Monday, June 11, 2007

where you at?

What did you think of this article in today's Trib about studies confirming the deterent effect of the death penalty? | 06/11/2007 | Studies say death penalty deters crime

As a Christian, what's your view of the death penalty?

Do the OT death penalty passages have any relevance to a Christians view today?

Is support for the death penalty congruent with or contrary to a commitment to the sanctity of life?

Have you thought much about this?


Brian Wong said...

I've often wondered the same thing myself. It always seemed to me that many Christians I know are able to simultaneously support the death penalty while also being vehemently against abortion.

I always wondered why that was OK and whether or not it was ever a contradiction. I found it odd that one could be pro-life and yet support the death penalty.

I'm definitely open to your thoughts and clarifications, Pastor Tim.

Tim Weaver said...

It is a very sober thing to consider. I think that the Bible is clear that the government should have a death penalty for extreme crimes. Yes the O.T. does have situations that call for the death penalty, but the New Testament supports it, too.

Rom 13:3-5
"3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same;

4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil."

The government has a 'sword' for punishment. I suspect that the sword was not used for imprisonment or beating, but for killing. The death penalty in this case.

How does this mesh with sanctity of life? When you commit acts worthy of death, you have probably violated someone else's right to life. Sanctity of life is about preserving the lives of those who can't preserve their own. The person that is condemned to death has knowingly chosen to do what they did. They gambled, knowing that if they got caught for what they were going to do there would be a sever consequence. It's not like the death penalty is for someone defending their life.

Lara said...

I'd love to hear more people's comments on this. Personally I'm still stuck in the undecided camp, though I have thought about this a lot. But I do have some thoughts.

First of all I think all life is valuable. Even if someone must be stuck in jail for the rest of his/her life for the safety of the public, who are we to say that they won't have some impact for good from within that jail/prison later on down the road?
Second, my response to Tim Weaver's comment is that we can find any verses (usually out of context) in the Bible to support (or be against) almost anything. One of the things that Jesus did when He came was give us the freedom to make wise decisions. We are no longer under the law so we don't "have to" support the death penalty. We can use it when we think it's wise or we can do without it if we think that is better. Whatever is better for His purposes and the spreading of His Kingdom.
Anyway, I think I was leaning toward being against the death penalty, but this article makes a convincing point for it. So, I'm still undecided.

p.s I think a person can definitely be for the death penalty and against abortion (and visa-versa). The taking of life is for totally different purposes.

erik ernstrom said...

I am completely in the camp of pro-death penalty. And I couldn't be more anti-abortion. I see one as the punishment for a heinous crime, vs the taking of a totally innocent life. I see no contradiction.

To reference the article: I thought it was fascinating that the study was headed by someone who was anti-death penalty, yet the results so clearly showed it as a deterent. He didn't allow his bias to influence the study. And yet, people are trying to discredit it, even though the data has been checked by a second group and came up with the same results.

And my wife reminded me of a country in central (maybe south) America where they changed the penalty for drunk driving to public execution. The have totally eliminated drunk driving. I think it shows that people respond to deterents.

- By the way...I'm not advocating for public executions for drunk driving. :)

Tim Weaver said...

I think I left a very hard, merciless feel to my post. That was not the intent. I think this will fill out my thoughts a bit better. Sorry it is long.

Often we want to see NT examples of things like this, but because the setting is totally different, we don't. The OT is mostly God dealing with His people who are a single nation, Israel. He makes the laws for that government and we get to see them. In the NT, God isn't making laws for governments.

For things that are only addressed in the OT we can't just say, 'it doesn't say it in the NT, therefore it doesn't apply.' We need to remember that the God of the OT is also the God of the NT. He didn't change His character or values when He sent His Son. Abraham was declared righteous because he believed God, just as we. People had wisdom in the OT as we do in the NT. There were people filled with the Spirit in the OT. That is why David prays 'take not Thy Holy Spirit from me' in Ps 51.

