Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Question of the Day

Is capital punishment compatible with Christian teaching?


wes said...

My personal feeling is that there just isn't anyway for us to do people justice. The record of innocent put to death is just to great to risk. That being said I don't think that we have the right to put anyone to death. If we look at Christ he didn't condemn people to death (i.e. the woman caught in adultery) but showed mercy. When we read on in the text he doesn't just let her go though. He tells her to go and do it no more. We don't have the same authority of Christ, but I believe that as long as a person is alive Christ can impact them and turn their life around.

Keith McIlwain said...

The answer to your question is NO. Can we see Jesus throwing the switch to the electric chair or firing the gun or making the injection?

Death is the enemy of God and man, an enemy which Christ came to destroy. Killing (capital punishment, war, even abortion in my estimation) is collaboration with the enemy; that's treason.

Capital punishment is, to borrow a phrase, "incompatible with Christian teaching".

John B said...

This is something I've wrestled with for years and have gone back and forth on. At this point in my journey, I'd say yes. The primary reason I've come to this conclusion is Paul's explanation of the purpose of government in Romans 13.

The government is God's servant, "an avenger who brings wrath (by the the sword) on the one who practices evil" (4b, NASB).

The God who commanded the Israelites to destroy the evil people living in the Promise Land, didn't somehow change and decide that evil people who practice abominable things and who destroy the lives of others should now be treated with absolute mercy.

The life and safety of the community is greater than the life of any one individual.

Jared Williams said...

I don't believe that the death penalty is compatible with the Christian faith. I have two reasons for feeling as I do. First, I believe that we are to try to reach all people for Jesus Christ. Once a person is dead we cannot accomplish this mission of the church. Second, I believe that Jesus taught Christians to show mercy to those who sin. While justice in the form of incarceration is good, in order to protect society, the death penalty is not justice but vengeance. The only way for a person to repent and change their life is through the Holy Spirit. He will work when He is ready.

Keith Taylor said...

Keith wrote:

...Can we see Jesus throwing the switch to the electric chair or firing the gun or making the injection?

Well in Chapter 19 of the Revelation of Jesus Christ we know that the Bible says this will happen. Of course, these will be those who have blasphemed the Holy Ghost. But it will happen.


I started to reply to this last night and the example of the woman caught in adultery was a key point in my reply. I gives me greater confidence in my Christian walk that we both came to the same example, but I didn't finish it.

Does God approve of capital punishment. The Bible says He does. Is Death the enemy of God. The Bible says it is. How is that that true? There are some things we just won't know till we get to heaven. Christ was innocent of all sin, however, he submitted to the authority of the Roman Government to implement capital punishment. Yet, some of the greatest saints of the Bible, (Moses, David, St. Paul) were all murderers or accessories to murder. The truth is, God chooses who He will use, and he allows a fallen system to execute or kill who He will as well.

For the specific individual, in the realm of eternity, does it matter if a capital felon is executed, if he is evangelized and saved first? No.

Does it matter if a capital felon is executed, but no one evangelizes him and his soul is lost to eternal damnation? Yes it does.

BruceA said...

I don't think the death penalty is compatible with Christian teaching, for the reasons given by others above, and because Jesus himself said, "Do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also," and, "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," indicating how we should respond to those who would harm us. Granted, Jesus was talking to his followers as individuals (or a faith community) and not as the ruling authorities. Maybe this raises the question: Can a Christian oppose the death penalty personally but support its legality?

John said...


I don't think so. As I've written previously, a Christian cannot reject violence but parasitically depend upon the violence of others.

Michael said...

I have to say that I've moved back and forth on this issue as well. What is most bothersome to me is the lynch mob mentality which exists for those who say they support the death penalty. And by the mob mentality, I mean those I have seen on news reports outside a prison gate when the death of a condemned murderer is announced. They CHEER!

I'm afraid that we are incapable of administering justice in such a way. I happen to believe that the Bible is clear that life for life is required. However, I also feel that if we really are who we say we are, then we would rather mourn than cheer for the soul that may have been lost. Absent this remorse, we are incapable and, thus, disqualified.

Art said...

I'm sad to say YES. I think capital punishment is compatible with much Christian teaching but only because so much Christian teaching is incompatible with Jesus' message.

John Wilks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Wilks said...

No doubt a solid case for Capitol Punishment from a Christian perspective can be made- and in fact many such cases are frequently presented.

And even though we can justify it, I would prefer us to err on the side of mercy. There is perhaps no greater reflection of the grace of God to say to a criminal "we have every right to kill you and you deserve to die- but we choose to spare you in the hopes that even in the confinement of prison, you might be changed by God's love."

After all, isn't that a sound way for human beings to appropriate the message of the Cross in our social condition?

JD said...

I have commented on this before, and at times, I refer to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, being a formal Catholic, because there are some Christian ideas that are very succinctly put in the Catechism.

As far as the death penalty, the Catechism states in paragraph 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 are 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 non-existent."

The Catholic church does not rule out the death penalty, but does greatly, if not almost always, discourages it unless there is no other means to keep the community safe. I have to say that I feel the same way.

I also refer to what God told Noah after the flood when He made a covenant with him:

"And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.

'Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.'"
(NIV) Genesis 9:5-6

Do I believe in redemption? Yea! I wouldn't be a Christian if I did not. But I read and hear many non-denominational Christians, as well as my Methodist brethren, that Jesus "abolished" the Old Testament. That is not true. In fact, Jesus himself stated in Matthew 5:17-20:

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen; will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." (NIV)

Rick Atchley describes in his book "The Sinai Summit: Meeting God with Our Character Crisis" We studied this at work in our men's lunch group. It delves into the 10 Commandments and really looks at how today's society no longer takes them seriously, and if we did, we would not be as messed up as we are. Rick Achtley breaks down the Sixth Commandments with the exceptions to what killing actually means, as John started a posting about here.

Achtley states that the following are considered "killing" or "murder" as defined by the sixth commandment:

Premeditated Murder
Those "killings" that are not against the sixth commandment are:
Accidental Homicide - Car Accidents
Justifiable Homicide - Self Defense
Capital Punishment

But Acthley goes further and says, "Murder is an act, but it's also an attitude. It's a deed, but it's also a motive. Notice Jesus' interpretation of the sixth principle:

'You have heard that it is said to the people long ago, "Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment." But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, "Raca," is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, "You fool!" will be in danger of the fire of hell.'’Matthew 5:21-22

Those are powerful words and convicting, as well. What Jesus is saying is that he knows that our society is driven by vendettas. That's not news to us, either, is it?"

He goes on to comment the following: "I don't have to physically end your life to harbor in my heart the attitudes that foster all of the killings that are going on in the world."

So what am I trying to say? The death penalty IS compatible with Christianity, IF it meets the conditions as defined above. Anyone that is hateful to those that are being executed for murder are just as guilty because they are gaining pleasure for the deaths of others.

The death penalty is a tough topic, and any concerns that I have with it are not related to God's call, but to society’s ability to pull it off correctly.