thing recently, no?) I would also like to point out that we really should be discussing this from a two-kingdoms standpoint. The church is not responsible for punishing crime, and I am sure that none of us want to go back to the days when the church could exercise the death penalty. As such, capital punishment should be discussed as a secular matter of state. Interestingly, it is my beliefs about the state and justice that influence my position, not any doctrine. While I cannot separate my beliefs and ethics from my religion, my position is not a religious one.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      I agree with your two-kingdoms standpoint, Dr. We’ve had recent articles about the dangers of mixing the Kingdom of God with the kingdom of America (issues like flags in the sanctuary, “promoting” America from the pulpit), yet here with capital punishment there seems to be a push to say Kingdom of God issues SHOULD mix with kingdom of America (in regards to civil and criminal justice).

      It just occurred to me, perhaps the best approach to capital punishment would be to leave it up to the families affected. Let them decide if a person up for capital punishment should be given that sentence. Then we Christians could try to influence such decisions on a more personal basis, by interacting with such families on behalf of Jesus and perhaps persuade them to the path of mercy.

    • Dr Fundy said,
      However, I would like to point out that this article is just as much a “culture war” piece as anything by Al Mohler.
      Thank you. As much as I enjoy visiting blogs like this one or TWW and similar, as someone who is basically right wing on most subjects, it seems to me that the bloggers, and 98% of the participants who visit said blogs, tend to be very liberal or left wing on a lot of subjects, which can be frustrating at times.

      I find that people who rail against right wingers and social conservatives can be just as dogmatic and nasty about these kinds of subjects as some right wingers.

      The left is just as heavy into the culture wars as right wing guys are. Neither side is angelic or innocent.

      • Daisy, I think *anyone,* regardless of political or religious leanings, can be dogmaticthats part of human nature. I’ve personally seen it happen in fields that have nothing to do with either.

        Is this about politics, or have CM and Ms. Alberghetyi raised moral/ethical questions re. whether the death penalty is “cruel and unusual” punishment?. I think everyone in this discussion has slightly different takes, including those who agree with each other.

        Not sure if that’s what you’re talking about, exactly, but it’s my two cents on the matter.

        • Final Anonymous says:

          Nobody has really brought it back around to abortion yet though.

          Commenters have come up with a myriad of ways and reasons God or Jesus or Paul or the Old and New Testaments may or may not support the death penalty. But they’ve mostly insisted our Christianity isn’t to come into play in these issues which properly belong in the jurisdiction of the state.

          Why, then, is it different for the issue of abortion? Why should that not be an issue for the state to decide, regardless of our personal beliefs and practices as Christians?

          For that matter, why shouldn’t homosexual marriage be a matter for the state? Or healthcare coverage for contraceptives? Which verses support Christianity’s march into the culture wars on these issues, but not the death penalty?

          • Good points all, though I personally tend to avoid getting into discussions about abortion.

  23. There has to be a distinction between what the State is responsible for, and what I as a Christian (and the Church, of all Christians) am responsible for.

    It is clear that when God established government, he allowed “the sword” to be wielded by it. (Genesis 9:5-6). When God gave his laws to Israel, he allowed for capital punishment in certain cases. However, there were boundaries around such punishment. Without the confirmation of two witnesses, execution was not to occur. From what I read, circumstantial evidence would not take the place of an independent witness.

    I have come to the conclusion that our manner of justice does not match what was prescribed in the Law. (I know, we’re not under the law as Christians – I am speaking about the State). We will sentence people to death with insufficient evidence. Even the State knows this, which is why appeals are allowed and considered, and why it takes so long to implement capital punishment.

    To me, an opponent of capital punishment would be more persuasive if she appealed to our justice system’s inadequacy, than to state that capital punishment is wrong.

    From my reading of Scripture, I would want to keep capital punishment on the books; but acknowledge our imperfections in implementing justice and therefore not apply it, ever.

  24. I concur with those who have attempted to point out, to no avail it would seem, that Jesus and the Church Fathers did not try to tell the state what to do or not do, but rather they focused on individuals and the Church. Our responsibilities as Christians and individuals are different than the responsibilities of those who rule over us.

    Jesus, and His disciples/apostles (esp. Paul) warned us that we are not of this world. We belong to the Kingdom of God. The rules will be different in the Kingdom of God, because there will no longer be sin, suffering or death. Those things will be wiped out when Christ establishes His eternal kingdom, and hands it over to the Father.

