In my last post, I argued that advocating the death penalty is not the best way for solving the deep problems in our society. In this post, I’ll show that Christians should be very careful not to seek justice through retaliation.
Furthermore, I suggest that there is something fundamentally wrong with advocating for someone’s death, for any reason. First, this denies grace to a human being who may profit from it. If, in our minds, an individual becomes a blot to be terminated, we are ultimately denying him personhood—he no longer merits existence as a person and can be treated as nonexistent. It is true that a murderer, especially a mass murderer, severely stunts his own personhood through his destructive choice to do violence. Yet his personhood is not irretrievably gone. The most powerful advocates against drug abuse may be ex–drug dealers, and the most powerful advocates against gang violence may be ex–gang members. Many people have chosen against a dehumanizing past, and have recovered their personhood, if it ever was lost. Once they are dead, that chance is gone.
The second issue with dehumanizing criminals is that viewing a criminal as a person, rather than as a diseased limb of society, is part and parcel of viewing victims as persons. If we are to take a victim’s loss seriously, we shouldn’t be satisfied with an amputation of the perpetrator from society; we should look for a cure that focuses on the prevention of future crimes against future victims. As I pointed out in the last section, capital punishment doesn’t seem to be the most effective contender for a deterrent. Rather than to desire satisfaction through punitive measures, we need to seek justice through preventative measures.
Whatever the causes of mass murders may be—lack of a father, moral nihilism, or loneliness—the policy of amputation seems like a bad strategy. It satisfies our itch for justice with a pale substitute. Rather than defending a response of pure negation, we should consider what might be included in the active “justice, mercy, and faithfulness” of Christ (Matthew 23:23). We need to address the causes of mass murder at their very root—childhood. This will include helping morally vulnerable children turn into citizens who have moral courage and something to live for. Rather than focusing on the death penalty, we should focus on the many Christian ministries that invest in children from emotionally and financially unstable families, especially those who lack fathers. The healthiest society will result, not by focusing on amputating a diseased limb, but by preventing the disease in the first place. To advocate for rehabilitation in response to a heinous crime is not to “shrug it off,” as Charles argues. In fact, the death penalty seems a far too easy solution, one which doesn’t do justice to a severe dysfunction within our society.
I propose that Christianity sees murderers differently from the way the government sees them. Instead of seeing them as enemies of the state, we see every individual as a possible candidate for citizenship in God’s kingdom. In fact, Paul, an anti-Christian fanatic who once would gladly have perpetrated mass murder against Christians, afterwards became the most influential Christian of all time. Such a miraculous rehabilitation is at the heart of Christianity and should give us hope for the victims of murder and even for the murderers themselves.