Can Christians support the Death Penalty?
Recently the man who was nicknamed the “D. C. Sniper” was put to death by lethal injection. During a three-week killing spree in 2002, this man took the lives of 10 people. In our local area, Brian Dugan recently received a death sentence for killing a little girl in 1983. He also murdered a seven-year-old girl and a young woman, along with having a record of burglary, assault and rape. Prosecutors stated that with the required appeals, it could be eight years or more before he is executed. And since former Governor Ryan imposed a moratorium on executions in 2000, he may never be executed.
With these two cases in the news, it brought up the issue of whether we, as Christians, should support the death penalty. As always, you can join this discussion by leaving your comments. But you will also have a chance to vote in our poll by clicking on your answer at the bottom of this post.
There are several verses that come to mind which fall on the side of not supporting the death penalty:
“You all have heard that it has been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” (Matthew 5:38)
“. . . but I say ‘don’t resist an evil person! If you are slapped on the right cheek, turn the other, too! Love your enemies.” (Matthew 5:39, 44) *
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:24)
“Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1) *
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. (Luke 6:37)
“Dear friends, never avenge yourselves. Leave that to God. For it is written, ‘I will take vengeance; I will repay those who deserve it,’ says the Lord.” (Rom. 12:19) and “Never seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone, but love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus: 19:18) *
But if you read one verse further in Leviticus (19:19), it says, “You must obey all my laws.” God instructs us in Romans 13:1 and 4 to “obey the government, for God is the one who put it there. All governments have been placed in power by God. So those who refuse to obey the laws of the land are refusing to obey God, and punishment will follow. But if you are doing something wrong, of course you should be afraid, for you will be punished.” And according to Genesis 9:6, “whoever sheds man’s blood by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God, He made man.” (My study Bible points out that there are times we should not obey the government, such as when a law “clearly requires us to violate the moral standards revealed by God.”) And just a thought regarding the verses marked with an “*”. . . were they intended to only apply to our personal relationships?
So there appears to be scriptural support for both sides. But now all of these questions come into play:
Does the death penalty deter crime? In some states that have the death penalty, crime has decreased, but this is not always the case. In a post by Kerby Anderson, president of Probe Ministries International, he printed a quote from Hyman Barshay:
“The death penalty is a warning, just like a lighthouse throwing its beams out to sea. We hear about shipwrecks, but we do not hear about the ships the lighthouse guides safely on their way. We do not have proof of the number of ships it saves, but we do not tear the lighthouse down”
What if it was a family member or close friend that was the victim? What if it was a family member or close friend that was the criminal?
What if the wrong person is convicted? In the case of Brian Dugan, two other men were originally convicted of this crime and sentenced to death, only to have their sentence overturned.
(Pastor Bill notes: “Well, there is no more famous case of an innocent person’s being condemned to death than when God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, endured an unjust trial on trumped-up charges, suffered, and died on a wooden cross. Yet God did not intervene. What if we had intervened and the Son of God had not been crucified? Where would salvation be?”)
Could you be on a jury charged with determining whether someone should be sentenced to death?
God seems to require us to obey the laws of the land, of which capital punishment might be one, depending on where you live. But we also know that God showed mercy to people in the Bible who had committed crimes. (David being the first one to come to mind – sending Uriah to the battle front knowing that he would likely be killed, in order that David could marry his wife.)
What do you think? Add your comment to this discussion and vote in our poll:
 Hyman Barshay, quoted in “On Deterrence and the Death Penalty” by Ernest van den Haag, Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology and Police Science no. 2 (1969).