Christians and the Capital Punishment
The restoration of the death penalty by the Supreme Court prompted statements of opposition by some Christians around the country. This essay reflects on these statements and draws the conclusion of their suitability and correctness in light of our Christian heritage and other secular, practical reasons.
These statements acknowledge that Christians of equally serious moral concern can and do disagree on the issue of capital punishment. We must honor the personal freedom in Christ for different people to exercise moral discernment and come to different conclusions on this issue. Still, many Christians feel compelled to bear witness to our views and ask the people of America to give us heed.
The death penalty might be justified as the lesser of two evils if it could be shown conclusively that, by inhibiting violent crime, it served as a significant protection to society. However, the weight of sociological research strongly suggests the reverse - that lawful violence may actually encourage criminal violence. Since the sociology of crime and punishment is an inconclusive guide, we rely principally on theological considerations in opposing the death penalty. Four points of conviction persuade us firmly against its use.
First the holiness of human life. This revolutionary value is implicit in the Judeo-Christian revelation and emerges into political visibility with the systems of justice that bestow the right of equal protection of the law to all persons. At a more primitive level in history this is the value underlying the ancient commandment that forbids the deliberate killing of another human being.
Second, we hold that the Christian purpose of punishment is reformatory and retributive, not vindictive. Vengeance...