Discussing
Why I take the death penalty personally

Gail Rice

Daniel Spratlin
January 31, 2011

The author readily admits that she takes this issue "personally" and, therefore, her opinion should be taken with a grain of salt. This issue, while emotional (as is abortion), should be viewed through the lens of the Bible. We should not allow our personal emotions or experiences dictate what the Bible clearly makes known. <br><br>How should a Christian view the death penalty? First, we must remember that God has instituted capital punishment in His Word; therefore, it would be presumptuous of us to think that we could institute a higher standard. God has the highest standard of any being; He is perfect. This standard applies not only to us but to Himself. Therefore, He loves to an infinite degree, and He has mercy to an infinite degree. We also see that He has wrath to an infinite degree, and it is all maintained in a perfect balance.

Mary Jo Comerford
January 31, 2011

What a beautifully written and compelling piece. I, too, am Christian, and because of that have always opposed the death penalty. I don't want the state to kill in my name. Killing someone to teach that killing is wrong, makes no sense. Thank you, Gail.

Susan Ballou
January 31, 2011

"It violates my Christian faith because it is a violent act of retribution and vengeance, an act that encourages the state to do what I have so abhorred in the murderer."<br><br>So why then, did God condone the killing of those who did align themselves with His will?

HY111
January 31, 2011

I agree with Gail's stance. Thank you Gail. <br><br>This also reminds me of the parable where Jesus saves the adulteress from stoning by saying, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." <br>

JCarpenter
February 1, 2011

The problem I have with Christians (and states) who so readily sign off on execution as the proper means of punishment, God-ordained, is that it is so often shown to be mis-applied. How many exonerees have been proven innocent, often through the work of journalists or law students, not the legal system, how many prosecutors have been shown over-zealous to get a conviction that they are blind to lack of evidence or mis-handled evidence---and innocent people are convicted, to spend years, decades on death row, and even executed? <br>They shouldn't be just brushed off as "collateral damage" either. Does the state then get a pass for wrongful execution? Where's the justice then for those murdered under that system?

Jimmie Roan
February 1, 2011

I struggle with how any who follow Christ can support a death penalty. His teachings and His example are of mercy and compassion, not retribution. And even the most superficial study of the death penalty shows how unevenly it is applied, how many innocent people are sent to death row, and that it is not a deterrent.

Jim Burma
February 1, 2011

I don't understand how someone who believes in the bible can distance themselves so far from the death penalty. God instituted the death penalty... period. To say that it is hateful or wrong is to accuse God of doing something wrong.

JCarpenter
February 1, 2011

And hers was a capital offense under Mosaic law. Jesus did not proclaim her innocent, but instead spread the guilt to the crowd; he said to her "go and sin no more." Perhaps the redemptive acts of Jesus instituted that higher standard---

Gailvrice
February 1, 2011

To say that God approves of capital punishment because it was carried out in the Bible is a bit like saying that since God didn’t oppose slavery in the Bible, He approves of it today. As Hanks points out in the book I mentioned, capital punishment was a lesser evil to stop unending vengeful blood feuds that would have occurred otherwise. Moreover, there were many strict conditions about how and when capital punishment could be carried out, and Hanks explains how all of these conditions are violated in the way capital punishment is carried out today.

Bwf
February 1, 2011

This concept of God "instituting" capital punishment has come a few times already. What does that phrase even mean? And is there not a difference between the Old Covenant (in which Israel's code of law actually had the means of executions) and the New Covenant (in which sinners are forgiven). <br><br>Also, keep in mind that the early Christians did not carry out executions... in fact, they couldn't, as they held no political power until Armenia and later Rome legalized Christian worship.

JCarpenter
February 2, 2011

I find it interesting that those who would claim that capital punishment is God-ordained because it is found in scripture, would not include all the capital offenses also found in scripture, for example, being a rebellious child . . .

Rickd
February 2, 2011

Nobody is “claiming” God ordained capital punishment. It is simply a fact. Is there any dispute that Moses recieved from God (in God’s own voice) the remedy of capitol punishement? He also outlined standards of proof. That much should not be in dispute. Yes, God’s list of capital offenses was longer than ours. But that does not negate the fact that capital punishment was a consequence that God proposed.<br><br>Jimmie Roan is only seeing the red letters that he wants to believe in. Mercy and compassion were tempered with teaching about hell and judgment. The sermon on the mount which included “Blessed are the peacemakers” also included “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.” Jesus is the judge at the last judgment and some will experience capital punishment by His decree.<br><br>Paul reinforces the notion that capital punishment is actually doing God’s work “For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.” I am sure Rome’s standards of proof were not as extensive as ours. All that being said, I share a lot of concerns that Gail Rice has. My feeling is that we are responsible to the best standard of proof available at the time. As technology improves we have a moral responsibility to employ the best technology and legal defense available. Anything less than that should cause us to question the remedy of capital punishment. Also, any society that instituitionalizes race-based poverty is shameful. Federal hand-outs and patronizing, demeaning charity only enable family dysfunction which fills jail cells. Jobs, education, a healthy economy and moral reform are the real answers to intractable race based poverty. <br><br>The other thing I would say is that if this life were all that was, capital punishment would be a double tragedy and an unimaginable remedy. But as David says, this life is a shadow, we have eternity ahead of us and a just God who will set all things right. JCarpenter, you ask, "where's the justice for those executed (you use the term murder) under that system?" God is just and will make all things right.