The Lord absolutely values the lives of the wicked who have done things worthy of the death penalty. He says a few times in the OT (Ez) that He takes no pleasure in the death of wicked. There are many times in the OT that those guilty of capitol crimes (murder, adultery, rape, ...) are not punished to the fullest extent of the law and it is the Lord who is directly judging and having mercy. David is the prime example or this.

I think that Bible shows that death penalty need not be used in all cases that it is possible, but it should be an option at the judges discretion for some crimes. So, likewise, I don't believe that all cases should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, but I think that capitol punishment is a biblically supported option which should be kept on the table.

Kevin Heldt said...

I think Tim W. used an important word: sober. No matter what "side" you're on, it is a weighty issue. It frustrates me to hear those who advocate exclusively for the rights of the convicted murderers and have nothing to say about the innocent lives that they snuffed out, and it also saddens me to hear those who flippantly speak of ending the life of the murderer as if it's "no big deal".

I have been a supporter of the death penalty because I agree with Tim W that "the Bible is clear that the government should have a death penalty for extreme crimes." I think that is really the main (only?) reason for a Christian to be behind it. The issue of deterrence is certainly interesting but I don't think that a "practical" consideration, if it stood alone, should be taken to support ending life. It seems like that is where some of history's horrors have originated. No, I believe life is truly sacred, and it is God who holds it in His hand.

"Do the OT death penalty passages have any relevance to a Christians view today?"

I will give a very guarded yes. I think we can learn from the OT that God detests the shedding of innocent blood, that He takes sin very seriously, and that He is a God of order. These types of things can help inform our understanding of the NT passages dealing with governments and punishments. In other words, if the OT depicted God as consistently against any form of retribution, by Himself, governments, or individuals, then we should approach with the utmost skepticism any language in the NT that seemed to have God doing a complete turnabout, and seek other possible interpretations. But that is not what we find.

(Critics will point to the many offenses that warranted death in the Mosaic law to ridicule the very concept of Christians supporting the death penalty. And if support rested solely on picking a few verses out of Exodus, Leviticus, etc. then I'd side with them because I don't think the government should be executing those who curse their mother and father...)

Lara, I am either troubled by or just misunderstanding parts of your comment:

"Second, my response to Tim Weaver's comment is that we can find any verses (usually out of context) in the Bible to support (or be against) almost anything."

Do you feel like that is the case with the support of capital punishment? That it hinges on some misinterpreted verses?

"One of the things that Jesus did when He came was give us the freedom to make wise decisions. We are no longer under the law so we don't "have to" support the death penalty."

Can a decision be wise if it's in disagreement with what God has already said? If God supports it, are we free not to? It seems like you are presupposing that we have no Biblical basis for supporting the death penalty. If we do, though, then do you agree that there is no talk of "having to support it" or not? The main issue I think is to find out if God has given us instructions on this or not.

"Is support for the death penalty congruent with or contrary to a commitment to the sanctity of life?"

If God has indeed spoken on this, then the death penalty would be extremely congruent with the sanctity of life. It is a low view of life indeed that marks its wrongful passing without extreme outrage and a burning desire for things to be "put right."

Lastly, I think it needs to be joined with this discussion that it's very important that we, as Christians, do a better job of developing a Christ-centered view towards those convicted of crimes. I think in the politcizing of our faith, Christians tend to follow conservative republicans into a merciless attitude towards inmates (death row or otherwise). We need to realize, again soberly, that our own crimes deserve death and that the mercy we have received is not to be hoarded. There is nothing inconsistent with being appalled at the sin and supporting the government's punishment of it, but loving the sinner (the old adage holds well). We look at ourselves the same way: we hate the things we do but we never stop loving ourselves or working towards our own benefit.

Sorry for the book Tim. I guess I've at least answered the question, "Have you thought much about this?" :)

andy gibson said...

Wow, a fray that even I am going to stay out of. Have fun.

Lara said...

Thanks Tim Weaver, for your kind response. What you said in your second post totally made sense and I realize my response sounded a lot more harsh than I intended it. Forgive me?

