The Death Penalty: Is It Right for Christians to Support Killing Murderers?
I have long been a proponent of the death penalty.
Some say it is neither Christian nor pro-life to support the death penalty. Doing so, according to some, violates the principles of the pro-life movement. Others say it does not evidence love, mercy, or forgiveness to advocate for the death penalty. And nonetheless I have lived a peaceful existence advocating for my faith as a Christian, the pro-life movement, and the death penalty.
What may be even more surprising is that I am not alone.
The debate about the death penalty, its purpose, and need is widespread. Christians and others on both sides of the debate stand resolutely for their position and refuse to consider the others’ perspective.
To be honest I would be almost apathetic to the discussion were it not for what I believe is a clear Biblical mandate in favor of the death penalty. As much as possible I seek to base my life, my worldview, on the Bible and what it teaches. At times this means adhering to views that are not culturally popular (one man one woman marriage) and defending positions that are hotly debated (abortion is murder).
The same can be said for the death penalty. While some Christians – though they are admittedly few – believe any form of violence against a human being is wrong, most understand the clear biblical teaching in support of the death penalty.
This comes with the understanding of exactly when the death penalty should be used. It is a penalty to be used as punishment for the crime of murder – the intentional taking of a human life. In other words, the guy who gets drunk and plows head on into a family vehicle killing half the members of the family is not necessarily deserving of the death penalty. That will be hard for some people to agree with, I understand that. But the death penalty was put in place for the sole purpose of punishing the person who intentionally takes another human life.
The basic principle is this: every human being is made in the image of God. Because all humans are made in the image of God it is an assault on the person and image of God to take a human life. For this reason any person that willingly, intentionally takes another human life has forfeited his or her right to life and is worthy of the death penalty.
Practically speaking this means Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, the Colorado theater shooter, and the Ft. hood shooter are all guilty of intentional murder and worthy of the death penalty.
In a recent op-ed for CNN, Dr. Albert Mohler states the clear biblical mandate for the death penalty:
“…[T]he Bible clearly calls for capital punishment in the case of intentional murder. In Genesis 9:6, God told Noah that the penalty for intentional murder should be death: ‘Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.’ The death penalty was explicitly grounded in the fact that God made every individual human being in his own image, and thus an act of intentional murder is an assault upon human dignity and the very image of God.”
Dr. Mohler does an excellent job of explaining the biblical requirements for the death penalty as a punishment and the need for such a punishment in deterring violence from our society.
“The Bible also affirms that the death penalty, rightly and justly applied, will have a powerful deterrent effect. In a world of violence, the death penalty is understood as a necessary firewall against the spread of further deadly violence.”
So why is the death penalty no working as a deterrent for crime? Mohler answers this question quickly and easily:
“American society is quickly conforming to a secular worldview, and the clear sense of right and wrong that was Christianity’s gift to Western civilization is being replaced with a much more ambiguous morality. We have lost the cultural ability to declare murder – even mass murder – to be deserving of the death penalty. We have also robbed the death penalty of its deterrent power by allowing death penalty cases to languish for years in the legal system, often based on irrational and irrelevant appeals.”
The death penalty, like many laws, values, and principles in American culture are based on the Bible and its teaching. That moral foundation is being attacked and torn apart piece by piece. When the moral foundation for our laws and values is torn apart those laws and values no longer make sense to the general population. The death penalty, as it is with other laws, is making less sense to people because they are not aware of the moral underpinning based in the Bible that our Founder’s used to create American death penalty laws.
Mohler highlights another problem causing decreased support for the death penalty:
“There is also the larger cultural context. We must recognize that our cultural loss of confidence in human dignity and the secularizing of human identity has made murder a less heinous crime in the minds of many Americans. Most would not admit this lower moral evaluation of murder, but our legal system is evidence that this is certainly true.”
There can be no doubt that our society does not value human life as it did in previous generations. Everything from video games to support for abortion has eroded our high view of human life. We watch in near apathy when another mass shooting is reported on the news. It’s almost as if we expect people to die in one way or another, abortion, crime, war, euthanasia, natural disasters. So when these events happen and people do indeed die, we aren’t shocked or saddened. Instead we feel as though our expectations have been met for the day.
According to a recent article by The Blaze, the percentage of Americans that support the death penalty has dropped at least 20 points in the last twenty years. Religion News Service reports that declining support for the death penalty among Christians is primarily among younger Christians in the millennial age bracket.
But this does not mean the death penalty is any less biblical today than it was when God mandated in Genesis. I would argue that a lack of proper execution of the death penalty has contributed to part of the increased violence in our society. Why should anyone be afraid of the death penalty when they can spend 20 years in prison appealing the sentence while receiving three square meals and free healthcare and cable?
Rightly applied, which involves fair, just application of the law to every person, the death penalty is a tool to encourage control of societal violence. Carried out properly and the death penalty becomes a lesson in which people learn the value of human life and the ramifications for their actions. It’s not all that controversial when understood and applied properly.
Now, if you want controversial, let’s talk about whether abortion practitioners are worthy of the death penalty.