    Those (in this world) who voluntarily forfeit their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness by destroying other’s lives, liberties, and pursuits have no rights. Or are entitled to the same rights their victims got. Give them 6 months to make peace with their creator, and carry out the execution.

    BTW, I worked in a prison for a while, and knew a few death row inmates. The ones who had legit conversions did not want their sentences commuted. They believed they deserved to pay the penalty they had gotten. I know of one, who actually hoped the sentence would be carried out, so he could go and meet his Savior.

  25. Comment deleted: inappropriate

  26. A couple of other things I noticed:

    “But when you consider Jesus on the death penalty – “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer … But love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Mt. 5:38-39, 44.”

    I believe turning the other cheek is an individual choice. No one can turn the other cheek on another’s behalf. A government that “turns the other cheek” and allows its citizens to be murdered at will is no government at all-certainly no government I wish to have. It is possible to love one’s enemy and still kill him for morally defensible reasons.

    “How can you worship and follow the Author of Life, Who was Himself legally executed, when you are advocating for the execution of another?”

    Easy. The same way I can be a death row inmate and worship and follow the Author of Life. Ms. Alborghetti may have her own standards concerning who may or who may not be followers of Christ. Fortunately for me-and no doubt for those death row inmates who are genuinely seeking forgiveness and salvation-Christ’s standards are lower than hers.

    • Robert F says:

      Although I oppose the death penalty on grounds I stated in a comment above, I, too, disagree with the standards for determining who is a “true” follower of Jesus Christ that are implied by Ms. Albroghetti’s post.

  27. Comment deleted: inappropriate

  28. If I ever buy a firearm and learn how to use it, and someone breaks into my home in the middle of the night, it would not bother me in the least to blow that person’s head off, especially if I thought the guy might be there to rape and/or murder me.

    Just being in my house at all when he doesn’t have permission and I don’t know him from a hole in the ground to would be enough to creep me out.

    Unless a person is a severe pacifist in the worst way, I can’t imagine anyone would condemn me for self-preservation, or if I needed to shoot and kill an intruder to protect a family member with me who was being threatened.

    If you are fine and dandy with self-protection in the scenario I described above, what difference does it make if I phone the police, and it’s a cop who show up at my home who blows the head off the guy, or some court sentences that dude to the gas chamber years later?

    There was a story in the news the other day about an 82 year old grandmother who threw a pot of hot water on some idiot who broke into her home. All my sympathy goes to her, zero to the punk who broke into her home, regardless of what kind of childhood he had.

    • Hmm. I live in an area where there are many pacifist – Amish, Mennonites and Church of the Brethren.

      You might find some of their ideas about not shooting to kill – and never deliberately killing, under any circumstances – interesting and thought I provoking. And challenging, too, as they are for me.

      The way you word things sounds more like “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life” than “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, for so speak the law and the prophets.” I mention this because you’re talking about having a gun and using it to “blow [someone’s] head off,” rather than talking about capital punishment. It’s sounding like a scenario out of one of Quentin Tarantino’s revenge plots.

      • Radagast says:

        numo,

        Although I am Pro-life I will admit I am hypocritical. I am with Daisy on this one (although my weapon of choice would be a bat). I applaud the Amish and Mennonite communities (as they are persons of character greater than my own) but truth be told if someone were to threaten my family with any physical harm I would do everything in my power to neutralize the threat including death if it came to it. I am also not opposed to just war. But my philosophy is not eye for an eye. What Daisy is talking about is not revenge, but self preservation.

        Daisy – I will knock and say ‘Friend’ before I enter.

        • Radagast – it isn’t self up reservation that I’m disputing, but the way Daisy was framing it with hyper-violent imagery.

          I don’t think it is wrong to defend oneself or others, but even when violence is a necessary evil, it’s still violence. It’s a regrettable reality, one that we all have to live with. I have a feeling that my instinct would be to fight like crazy, unless that would lead to my immediate death (as is often the case w/rape). Women are *always* having to come to terms w/this – one in four women is sexually assaulted. That’s a *lot* of women. The military has a huge crisis w/this, and those who report it aren’t being treated properly. Too many rapists get away with impunity, in both civilian and military life.

          I raised the Mennonite (et. al.) views if war and violence as a counter to the way the comment was worded and the emotion behind the wirds., not to dispute self-defense.

          • Self up reservation.

