5 Reasons Why Jesus People Ought Oppose The Death Penalty

I believe that America’s justice system is broken and in need of desperate repair. One of those areas is the practice of putting our citizens to death, something I believe that all Jesus People should resoundingly oppose.

When I was a conservative Evangelical, I was a huge supporter of capital punishment for all of the standard reasons. I even had a quick response when folks correctly brought up the hypocrisy of being against abortion while simultaneously being pro-death penalty, a position I previously argued you can’t hold and still call yourself “pro-life”.

However, when I decided to follow Jesus instead of simply being a Christian who paid him hollow worship while conveniently ignoring the red words, I was forced to abandon my support of the death penalty (and abandon my support of violence in general) as part of Following Jesus 101.

While America’s broken justice system is a complex issue, perhaps the first area we can fix is by abolishing the death penalty in all 50 states. Here’s why I think Jesus People should be leading the charge on this issue:

1. Most attempts to make a biblical case for the support of capital punishment are arguments primarily based on Old Testament law, and that’s a poor way to do Christian theology.

Get frustrated when someone challenges you on an argument you’re making from the Old Testament when they ask you if you eat shell fish, or are wearing a cotton and polyester blend? You should– they’re correctly pointing out that most theological arguments based on Old Testament verses require cherry picking and inconsistency. As Christians, we are part of the New Testament church, not ancient Israel. Lifting a few of the Laws of Moses while ignoring the vast majority of the rest is inconsistent at best and hypocritical at worst.  Most who use this tactic also ignore the whole of OT teaching on the issue by conveniently forgetting that capital punishment could not be applied without two eye witnesses (Deut 17:6), and forgetting that even bankers were considered detestable and ordered to be put to death (Ez 18:13). However, if one insists on building a case for supporting executions from the Old Testament, we find an inconvenient truth (sorry, Al) in the teachings of Jesus:

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  • http://abnormalanabaptist.wordpress.com/ Robert Martin

    Gotta love the Monty Python clip…

    Let me add the complex piece that, while I agree with your 5 points above, this piece is my wrestling point.

    There are broken people in our society who are broken to the point that they kill, not just without remorse, but because they enjoy it, thrive on it, and desire the thrill of complex torture, pain, and death. And, because of their brokenness, not for punishment necessarily, but to keep them safe and to keep the people around them safe, they are removed from society via the prison system. Such people have “found Jesus” in prison and have given testimony to changes in their life… but they also, at the same time, confess that they still are a danger.

    What complicates the issue is this: the amount of money spent by society in general to house, care for, give medical care to, to feed, etc., these broken individuals is pretty large. Obviously, not as large as the entirety of the general prison population (a discussion for another day), but still significant. How do we justify maintaining their life and comfort at the expense of money that could be spent elsewhere? This is not to say that they are not in the image of God and that they deserve death more than someone else. But it is a part of the complexity of the overall justice of spending money on the offender that could be used to better society in general to reduce the number of such offenders or restore the lives of the victims.

    I am convinced on the side that the death penalty is something to be avoided as much as possible…and those times when it is not avoided must be approached with intense humility, caution, and with a great sense of the enormity of the situation.

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    I’ve heard before that execution is actually more expensive than life in prison… let me see if I can find a good source for that.

    My other push back (in case I’m wrong) would be to ask, how can we judge that a human life isn’t worth restoring and that we should kill them to save money? I’m just not sure how we can mesh a nonviolent ethic into supporting capital punishment in any regard. Not trying to be a fundie about it, just being honest in that I’m not finding a way to make it fit within the teachings of Jesus.

  • http://abnormalanabaptist.wordpress.com/ Robert Martin

    Thanks for the cost analysis. That does give a good argument.

    I’m not saying a human life isn’t worth restoring… just wondering, at least from the perspective of a non-believing, non-Christian government, if such a position is within the interest of that society, tasked with keeping order. Yes, Christians should value ALL human life and attempt to restore it… but can we hold our government to that ethic?

    I guess this is why I, personally, have not made a big deal out of the political activistic side of this conversation… because it’s one thing for me, someone who identifies as a follower of Jesus, to work towards restoration… but it is another thing to call the government to align with that ethic without the Jesus piece of the puzzle in place… and I, certainly, do not want a theocratic government imposing religious law… So, I call for respect and honoring of human life by Christians… and prayer and lament for the loss of human life in society in general.

  • gimpi1

    I’m not religious, and I don’t support the death penalty.

    Between the unshakable fact that we have often executed innocent people, the unshakable fact that we apply the death-penalty very unevenly, and the unshakable fact that we are still, as a society, far from equal in our treatment of people, I can make a good secular case that our society shouldn’t be trusted with the ultimate sanction. And, most of the secularists I know feel the same way.

    Interestingly, it is mostly the religious people I know that strongly support capital punishment. I think my antidotal observation is backed-up by voting records and polling. What do you think that means in contrast your observation about followers of Jesus working towards restoration?

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    Here’s a piece on the cost analysis: http://www.deathpenalty.org/article.php?id=42

  • http://Www.theirishatheist.wordpress.com/ The Irish Atheist

    I’m guessing you meant that 122 convictions have been overturned since 1973, not 173.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/ the Old Adam

    We’ve all got a death sentence.

    “The wages of sin is death.”

    We’re all going to pay the price. But Christ Jesus loves to raise real sinners to new life.

