Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Question of the Day

Is it consistent with Christian principles to support the death penalty?


JD said...


Did you watch last weeks Boston Legal? Is that why this question is coming up? There were some interesting points made there on this topic.


John said...

No, I rarely watch TV anymore except for Law & Order.

T Michael W Halcomb said...

John, you've been tagged. For more, see here:



Stephen said...

If we are truly pro-life then ending a life is an abomination in ANY circumstance. (i.e. see the Roman Catholic position)

Some Christians try to maintain a semi pro-life position: Abortion is wrong, but Death Penalty is okay.

Some Christians try to maintain a semi pro-choice position: Abortion should be a choice available in dire circumstances, but the Death Penalty is wrong.

A little inconsistent on all sides save for our Roman Catholic brethren.

JD said...

Actually, the Catechism of the Catholic Church States:

"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 church's stance is that the death penalty can be used IF it can determine the guilty party, and death is the only way to protect other lives, it is OK. Notice the last sentence though...in today's society, the chances for death penalty are very rare, if not practically non-existent. If circumstances were different, the Catholic Church would not have an issue with the death penalty.
The biggest difference between abortion and the death penalty is the killing of an innocent life unable to protect itself vs. an individual that made a conscious decision not to follow the "natural law" and take another's life (murder).

God stated in Gen 9:1-7 :

"So God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man.

Whoever sheds man’s blood,
By man his blood shall be shed;
For in the image of God
He made man.

And as for you, be fruitful and multiply;
Bring forth abundantly in the earth
And multiply in it.'"


Allan R. Bevere said...

The short answer is "No"... or maybe it's "Yes." Hmmmmm...

Just kidding. In general John, I am opposed to capital punishment, but at the same time, I am not a crusader against it.

One of the things that bothers me about my fellow Christians who, like me are opposed to it, is that they appear to be quite insensitive to the victims and their families.

When Saddam hussein was executed, the anti-death penalty folks and bloggers came out of the woodwork opposing what was done. What bothered me about their protests is that they, at best, could pay only a glancing nod to all the atrocities that Saddam had committed. They would write things like, "Yes, Saddam had committed terrible crimes but..."

NO! stop... Saddam snuffed the life out of hundreds of thousands of people, and many of them were cruely tortured. If you want to protest his execution... then fine... and I am probably with you on that, but his victims need more than a passing reference.

If you are going to protest, great, but don't make his victims a footnote in your commentary.

Todd said...

As I understand it, the Christian perspective would not be one of pro-life but government support.

Paul makes the point that one role of the government is the punishment of wrong-doers (Romans 13:1-5). Paul and Peter encourage all believers to respect the government.

So that leaves us with this perspective: capital punishment is the instrument of government. We then have to ask ourselves to what degree we will respect those who have been appointed over us as political leaders.

And we are also forgetting our Anabaptist/peace church brothers and sisters who hold to a complete life agenda. Capital punishment, abortion, war, and quality of life issues are all viewed from the perspective that it is not our place to cause death.

Dan Trabue said...

Do you (anyone) see Jesus flipping the switch to execute someone?

Allan R. Bevere said...


The short answer is "no."

The longer and more complex answer is how to make that case, while being extremely sensiitve to those who have been on the receiving end of such an atrocity.

Anonymous said...

"Christian principles" is a rather broad phase describing not uniformly that which some might not even consider Christian. More specifically, to address the question, it is entirely consistent with the teachings of Christ and the larger witness of the New Testament to support the legitimate use by civil government of the death penalty. Not once in the New Testament does one find a single objection to the practice. Specifically Jesus does not even challenge the right of the Roman civil government (which at the time many considered illegitimate) to crucify (execute) him. Paul uses the legal means available to him as a Roman citizen to challenge his accusers in open court, but not once does he speak against the legitimate right of the Roman authorities to use the death penalty.
Ever effort should be made to determine the guilt of the person charged. But once by a preponderance of the evidence guilt has been beyond a reasonable doubt established and the penalty set, there is no legitimate reason for the sentence not to be executed.

Allan R. Bevere said...


With all due respect, I appreciate your thoughts, and yet you hide behind the "anonymous" label, while the rest of us are standing out there giving our perspective for all to see.

Why don't you quit hiding behind your Anon label. If what you say is important for the rest of us to consider, please stand up and be counted.

Such an act is called courageous. Have you courage? I hope so. We desperately need folk with that virtue.

JD said...

Todd said:
"Paul makes the point that one role of the government is the punishment of wrong-doers (Romans 13:1-5). Paul and Peter encourage all believers to respect the government."

True, but, and I cannot quote where it is in scripture, we are also called to be civially (sp) disobedient if the law conflicts with God's law. I don't believe this to be the case with the death penalty, just adding my 2 cents on the govn't thing.

As brought up on the Boston Legal episode I referenced, can one be against the death penalty ("govn't sacnctioned killing") and for the principle laid out in Genesis when performing the killing in response to the shedding of human blood?


Gord said...

Well since I see capital punishment to be just below state-sanctioned murder...

Yes, it is inconsistent with basic Judeo-Christian ethics. ANd yet it is commended, even commanded within TOrah.

THe decider for me is that we never know with full certainty. Guilty beyond reasonable doubt is simply not enough to end a life -- especially given teh known impact of socio-economic status (and race) on the likelihood of recieving a death sentence.

I also have very strong doubts about the supposed deterrent factor.

At the same time, I am against the "self-defense" rationalization for killing. At most that should be a reason to change the charge from homicide to a low degree manslaughter It shouldn't be a way to being cleared.