            I need a physical keyboard, not a rtouchscreen version of one…

          • One more time: self-preservation.

            Android, thy name is confusion!

          • Robert F says:

            What bothers me most about some of the commentators here is not that they support capital punishment while I oppose it, but that they are cavalier and sneering about what, any way you cut it, is a serious, grave matter. Is it ever appropriate for Christians to revel in a sense of moral superiority over even the worst murderer? Yet, that’s what some of the comments supporting capital punishment do here: positively revel in felt moral superiority, and almost audibly relish the idea of violently ending the life of would be perpetrators. Really? Is that sentiment really something to be proud about? Really?

          • Robert – you’ve got plenty of company, I think.

            Btw, one reason that I personally find it difficult to read about atrocities is that it is just plain hard to contemplate such terrible suffering. But then, I rarely watch TV news and usually turn down the car radio if stories about violent crime (including war crimes) come on. Print (well, digital newspaper pages) is my preferred way of keeping up to date. That way, I can choose what I see/don’t see, and headlines/leaders are useful summaries. The other reason is what you mentioned above – not wanting to stoke my own mob vengeance instinct. But it’s more the former than the latter.

            I think some commenters are overly enamored with violent revenge movies and video games, which cartoonify the reality of human suffering.

          • Should be “enamored of.”

  29. Good article. The church in America needs more voices like this.

    It has always astonished me that so many American Christians fight so hard to save life and argue so hard for its sacredness, except in the case of war and the death penalty, where they do a complete reversal and advocate strongly for the death of another human being.

    Even some of the comments here reveal an aspect of this double standard when they argue that the death penalty is a matter for the secular state and that Christians therefore should not seek to influence it. You simply don’t hear such arguments in the case of things like abortion or other sanctity of life issues, yet they pop up routinely when it comes to the death penalty.

    Is there really any time a Christian should advocate for the putting to death of another human being? What is it that compels people to feel this is necessary?What is it that makes people think that scripture or Jesus’ teaching somehow requires us to advocate for the deliberate destruction of a human life?

    Lord, have mercy.

    • John and anyone else here who is anti capital punishment – do you think terminating the life of the unborn is morally equivalent to terminating the life of a serial killer?

      Is there no difference?
      And what compels you that you think it is necessary to not support capital punishment (in SOME cases)?
      What is it that makes people think that scripture somehow requires us to preserve serial killers?

      • I’ve given my position. Christians are called to witness to the laws of the Kingdom of heaven, one of which is “mercy triumphs over judgment.” That does not mean there is no punishment, simply that the law of strict retribution demanded in the mosaic law has been superseded.

        • Yes, but in what way? That is a vague loophole. The Kingdom of America is not subject to the law of the Kingdom of Heaven. Either we do away with retributive punishment completely, or we have some sort of objective, proportionate, and consistent criteria upon which we can act.

      • I believe both are wrong. I’ll let God decide the degree of it. Life is God’s to give and to take. The point of the gospel is that they don’t have to be somehow moral equals. Both are made in the image of God. Neither are beyond redemption in the eyes of our Lord. If we start viewing innocence as a prerequisite to mercy, grace, or worthiness, then what is the point of the gospel? We might as well just admit that the gospel and the kingdom of God lack real redemptive power. I’m just not willing to do that.

        Don’t know what you mean by in some cases. I never specified that. I do think that advocating for the deliberate taking of a human life is out of step with the way and the message of Jesus. After decades of following Him I cannot envision He who wept over Jerusalem cheering on the death penalty or advocating for the necessity of it. Very simply, that is what compels me.

        On another note, this issue is peculiarly American in my experience. Of my many believing friends and acquaintances from other nations, I can’t think of one who advocates for the death penalty as so many American evangelicals seem to. I think this is one of a number of areas in which we could learn much from the global church.

      • Final Anonymous says:

        Ken, I guess if we go with the traditional assumptions regarding heaven and hell, age of accountability, confession of sins, etc., then no, they are not morally equal. The life of a terminated pregnancy would go straight to heaven, while the serial killer who has not yet lived out his days on earth loses the ability to find Jesus if we as a society put him to death on our own timetable.

        Dilemma.

  30. Yes, Christians should advocate the putting to death of those who kill the innocents.

    In war…or in cases of murder.

    We owe it to the innocents and the survivors of those who are murdered.

    We are to hate and fight evil. That often means killing those who perpetrate it.

