Straight from the list of controversial topics to pick a fight with, let’s talk about capital punishment. Should Christians support the death penalty? Your answer probably depends on your worldview and theology. To be clear, I don’t believe that this is an essential Christian issue. I’ve known many Christians on both sides make a very reasonable case for their view, and I have no intention of shaming anyone here. But what are the basic arguments on both sides?
The most obvious Biblical support for capital punishment is from the Levitical law. However, we always need to be careful how we use the law in today’s culture, and make sure we are applying it correctly. Not everything in there is a law meant for modern Christians. However, we have passages that support it both before the giving of the law (Genesis 9:6) and in the epistles of the New Testament (Romans 13:3-4). With those in mind, it seems that the Bible supports the death penalty being upheld by governments. Why then do many Christians oppose it?
Reasons to Oppose
These are the 5 main arguments against the Death Penalty that I’ve heard.
1. It’s Wrong to Take a Life
Some hold that it’s simply wrong to take a life, period. They might consider execution to be playing God, and not our place as humans. While it’s not our place as individuals, God has clearly established it as a job for government institutions. This is not a punishment handed out willy-nilly. It’s a punishment reserved for very serious offenses; in which case the criminal has forfeited their right to life. The punishment must fit the crime.
An extra note on this, many argue that you cannot support the death penalty and be Pro-Life. See my more detailed response to that objection here.
2. Dead Can’t Learn from Mistakes
This raises the question of whether our goal with the justice system is to punish or reform. If our goal is to reform the criminal into someone who can rejoin society, then yes, the death penalty is bad. But if our goal is justice, punishment is necessary. The goal of the justice system is not medical help, but law and order.
3. Jesus Said Turn the Other Cheek
Some Christians point to the sermon on the mount where Jesus told us to turn the other cheek, love our enemies, pray for those who persecute, you, etc. It’s a wonderful sermon, but I don’t think it applies to rule of law. That sermon was meant for us as individuals. We need to follow it, but I don’t think Jesus’ goal was overturning government structure.
4. Jesus Would Forgive
Similar to the above, shouldn’t we forgive, rather than execute? This gets us into a slippery slope. By the same logic, we shouldn’t lock people up for life because Jesus said to forgive. Why even hand out speeding tickets? Forgive and forget. This kind of thinking is not sustainable for a justice system.
5: What if We’re Wrong?
The last argument against it is simply human error. We’ve messed it up before and killed an innocent human being. This has less to do with the death penalty though, and more with who you give it to. Everyone would agree that every precaution should be taken to ensure the right decision is made. But if we based every decision on whether or not we could be wrong, society would shut down.
For all those reasons, I tend to hold that Christians should support the death penalty. Do you disagree? Discuss your thoughts for this post on our Facebook Group here.