The Death Penalty is not a Christian Option

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.


4 thoughts on “The Death Penalty is not a Christian Option

  1. My my..if they go to jail for along time, that means the state has to pay for their housing and food for a long time…and that means you and I and our children have to pay for a long time. Multiply that by 10s of millions,,, I sat in college ethics course, and the liberal professor challenged the class as to what was needed to solve the problems in society today, no one had an answer, but i was brainwashed a bit by his yeast and knew the answer he was looking for but bit my tongue, finally he said it: ” prisons.”

    The State is set up by God, it is judged in this life whereas we are judged in next life.

    Taking a human life is a serious offense to God.

  2. If the people who support the death penalty think that they are any better than the people who they think deserve it, then they’re wrong. Without the grace of God, I believe anyone is capable of doing anything.

  3. I’ve struggled with the issue of the death penalty for a long time. I used to be for it but am now against it but for practical and philosophical reasons that don’t depend on God (though I highly respect the example of Jesus in much of the New Testament).

    Here are the main areas where I have a problem:

    First, I think some captured dangerous leaders need to be killed, e.g., Napoleon, major Nazi leaders, etc., after a fair trial, lest they continue to inspire and inflame hope in their fanatical supporters that often leads to more killing, ransom, and breakout attempts.

    Next, some people are extremely clever and dangerous and continue to kill, rape and maim even after life imprisonment (in prison or after escaping). Is preserving their life worth the risk to others? You might say put them in Supermax solitary for life. But if you study the nature of solitary confinement and the research about it you’ll see that it’s more cruel than death for most people. It also costs millions/prisoner and it does not offer 100% protection either (though much higher than regular prison). Solitary literally drives most people insane. So I ask, how many free murders, rapes and maulings do you get behind bars before you get put down for good? Or do we torture you in solitary the rest of your life at great expense where there is still always a (smaller) chance that you will kill again? I don’t have a good answer for this do you?

    Finally, this is my weakest case philosophically, but still relevant. I do believe there are family/friend/community victims of violent murder who benefit greatly from the closure that the execution brings – better than through other forms of therapy and counseling. I actually have some direct experience with this and I suppose you really can’t know how this feels until somebody you love is brutally murdered. One can argue, from the perspective of doing the greatest good, that execution sometimes offer more benefits than costs from that perspective. This is why we allow victims to speak before sentencing in many jurisdictions. I, like you probably are, am always impressed by those victims ready to forgive and/or who specifically eschew wanting execution. But I’m also not comfortable, implicitly or explicitly, telling victims that they are somehow morally inferior for wanting such closure. I think it’s a very natural desire, impossible to overcome for some.

    Ultimately though, I don’t think people or governments, democratic or otherwise, should be trusted to kill anyone so this power must be restricted to the utmost while still allowing for self-defense.

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