    I’d hate to think where the world would be today, if Christians around the world had not killed so many that were out to kill innocents.

    • Ichabod says:

      I’ve heard this argument used before…I think ithad someting to do with “Gott Mit Uns”…

    • Danielle says:

      “I’d hate to think where the world would be today, if Christians around the world had not killed so many that were out to kill innocents.”

      I’d love to know what the world would be like today if Christians had killed fewer people.

    • Don’t know if I could go quite as hard as I’d hate to think where the world would be today, if Christians around the world had not killed so many that were out to kill innocents. But the beneath the sentiment is a disturbing question.

      In the second world war real people who likely had families had to make terrible decisions. In one case the British had cracked the nazi codes and knew they were going to bomb certain cities and had to choose not to tell their own people. And in other cases they had to choose to bomb German and Japanese cities to try to bring the war to an end.

      I am not a strict capital punishment advocate. But I do believe that the state needs to have it in their power. Serial killers, mass murderers to name a few. Maybe it is one of those things that is a necessary evil.

  31. If they had killed fewer people who were out to kill innocents, in war or crime…then the world would be a worse place. And many more innocent people would be enslaved or killed or both.

  32. Final Anonymous says:

    Are innocent people killed in war? Are far more guilty than innocent people killed in war? How many guilty people were killed in the last two, as a percentage of all that were killed?

  33. I’m a day late on this, but here are my observations:

    1. While the OP concerns the “end” game and the discussion is rightly focused on those matters, there is little balanced discussion of the other side. As we toss around labels like “sociopath,” “beyond God’s reach,” etc., we need to ask ourselves how people arrive at such a state. If we look holistically at the collective psyche of our nation, demographic realities, and factually reported cases, we’ll come to the conclusion that our society is fundamentally broken. Children are raised without healthy emotional attachment to adults, develop mental health issues, are untreated or wrongly treated, and act out violently (obviously this isn’t just a simple linear progression without other mitigating factors; brokenness never is). So to limit the discussion to what we do with the worst of offenders is to limit the role and function as the Church as representing the Kingdom of God. After reading authors like Yoder, and more recently Brian Zahnd and Preston Sprinkle, I’m convinced towards a non-violent, non-retributive Kingdom ethic. But it is only a viable ethic if it is lived out proactively, not just in protesting the death penalty but in preventive measures such as caring for our poor, homeless, and mentally unhealthy.

    2. We use the Scriptures to determine our theology, ethics, etc., yet we, for the most part, do not hold to the same worldview as the authors when it comes to spiritual reality. Without overstating the case or coming anywhere close to the realm of charismatic fanaticism, it is plain that the writers of Scripture considered demonic influence to be a viable reason for some of the world’s troubles. The early church incorporated prayers of exorcism/deliverance into its rites of initiation. The Church has largely lost its sense of “darkness vs. light,” and I’m not just talking morality. Too many of us relegate all personal trouble to the mental health realm, while others repudiate mental health and turn everything into a spiritual issue. It is an utter lack of discernment. Jesus was able to differentiate between the human side and the spiritual side, and if we are going to help people holistically like Jesus did, we need to do the same.

  34. Klasie Kraalogies says:

    When reading the pro-death penalty comments above, many who seem to take an almost ghoulish delight in the act, it strikes me how similar it sounds to the actions and policies of ISIS in their newly declared Islamic state. It is the same mindset. The same delight in unyielding, violent legalism, the delight in killing the guilty.

    Something to ponder.

    • Yes, that stood out to me as well.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      Hmm…I don’t see “many” taking ghoulish delight in the act. Maybe a few, but not many.

      • Klasie Kraalogies says:

        Well, we even had the rare occurrence of Monastery management stepping in and clearing up some of the filth.

  35. Also a day late, but this is one of the issues that contributed to my separation from Protestantism/Evangelicalism, so I’m going to go against my better judgment and jump in here….

    We as Christians should be the first to look at the murderer, the rapist, the vile abuser, and to see that ultimately, we are not that different. Whether you believe in Total Depravity, or as an inherited sickness, we are all gulity/stained with sin, and our transgressions are innumerable. Could it not even be said that when we look upon these people and wish for and fantasize about their deaths, that we have not committed murder in our hearts?

