Monday, September 26, 2011

Christians, Injustice and the Death Penalty

While speaking about Jesus’ words on justice from Luke 11 on Sunday morning, an example of injustice popped into my head.  I thought about sharing it but was hesitant to speak “off the cuff” on what is an extremely controversial topic.  I decided I would instead spend some time mulling it over before sharing it publically. I wanted to make sure I worded my thoughts as carefully as possible. If you plan on reading my next sentence, please commit to reading the entire article.

Christians who are concerned about justice should be uneasy about the death penalty.

At a recent Republican primary debate, when moderator Tom Brokaw noted to Texas Governor Rick Perry that his state has executed 234 death-row inmates while he has been governor, Brokaw had to pause because of the cheering. Brokaw was eventually able to ask his question: has Perry ever struggled to sleep at night, wondering if any of those inmates were innocent.

Perry’s answer was firm. “No, sir. I’ve never struggled with that at all.”

Really? Never?

There have been 234 (actually, now the number is 235) executions since Perry has been governor--that is almost two executions every month.  There has never been a moment where he felt unease and lost sleep as he thought about the fate of those men and women?   Perhaps there has been and he simply can’t say so because of the political implications.

I’m in favor of the death penalty because I believe the government has the right to “wield the sword” and punish the wicked as well as reward the just. Even so, here are four things that I believe should burden a Christian’s heart as he or she thinks about justice and the death penalty.

1. Racism. Christians should be troubled by the fact that ethnic minorities face a far greater likelihood than Caucasians when convicted for the same crime.

2. Poverty. Christians should be distressed by the fact that those who are poor often receive inadequate legal counsel. One study found that two-fifths of all errors in capital punishment trials were due to gross incompetence on the part of the defense legal team.

3. Capriciousness. There seems to be a lack of uniformity regarding when crimes warrant the death penalty.

4. Vindictiveness. The believer should not wildly applaud the death of the wicked. When justice means that a human life is taken, there should be mourning and a sobriety of spirit. A spirit of vindictiveness is not a spirit of justice.

This is not meant to be an argument in favor of abolishing the death penalty. However, the believer who is passionate about justice should consider carefully their acceptance of a system that seems to be riddled with injustice.


Kent Kloter said...

Well stated, Daniel

Anonymous said...

So the government has the biblical right to execute, but Christians shouldn't trust them to do it well. Would that be a fair summary of your argument here?

Daniel J. Bennett said...

@Brian: I think so. Right now, my argument is pretty limited: we should at the very least be uneasy about the death penalty if we are advocates of justice.

Bill Crow said...

Excellent points, all. I am in total agreement that state has the authority to "yield the sword" but my heart is grieved to think that a soul may be lost as a result of not knowing Jesus as savior before death. I am also concerned that with so many eager to see the death penalty carried out that an innocent person may be executed without the system fully exhausting its responsibilities. Bill

Anonymous said...

The underlying issue of man's imperfection and sinful heart has been the cause for my apprehension for any legal system to bring about justice. From the Police to the President, from the Jury to the Jail guard, all of us share the same imperfection and bent towards sin. Justice may not be done perfectly by mankind, but it doesn't mean we shouldn't try.
-Dan H

Anonymous said...

Something to consider here is John Howard Yoder's chapter on Romans 13 in his book, "The Politics of Jesus". I suspect it would be helpful in understanding the application of that passage to this discussion. It's a short chapter and worth the 30 minutes it takes to read it.

Bill said...

Bill Cottrell states: With the technology of DNA testing today, and all of the various trials, reviews and appeals, there is a smaller degree of error in convicting and executing someone who is innocent. Like Bill Crow wrote, I certainly would pray that those facing the death penalty would be ministered to, and explained the Gospel - that Jesus Christ died and shed His blood for even their sins, giving them yet the opportunity to prepare themselves for eternity. Christ did forgive even the thief on the cross in the 11.99 hour. There on his own cross, the thief repented of his sin....and Christ told him that "even today, you will be with me in paradise."
God Bless, Pastor Daniel, for your insight.