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.”
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.