Kevin, I guess I just wanted to make it clear that someone can be a Christian and be on either side of this argument. We can find Biblical support for AND against the death penalty (John 8:7). I realize that adding "usually out of context" was uncalled for in this situation. I was thinking of other situations that have frusterated me lately. So I apologize for saying that. My point is to say, "Please don't break fellowship with someone because of what they believe about the death penalty!" I guess I should have just said that. =)

For your second question, of course a decision cannot be wise if it is in disagreement with God! He IS wisdom! So here's my answer...
...When people asked Jesus if it was wrong to work on the sabbath his answer was not yes or no, but "I am Lord of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27). I think this might be a similar situation.

Jacquelyn said...

I guess my thoughts have always been that the difference between the ending of an innocent life and the just punishement of a crime are so different they can't be compaired side by side. What about the sanctity of the murder victim's life? How is it any better to cage a person for 55 years, to steal the hope and meaning from their lives and leave them counting the days until they die ...?

Another thought I have concerns the first murder, God was judge and jury when Cain killed Abel but he wasn't the executioner, why not? the Hebrew word for blood used in that story is "bloods". Some have said that this is because Cain killed Abel's potential offspring when he murdered his brother. (Pastor Tim, correct me if I'm wrong) Each murder could be looked at as a mass murder if you look at it that way.

In today's society where people are killing their schoolmates, coworkers and family memeber in the most heinous ways imaginable I have to wonder what tighter sentencing requirements would do to deter potential mass murderers.

Kevin Heldt said...

Good thoughts everyone. I appreciate the distinction Tim W made in the last 2 paragraphs of his 2nd post.

Lara, I won't break fellowship with you. :)

I think it is a very difficult topic to discuss because we're trying to talk about abstract ideals in the face of so many huge, glaring problems in today's justice system. I doubt there are many CP proponents who think the way the system currently works is the proper way for the "government to bear the sword" and I doubt there are many opponents who think that people being locked away for life, stripped of hope, dignity, and what it means to be a human, is the "right" way either. It gets messy really quickly.

I was reminded this morning that one of the primary Biblical passages that speaks to this issue is Genesis 9. God's demand of an accounting for the shedding of blood is grounded in the very order of creation, in man being created in God's image, and so predates the Mosaic law. But again, as I said, it's not at all easy (to me anyway) to see how that should play out in modern societies.

The main reason I posted in again, though, was to share a link I came across this morning. It's written by Sister Helen Prejean who became an outspoken critic of the death penalty following her experience where she agreed to be a pen pal (and then, spiritual advisor) to death row inmate Patrick Sonnier. The 1995 film, Dead Man Walking, with Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn, is based on that story. I always thought that movie was incredibly powerful. It doesn't allow for any trite, easy answers regardless what side of the fence you're on. Anyway, here is an article Prejean wrote entitled "Would Jesus Pull the Switch?" I think it's a sobering and eye-opening read.

Lara said...

Thank you for the link, Kev.
That's what I was trying to say, but she said it much, much better. The story reminded me of "The End of the Spear" too. So much good came from their mercy.

Brianna Heldt said...

Personally I wish our government did not have the death penalty. I don't think God COMMANDS that nations utilize capital punishment, but I don't know that He forbids it either.

The great thing about belonging to God is that independent of our nation's laws, we are called to love and pursue justice in Jesus' name, bottom line, because we're first and foremost part of GOD'S kingdom. So no matter what our stance is on capital punishment in the US, let's seek to bring hope and truth to those our society has decided are beyond redemption. Chuck Colson's organization is doing an amazing work in this way.

Jeannett Gibson said...

I agree with Jacquelyn when she says that comparing CP to abortion isn't really comparing apples to apples. Without getting too far into this issue (I just don't have time or energy frankly) let's keep in mind the crimes committed by those executed. It's not even just simple murder (if you can call it simple)...these are heinous and grotesque crimes. I remember years ago finding that you can actually go to the State of Texas website and see who is on death row, what crime they committed...even what their last meal was. I wouldn't really recommend going to troubled me deeply and I had a tough time sleeping for a while, but my point is that I think that the sanctity of life can be preserved while at the same time punishing someone for crimes against humanity. I don't even know if that made sense...