    “But they deserve it; it is justice for me to want to kill them!” shout our hearts, oftentimes rightfully hurt by these people. After all, I have read in these very comments that God killed all sorts of people in the OT, and arguably some in the NT, so we, as bearers of God’s justice and truth, should exact His punishments on the sinful. Now, I’m not always sure what to make of all of that stuff in the OT, but here’s two observations I can make: first, GOD is the source of all life and it is His to give and take away (thus the anti-abortion and anti-euthanasia stance that most Christians rightfully take); second, even if there are examples of ‘killing in the name of God’ in the OT, it seems that a lot of us forget that we aren’t Second Temple Jews, we are Christians with a new covenant in Jesus — we MUST interpret the past in light of the revelation of Christ, instead of the other way around.

    As others have said in this thread, Christ came to shake up and overturn the old ways, the old Justice of the world. No more “Eye for Eye”, instead we “Turn the other cheek”; we ask God to “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”. He calls us to visit the sick, the poor, the IMPRISONED, and not just those whom we ‘know’ are really innocent.

    Regardless of your theological bent, we can all agree that God is a God first and foremost Love and Justice; but the justice of the Lord, I would argue, is not the justice of this world. His justice is His alone to mete, and as His children and participants in His Kingdom, I do not believe that we should see ourselves in our finite and fallen ways as worthy to stand in His place when it comes to something as serious as ending the Earthly life of another human. Our place is to do the work of Christ, to recognize our own sins first, and to be merciful, loving, and forgiving. We must also have faith that God will hold the ultimate Justice for those who have wronged us, those who seem to be incapable of good or repentance; but it is not OUR place, especially as Christians, to decide who lives or dies.

    None of this is easy. We naturally, in our sinfulness, wish to see the world brought to ‘balance’ in a way that is satisfying to us. Additionally, our Governments have seen capital punishment as a useful deterrent for heinous crimes and a way to permanently (and irrevocably) remove these sorts of offenders. It saddens me to see Christians, as HUG put it, be “the biggest rah-rah-ers” for CP, where it seems that we should be advocating for mercy. Because death is very real, very final. And depending on how you view how Salvation can happen, when a person is killed, there is no more opportunity for repentance, for coming to Christ in that person.

    Anyhow, there’s more I could say on this issue, such as the possibility of actual innocent people being executed, and the total cost of death row vs life imprisonment, but here I wanted to make this point about why Christians being such big advocates of capital punishment bothers me.

  36. There’s a difference between mercy and credulity. That’s all I’m going to say.

  37. As a British citizen & RC as well as being a prison chaplain for nine years, I’d like to chip in, if I may.
    Pope John Paul said that the Death Penalty took away the offer of Repentance & God initiates a journey that the Death Penalty would inhibit, or words to that effect.
    Here in the UK I would venture to say that pro life means pro life in all of its meaning. From birth to death, life belongs to God.
    Of course there might be some people who are exceptions to the norm, however I think that we are generally uniform in our difficulties and confusion at the attitudes towards guns & the death penalty which, no one here seems to have mentioned.
    You’re statistics would seem to show that the possession of guns & homicides are correlated.
    If you can own a gun and be capable of using it then you are willing to take a life.
    Therefore it seems obvious that as long as you can possess guns for self defence then you will have gun crime. And you will have no problem with the Death Penalty. It does seem simple from here.
    And I have spent years working with men who are not the same person that committed the crime they are serving life for. And I have net others whose journey is either slow or nonexistent. Either way, it is up to the prison system to care with humanity because how we treat people who can give little is a measure of our humanity.
    As long as you have the Death Penalty you will be collectively and subliminally brutalised.
    It is not compassionate or civilised. Not at all.

  38. Its funny Jo, my reaction is different. We would probably agree that the death penalty is a terrible thing. Such a terrible thing that it should be reserved for very few cases.

    I live in a place with no death penalty, and I feel like life has become cheap and not valued at all. The state does not value its citizens enough to take the really bad cases out for good. When they took it out they said we will replace it with life imprisonment. Ok, that’s fair. But things change in 30 or 40 years.

    So if you and a family member were visiting and were brutally murdered by someone, that person would be out in around 10 years. And in the meantime they would have been well treated, and possibly been able to get a university degree. And in some ways when I read some of what goes in in Canada when they let some of those people out I feel that we are collectively and subliminally brutalised. The relatives of their victims are terrified that they could move to town, and one day they face their loved one’s murderer on the street.

    Strangely that seems to me to not be compassionate and civilized for the society as a whole.