    (ok…a little off topic…but not so in the grand scheme of things)

  • Michael Brian Woywood

    Benjamin, we’ve got to stop agreeing on so much.

  • http://textsincontext.wordpress.com Michael Snow

    Arguments from the OT ignore the reason that was given for the death penalty then: ” So you shall not pollute the land where you are;
    for blood defiles the land, and no atonement can be made for the land,
    for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed
    it.” Numbers 35
    Christ has made full and final atonement by his blood.

  • gimpi1

    “Get frustrated when someone challenges you on an argument you’re making from the Old Testament when they ask you if you eat shell fish, or are wearing a cotton and polyester blend? You should– they’re correctly pointing out that most theological arguments based on Old Testament verses require cherry picking and inconsistency.

    I’ve been told by some Christians that “most” Old Testament laws don’t apply any longer, but “some” still do. Interestingly, many sects seem to have different lists of which laws are off the books, and which ones are still on the books. I’ve asked to see their memos detailing the specific laws still in force, but no one seems to have kept a copy. I hate it when I lose important documents, don’t you?

  • Lynn

    More reasons to oppose killing people in the criminal justice system:

    PTSD in death row prisoners AND in executioners, wardens, prison guards, and families of the executed.

    Cost–it’s more expensive to kill someone than keep them in prison for life.

    Racism and classism–it’s not just that it’s in the criminal justice system, like all systems, it’s that I’m becoming more convinced sanctioned racism may be the point of the system. (Have you read The New Jim Crow?)

  • Andrea

    Definitely, have any of you all seen “At The Death House Door” or “14 Days in May?” There was another death row documentary that came out last year in which a former death house captain literally teared up when he talked about Karla Faye Tucker. Then there are the recent disclosures about junk science in Texas and the Cameron Todd Willingham case. Even conservatives are beginning to get concerned about these issues (more at http://www.concervativesconcerned.org)

  • dangjin1

    I have no problem with capital punishment simply because some people cannot be saved. I do have problems with your point 1–The OT is still part of the Christian’s life and is still valid for Christian living.I also have a problem with your point 2 as Jesus did not over turn anything as God taught justice and mercy in the OT as well as the NT.

    You misunderstand and mis-apply the ‘eye for an eye’ statute. On point 3 you are cherry picking because he did not stop the execution of the two thieves who were crucified with him.

    On Pt. 4 God also taught about using mercy and justice. When God gave the laws to the People of Israel at Sinai did he forbid those two ideas from being used to adjudicate any crimes? No. He listed the laws and the penalties for them but did not outlaw wisdom, understanding, mercy or justice from being applied to each case.

    Pt. 5 I agree with you But sinful people like Christians have free choice and they will choose what fits their desires not God. Injustice occurs when people do not listen to God and his words.

    Maybe you should go to the heart of the issue and stop blaming God or trying to get Christians to disobey him.

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    Here’s a better idea: go troll somewhere else until you’re actually willing to dialogue and learn something from others.

  • dangjin1

    A). I am not trolling
    B). Why would I want to learn from someone who turned to false teaching?
    C). It is you who needs to learn from someone else
    D). I put good stuff up and it is you who is unwilling to discuss because you are not hearing what you want to hear.

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    Good point. Believing in an old earth is a “false teaching”. And where exactly did you go to school as if everyone on my blog needs to be your pupil?

  • dangjin1

    You put up a post, ask for comments then get upset when someone points out your error and disagrees with you. Discussion is not preaching to the choir

    You make a big deal about Jesus stopping an execution but you leave out the fact that he did not stop all executions and that the woman was not being executed but was brought to Jesus as a test and a trap

    It is not me that has to learn anything from you it is you who has to do the learning.

  • dangjin1

    Also, are you aware of organizations like http://www.innocenceproject.org/ and christian ones who work to free those unjustly convicted? I do not know the names of the christian ones because they are more low key than this one.

  • Fallulah

    Jesus didn’t come to bring peace, remember, but a sword. Where the hell do you get that he doesn’t support violence? Have you READ your bible?

  • Fallulah

    Also didn’t Jesus’ execution fulfill the Messianic prophecy thus bringing salvation to all? Wouldn’t that make it a “GOOD THING” therefore not ironic in the least that believers would support the death penalty, it is what brought them their salvation!

  • 2Smart2bGOP

    I’ve read mine; I don’t know WHAT the hell is in yours…..

  • Benjamín Joel Fleet

    Fallulah, if you think “sword” means a literal sword used to injury or kill people, you clearly have not studied the context of this passage. Virtually everything that Jesus taught was peace-driven. The one recorded time he ever expressed any violent tendencies was when he found people trying to make a financial gain in the temple. You must have missed the part where Jesus said that “eye for an eye” is completely wrong. The death penalty is the modern day “eye for an eye” that Jesus condemned.

  • Jim Noia

    I think the most compelling reason is that you are taking away someone’s chance to repent and turn to God.

  • Amanda Girgis

    can you source the images you used for this piece?

  • travelerssoul

    You may have read or heard of the book “Jesus on Death Row: The Trial of Jesus and American Capital Punishment” but if you haven’t, you might want to check it out. It is aligned with the arguments you are making here for Christians to look to their faith when considering their views on capital punishment.

  • Samoan_Bob

    I don’t really have an opinion either way but this article addresses some of your points: http://www.tektonics.org/af/cappun.php