Tracey Sheneman
February 4, 2011

God bless you, Gail. And God help us to see life anew through the eyes of Jesus, "friend of publicans and sinners."<br><br>A Christian worldview incorporates as a general principle the sanctity of life. All human life possesses dignity and inestimable worth - the life of the sinner as well as the saint, the condemned as well as the fully exonerated. Christians are to follow in the steps of the master who "gave his life as a ransom for many." Instead of taking life to satiate a primitive desire of blood-lust and revenge, we are to expend our lives in the cause of justice and human freedom. We are to be about the Kingdom task of saving lives (and human souls) in the name of Jesus. <br><br>Then Jesus said to them, "I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?" (Luke 6:9) <br><br>But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Matt. 9:13)

Rickd
February 5, 2011

So, Tracey, our criminal code which calls for the death penalty for capital crimes exists only to "satiate a primitive desire of blood-lust and revenge"? Paul said that God's servants bear the sword of capital punishment, they are "agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrong doer". You can't separate a Christian worldview from a Pauline worldview. Jesus is the same yesterday today and forever and yesterday He spelled out the capital codes in the old testament. You can't separate a Christian worldview from a Biblical worldview. Read what Jesus did in the Old Testament. Jesus gave us the legal remedy of capital punishment for a list of crimes that He specified. The sanctity of life as a value does not trump judgment for sin. If this life were all that is, any loss of life would be an inestimable tragedy. But this life is but the briefest shadow and complete justice is on the other side.

Tracey Sheneman
February 5, 2011

Rick, the OT also established the law of levirate marriage (marriage of a brother's widow) and "sanctuary towns" for persons accused of manslaughter), not to mention sexual slavery. It is unhelpful and ill-advised to appeal to OT social norms when addressing 21st-century problems, especially when we are unwilling to apply OT norms according to the standards indicated in the relevant texts. Shall we take up stoning of religious blasphemers, adulterers, and rebellious children? No, we appeal to the Bible for general principles in the light of the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ.<br><br>Furthermore, a shrill appeal to OT norms ignores the weight of evidence showing the administration of capital punishment in the U.S. continues to be fraught with irregularities and abuses. Justice demands the equal protection and application of the law for all citizens. Mercy asks us to withhold condemnation and consider the redemptive possibilities of grace. <br><br>Do we identify with "agents of wrath bringing punishment" (Rom. 13:4), according to prevailing human standards of justice, or do we identify with Christ, who is said to have uttered these words as he hung from the cross a condemned man: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:24) It is a choice we have to make every day---to live in gratitude for the undeserved kindness and mercy we have received from God or to punish others for failing to meet our standards of right conduct and fair dealing.

Gailvrice
February 5, 2011

The oft-quoted verse of death penalty proponents, “But if you do wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer” is explained by Hanks in the book I mentioned: “Paul accepted the state’s right to punish criminals, but it cannot be inferred that this also extends to the right of the state to practice capital punishment. The word translated sword in this passage is machaira, which was actually more of a long dagger than a sword. Soldiers carried it as a sign of authority. It was not an instrument of execution …. If Paul had wished to make a statement supporting capital punishment, he would probably have referred to crucifixion rather than the short sword…. Romans 13:1-7 is preceded by Paul urging the Roman church not to seek revenge.” [pp. 200-201].

Tracey Sheneman
February 6, 2011

Gail, regarding the text of Rom. 13... it might be like comparing a Taser to an officer's service revolver. A cop on the beat is not considered judge, jury, and executioner under normal circumstances. And the quoted passage is referring to a soldier as an officer of the peace, as a deterrent to criminals and rebels, not as state executioner.<br><br>Romans 13:1-7 segues seamlessly into vv. 8-10, from paying taxes owed and respect due to governing officials to paying God the respect we owe him for his forgiveness of our sinfulness by loving others. The law and its obligations are summed up in the command to "love your neighbor as yourself." Again, the point is - the point of the gospel - his mercy trumps man's judgment. And it is by God's mercy we are saved.<br><br>Rom. 13:8-10: Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. <br><br>

Rickd
February 6, 2011

Gailvrice, that is an odd argument. The word, Machaira is the preferred word for sword in the New Testament. For example, Herod “had James, the brother of John put to death with a sword (Machaira)”. Jesus says in Luke 21, that “they will fall by the edge of the sword (Machaira) and will be led captives into all the nations”. John the Baptist was executed, beheaded by sword. The author of Hebrews says that believers were” stoned, They were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death by the sword (Machaira). For some reason, early Christians were executed frequently by sword “ Anyone who is destined for prison will be taken to prison. Anyone destined to die by the sword will die by the sword (Machaira).” Rev. 13:10. John saw the souls of those beheaded for the gospel under the altar. When Paul talks about the state having the power of the sword “But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” He is not talking about a “beat cop” with a taser. He refers to “rulers” (archons) or governmental authority bearing a sword. This is clearly the power of the state Paul is making a case for. He says “let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God and those which exist are established by God”<br><br>Realize I am not advocating capital punishment, I also have concerns. However, Jesus gave a longer list of crimes to Moses that were punishable by death than we have today. Tracey, God was not trying to “satiate” His “primitive desire of blood lust and revenge”. I am not promoting a return to the laws of the Old Testament, but I do want you to realize that God gave the remedy of capital punishment, it was not invented by primitive, blood-thirsty Hebrews or by their vengeful tribal God Yahweh. Should serial killers be executed who would rape and kill my daughter? Probably yes. Can they be saved in their prison cell and forgiven of their crimes, of course. But they have forfeited their right to live on this earth. The same Jesus who said “father forgive them for they know not what they do” will come back waving a sword (the equivalent of rifle), and his robes will be dipped in blood. He will consign the unrepentant to a fate worse than death.<br><br>Tracey, this is not a “shrill appeal” to OT norms. Read my other comments.

Josh Larsen
TC Staff
February 7, 2011

Thank you everyone for your contributions. We are going to close this discussion for now to catch our collective breath. Thanks again!

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