In my opinion, the death penalty is not something that a person can support if they want to follow Jesus.
My first summer in Princeton began with a graduate level class in Greek. Because I had just been baptized a year and a half earlier I was struggling as much with trying to learn Scripture as I was with Greek. From time to time we would be assigned into small groups to work through the language issues in class together. One of the members of my group was actually a high school student, one of our teaching assistants’ daughters, who was auditing the class. I forget her name. (I know I am a horrible person. Did I mention that I was learning GREEK and contents of the whole BIBLE? Cut me some slack I had other things to worry about! ) She a very bright girl. She was fluent in multiple languages and was adding one more to her resume.
Somehow, in class, we started talking about social issues and it came up that she was against the death penalty. When I said that I wasn’t she pretty much went off on me. Then later in the conversation she asked if I was “pro-choice or “pro-life”. When I said “pro-life” and she just shook her head and laughed. I didn’t worry about it at all. I was firmly buried in Greek and Scripture, not to mention the fact that I was still learning the ropes adjusting to the new area I was living in.
Whatever I had said in that initial conversation though must have really irritated her because the next day I found information about the injustices of the death penalty waiting on the floor in the hallway outside of my dorm room. I read about a page from her compiled manifesto and didn’t read anymore. I had Greek and Scripture to learn and I didn’t have time for this. But she wasn’t about to let it go. This really bothered her that I was OK with the death penalty.
Back then, I though that Capital Punishment was simply a justice issue. If someone murdered someone else they should be able to be executed. An “eye for an eye” right? I had something yet to learn about the Grace of God.
…and this gal didn’t let up. Every time I saw her she kept on me about my position on this. She kept dropping info off outside my dorm. She’d bring it up almost everyday in class. I’d randomly see her around town with her friends and she’d start the introductions of with “Hey everyone, this is the guy I told you about who is OK with the death penalty”. I was like “are you kidding me?” What is the big deal!?! But here is the kicker… she was always, ALWAYS nice to me. It was undeniable she was a nice person and that she was just legitimately concerned about me. She always smiled and laughed about it and then said – “I am laughing but you understand that I am being serious right?”
I didn’t read her information nor did I buy her arguments. She couldn’t last 30 seconds with me in a debate – she was in High School after all. But her persistence wore on me. So soon, I really started wondering if maybe I was missing something…
Then one day, in one of my classes one of my professors was talking about how the Apostle Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus, was a Pharisee before he became a Christian. The professor spoke of how Saul had persecuted Christians and even agreed with them being put to death (Stephen in particular) before he became a follower of Jesus. The professor said: “Saul was a Christian killer.” The light bulb went on for me in this moment.
How could I possibly advocate death for anyone when Christ, at anytime can offer salvific grace? As a follower of Jesus, I can’t. Judgment is not mine to have, only forgiveness is – and I need to enable an environment for that opportunity for forgiveness to arise at any and every turn.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are certainly some very bad people in this world who commit horrific acts. Some of which, in my opinion, need to go to jail for life.
And I fully understand that putting a person in jail for life is very expensive. I get it. Yet, while I am not for being overtaxed, I would certainly rather be taxed more and give someone the continued opportunity to learn of Jesus and receive Christ’s grace than to bear the responsibility of snuffing out a life that is not mine to take. In this instance I would even go so far as to say that it is my (our) Christian responsibility to provide both protection for law-abiding citizens and accommodations for those who have declared themselves society’s enemy.
In my opinion, a person cannot say that they “support the sanctity of life” by then agreeing to willfully take another’s life when there are other viable options. Life in prison is still a viable option.
You can surely tell me (plenty of people have) how bad people are in this world. How devastating and dangerous they are to others. I would not disagree with you that these people exist. But I believe that the power of Jesus Christ to change people is real and that His Love is stronger than any evil anywhere. It is for this reason, and through the persistence of a pesky teenage girl, that I am without question adamantly against the death penalty.