[EDITOR’S NOTE: This post is part of our series on controversial questions. A NO post will normally follow a YES post. Join in by posting your comments.]
by Rev. Dr. Robert R. LaRochelle
I wish to begin by stating my fundamental conviction, one that undergirds the convictions expressed in this brief reflection: When exploring questions of ethics, one who calls herself/himself a Christian needs to explore the insights that Jesus brings to the ethical question at hand!
While Jesus does not address capital punishment as such, one does not have to look very far to conclude that, in the life His followers seek to emulate, Jesus advocated nonviolence, redemption, forgiveness, second chances, and God’s abiding mercy, poured out even to those who committed some rather egregious moral actions. Without taking a proof texting approach, one could quite legitimately look to Jesus’ admonitions to love even our enemies, and His insights about the dangers of ‘taking up the sword’, along with His approach to facing His own execution as indicators, that Jesus favored a nonviolent approach to living. It is really difficult to quarrel with these facts.
I find it ironic that so many who espouse literal interpretations of Scripture shy away from citing Jesus’ language and teaching as they defend the use of capital punishment. It is curious that so many states with such large numbers of ‘evangelical Christians’ also have such high rates of executions performed by agents of those states.
The topic of capital punishment can be approached from many different starting points. While I would argue against it on many grounds (lack of effectiveness, danger of executing innocent people, waste of money, etc.), it seems to me that, in this space, we need to limit ourselves to commenting on it in the context of the ethical approach of Jesus. This is not a simplistic ‘What would Jesus do?’ (WWJD) approach, as we understand that God allows us free will to make free, informed ethical decisions.
However, it IS an approach that takes into consideration that in our moral decision making, if we call ourselves Christians, we need to turn to Jesus and examine his SPIRIT and the ethical orientation of His life. In other words, I think that if you want to argue in favor of capital punishment, it is pretty hard to cite the example and the teachings of Jesus as sources through which you will defend your position.
If you are going to endorse the death penalty, I think, even though I would disagree with you, that you would make a better case talking about it in terms of deterrence or in some broad, general moral terms not connected, than you would if you were, at one and the same time, claiming that you seek to follow Jesus’ ethics and that you also support capital punishment.
It strikes me as problematic that so many Christian conservatives, so deeply troubled with same sex marriage and other ‘signs of the secularization of America’, are so comfortable running away from that victim of capital punishment himself, Jesus, the One we as Christians espouse as our Lord and even our Savior as well….
I invite your comments and our dialogue….