Anonymous said...


It is for reasons like these above and an incident which happened when I was fourteen that I carry a gun daily. Can I depend upon my Christian brothers to do anything for me while someone is raping my wife and killing my children? Sounds to me the verdict would be - not likely. Also, should those who would do such a thing be caught, tried by their peers, and found worthy of death - then these same people would not even pay a passing note to my family.

In short, a man broke into our home when I was a teen. He had been watching our home for quite sometime and knew (or at least throught he knew) that my father was away on business. My dad had came home early from a bird hunt and parked his truck in the back. We were all asleep and at 2:00 am this crazed thug came in with the itnent (yes he admitted this publicaly) to rape and murder mother, and we children.

Instead he met my father and a 12 guage shotgun. Dad shot him twice and that ended his career of raping and murdering people.

In response to Dan, yes I can see Jesus throwing the switch and so can anyone else who has read Revelation 19 and 20. I don't see Jesus as someone who is holding hands and singing we will overcome. To read a Jesus in the Scriptures who does not pass judgement, and execute the guilty is a myopic reading of the Scriptures at best and a false reading at worst.

In short, no pun intended, I am all for captial punishment and I believe that it is completely scriptural.

With Best Regards

Steve Heyduck said...


John said...

Joe brings up a good point that Jesus will not only slay his foes in the Last Judgment, but consign them to an eternal Hell.

Whether it we have the same authority is another matter.

I am uncertain about how to answer this question. I am, at present, opposed to the death penalty for pragmatic reasons: far too many people have been exonerated from Death Row to make the system reliable, and the execution of an innocent is an abomination in a just society.

It would be interesting to address this question from a Just War paradigm.

Anonymous said...

Short answer yes; long answer to follow.....

"Mercy to the guilty is cruelty to the innocent."
Adam Smith

Linking one's position on capital punishment with their position on abortion is a foolish argument. It assumes that killing an innocent unborn human being is morally equivalent to killing a convicted murderer.
Let us be reminded that criminals are not executed for the fun of it. They are executed to deter them from repeating their crime, among other reasons.
Sometimes those who oppose capital punishment talk about "the sanctity of human life." The issue of capital punishment only comes up only because the murderer has already violated the sanctity of human life. Are we to say that his life has more sanctity than the life or lives he has already taken?
Shabby logic often tries to equate the murderer's act of taking a life with the law's taking of his life. But physical parallels are not moral parallels. Otherwise, a womam who uses force to fight off a would-be rapist would be just as guilty as he for using force against her.
Glib phrases about "life in prison without the possibility of parole" are just talk. Murderers kill again in prison. They escape from prison and kill. They are furloughed and kill while on furlough. And there is no such thing as life in prison without the possibility of a liberal governor coming along to pardon them or commute their sentence. That too has happened.
Moreover the rationale that “Jesus would forgive” presumably means we shouldn’t apply the death penalty. And those arguing against capital punishment typically drop back to a punishment of life in prison. But if Jesus would forgive, how could we put this person away for life? How about just 20 years in prison? No, Jesus would forgive. And so on. The literal application of the “Jesus would forgive” position would keep us from punishing anyone, ever.
It may be helpful to remind some of you that Jesus would forgive if the criminal repented. And, of course, only Jesus would know if the repentance is authentic.
Jesus offers divine forgiveness but He doesn’t always remove earthly consequences of our actions (examples abound - see King David & Bathsheba, other Bible characters, you, me and others).

The great fear of people on both sides of the capital punishment debate is making an irretrievable mistake by executing an innocent person. Even the best legal system cannot eliminate human error 100 percent. If there were an option that would prevent any innocent person from dying as a result of our legal system, that option should be taken. But there is no such option.
Letting murderers live has costs, and will continue to costs, the lives of innocent people. The only real question is whether more innocent lives will be lost this way than by executing the murderers, even with the rare mistake -- which we should make as rare as possible -- of executing an innocent person.


Dan Trabue said...

Can I depend upon my Christian brothers to do anything for me while someone is raping my wife and killing my children?

It has been my experience that most of my Christian brothers and sisters - and especially the more peaceable amongst them - are the most fearless and selfless individuals I have met and I could count on them ESPECIALLY in times of crises like the one given above.

Myself? My faith is in God, not a gun. One oughtn't confuse being peaceable with being milquetoast.

One also ought not confuse standing strong for justice (and in opposition to the possible slaying of innocent) as a weakness.

Again, it has been my experience that those who are most insistent upon have some protection (ie, weaponry) do so out of fear. This is not intended as a dig at the gentleman who prefers to have a gun, just letting you know my experience.

tom ream said...

I find a great deal of truth in the wisdom of Tolkien through Gandalf:

Many that live deserve death. And some die that deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety. Even the wise cannot see all ends. (Lord of the Rings)

While capital punishment may serve to satisfy our personal need for vengance, does it really serve to right the wrongs the guilty have perpetrated?



Paul said...

The test for a criminal conviction is not (and should not be) the preponderance of evidence, or balance of probabilities. Someone should be shown to be guilty beyond reasonable doubt for a conviction to be obtained.

Unfortunately in the USA, convictions sometimes happen (even in capital cases) on rather slim evidence, and incompetent lawyers sometimes allow innocent people to be convicted. Add to this a long series of increasingly meaningless appeals, where all too often evidence cannot be re-examined, and governors who for political reasons refuse to examine such miscarriages, and you have a system that, however reasonable it may be in theory, stinks in practice.

Fix the injustices in today's system, before being too confident that justice is being done.