There aren’t many problems in the criminal justice system that have generated debates as acrimonious and as persistent as the one surrounding the death sentence. The sacredness of human life and the desire for justice have been mentioned frequently in Christian discourse of both sides of the controversy. This argument about capital punishment has become a complicated issue lately concerning the equality of the system of criminal justice, the stance of medical practitioners in helping in the practice, and the possibility of rehabilitation, improvement, and reform amid people who have been convicted to death (Ciuca, 2015 p 3). Christian use secular arguments to support and reject capital punishment, however similar to other religious individuals, they usually base their argument on the beliefs of their faith. This paper will briefly explain the debate and then provide some of the major arguments for and against the death penalty a form of punishment for capital offenses among Christians. The paper will conclude with a personal view of the debate.
Christians show varied opinions concerning the death penalty, usually basing their arguments on theological and biblical grounds while supporting capital punishment in severe instances, or objecting death penalty citing the sanctity of human life, which includes the lives of persons who commit heinous crimes but still have the ability for reformation and repentance
In nearly all societies, there are human rights violations and crimes. Hence, there is legislation that authorizes ways to prevent their incidences. Nevertheless, in case of any disobedience, the violator is subjected to commensurate punishment. The severity of the crime will determine whether the sentence may be lenient like imprisonment for a reasonable period with an alternative of a fine, or as severe capital punishment. Death penalty or capital punishment is often imposed on people who have committed atrocious crimes and threaten the safety of others in the society (Ciuca, 2015 p 4). Capital punishment is implemented in some countries and not in others. Christian groups have varied reactions to the death penalty. Even a specific religious group or denomination may not share the same opinion concerning the death penalty. The question of whether Christians should or not support capital punishment has become a controversial topic because some Christians believe that the Bible has the final say on the issue, while others think that morals of love in the law of Old testaments replaced by the New Testament (Kukis, 2010). Sentiments by Christians regarding death penalty play a significant role in people’s perceptions concerning the punishment.
Christians who support death penalty argues that capital punishment correspond to the biblical doctrines of the Old Testament, and propose that God created it. The Old Testament identifies a total of 36 capital offenses such as murder, blasphemy, magic, idolatry among others (Kukis, 2010 p 1).The New Testament incorporates what is considered the most popular execution in history, involving Jesus. However, paradoxically even though the mood across the entire New Testament calls for forgiveness, it appears to support the state in executing offenders for granted. Matthew 7:2 reads ‘Whatever measure you deal out to others will be dealt back to you” although this does not specify whether it is God’s doing, or the state. Another verse in Matthew 15:4 reads “He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die.” Even though Jesus personally avoids applying violence, He does not whatsoever oppose the authority of a state to execute death penalty. Christians who are in favor of capital punishment do so based on the fact that state operates on its power however as God’s agent, who possess the legal authority over life and death. According to them, the same spiritual law which prohibits execution of human beings permits some exceptions, like when God allows execution by a common law or when God provides an explicit commission to a person for a specified time (Kukis, 2010 p 2).Some Christians also state that death penalty is the same as committing suicide. They argue that by one choosing to be involved in a particular crime is like choosing to yield their lives to the authority if caught.
Christians who are opposed to the death penalty as a punishment argue that it is only God who is allowed to create and take away life (Anderson, 1992 p 2). This reasoning is also applied in objecting to euthanasia and abortion. To many Christians, in Exodus 21:13, God’s command ‘Thou shalt not kill”, is very explicit order with no exceptions. According to them, based on God’s word and their faith, human life is untouchable and sacred. They believe that regardless of the severity of the offenses, one does not lose their essential right to life, because it is inalienable, inviolable, primordial, and hence not under any one’s authority.
Another argument by Christians against the death penalty is that the teaching of the bible is not consistent regarding this issue (Anderson 1992 p 3). To them, even though the Bible supports the death penalty for murder, it also recommends the same punishment for other 35 offenses that are not currently regarded as deserving capital punishment. For consistency, they recommend humanity to abolish capital punishment for murder. Furthermore, they believe the contemporary society has other forms of punishment at disposals that were not utilized in the Biblical era and therefore it is not necessary to have the death penalty.
Some Christians also believe that punishment does not correspond to a doctrine that preaches compassion and forgiveness. They also think that many countries are unfairly prejudiced against the less fortunate. They believe that the teaching of Christianity encourages supporting the poor. Hence they say, death penalty should not be recommended.
Christians have varying beliefs concerning the death penalty, usually stating robust theological and biblical grounds either for the excellent character of capital punishment in severe instances or for the sanctity of human life, which includes the lives of persons who commit heinous crimes but still have the ability for reformation and repentance. Those who support death penalties argue that capital punishment correspond to the biblical doctrines of the Old Testament, and propose that God created it. They base their argument on Bible verses that condemn those who sin and suggest that they should receive a punishment of similar magnitude. They liken death penalty to committing suicide. Christians who are opposed to the death penalty argue that it is only God who is allowed to create and take away life. They also say that the teaching of the bible is not consistent regarding this issue. They express disappointment in countries that demonstrate unfair prejudices towards the less fortunate by imposing a death penalty on them.
Personal Position on Death Penalty
Capital punishment is a very dividing topic that it is challenging to form one’s argument to convince another person. Personally, I have often been a strong supporter of capital punishment. However, lately I have started to fight an endless battle with myself in support of it. My primary challenge is that separating revenge from the death penalty is impossible, and can never be a substitute for justice. Also, there have been situations one which involved someone close to me, when innocent persons were executed majorly because the demand for justice is more significant than probative proof against the accused. Most often people express dissatisfaction when a person is acquitted of an atrocious offense, not really because the evidence showed the contrary, however, that instinctively it seems better to punish an individual who has a problematic guilt than risk freeing a guilty individual. I now find myself standing on the fence because to some extent, I agree with both sides of the Cristian debate, on some issues regarding the death penalty.
Anderson, K. (1992). Capital Punishment: A Christian View and Biblical Perspective, 9. Retrieved from https://probe.org/capital-punishment/?print=pdf
Ciuca, A. (2015). The Death Row: An Argument for Death Penalty Abolition?. SSRN Electronic Journal. Retrieved on November 16 2017 from http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2621583
Kukis, G. (2010). The Bible and Capital Punishment, 11. Retrieved from http://kukis.org/Doctrines/capital_punishment.pdf