Devotional - The Death Penalty And Christianity - A Response To R. Albert Mohler Jr.

Discussion in 'Thoughts for Today' started by anthony wade, May 2, 2014.

  1. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. - Romans 12: 17-21 (ESV)

    There are always polarizing societal issues that serve to divide Christians and one of them is the matter of capital punishment. This week Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote an article for CNN on this subject in relation to the Christian faith. While he tried to present a balanced approach to this controversial subject, the title of the article, "Why Christians Should Support the Death Penalty", gives away his position. The article can be found here:

    My point here is to not pick a disagreement with Dr. Mohler - just merely to present the other side Biblically and highlight where it seems his logic runs astray. Dr. Mohler begins his article presenting the correct facts outlined in the Old Testament regarding the death penalty. This is usually where pro-death penalty Christians like to begin because the language is so unambiguous. Mohler does correctly point out some of the other side of this argument, including the rigorous requirements for proof before someone could be rightly "convicted" of murder. He also correctly points out that this punishment was not always carried out - such as with Moses, David and Saul of Tarsus. Yet even after this mediated approach, he comes to the following opening position:

    "Christian thinking about the death penalty must begin with the fact that the Bible envisions a society in which capital punishment for murder is sometimes necessary, but should be exceedingly rare."

    I cannot disagree more. The Old Testament and the laws contained within were designed for Israel, not the world. They were designed for a theocratic form of government and a more tight knit society. Even then however, the threshold for capital punishment for murder was quite high. Within the theocratic system, the idea was that the people would have such a fear of God that they would not dare to bear false witness. This was so important to God that He included not bearing false witness as one of the commandments. The other glaring problem with this opening positon is that we live under the new covenant, not the Mosaic Law. Yes, the moral codes within the law are universal but the societal codes are not. There were other reasons under the Mosaic Law where someone would be stoned to death including breaking Sabbath, rebellion against ones parents and adultery. Under the logic used in this opening statement, these should still apply as well. The reasoning why they do not would be offered that society does not consider them offenses requiring the death penalty. We do not take our instruction from society however. For the same reason, just because the prevailing society embraces the death penalty is no reason why we should as believers either. Mohler continues:

    "The Bible also affirms that the death penalty, rightly and justly applied, will have a powerful deterrent effect.In a world of violence, the death penalty is understood as a necessary firewall against the spread of further deadly violence.Seen in this light, the problem we face today is not with the death penalty, but with society at large.American society is quickly conforming to a secular worldview, and the clear sense of right and wrong that was Christianity’s gift to Western civilization is being replaced with a much more ambiguous morality.We have lost the cultural ability to declare murder – even mass murder – to be deserving of the death penalty."

    While I am unsure what Scripture he is referencing to state the Bible affirms the "powerful deterrent effect"; it remains irrelevant because we are not Israel. I am sure in a theocratic society where people fear God and everyone lives within a stones throw of one another, that capital punishment could have a powerful deterrent effect. The reality today however is that it does not. The states that have the death penalty have higher murder rates than those that do not. Studies routinely show there is no deterrent effect and considering the moral state of society, that should not be surprising. In order to have such an effect the people who commit murder would have to somehow be intellectualizing their decision. The vast majority of murders are either crimes of passion, where there is no forethought, or serious mental instability. Either way, they are not stopping to consider the ramifications of their actions. People suffering under demonic influence rarely do.

    Not only is the death penalty not a firewall against further violence Mohler makes another error in assigning the problem of immorality to apparently everyone BUT those who would seek the death penalty in murder cases. The fact of the matter is over and over again we see prosecutorial over reach and over charging in this country. We have seen people freed after decades for murders they never committed who were railroaded into prison by nefarious prosecutors and law enforcement. Most people for example are still not aware that the "Central Park Five" were never guilty of the horrific rape they were accused of in 1989. A brand new peer-reviewed study has just concluded that 1 in every 25 prisoners currently on death row are likely to be innocent. One in 25! I have heard the defense from pro-death penalty advocates that they had their day in court. Is that the standard we should have as Christians? My God, no. So yes, Mohler is correct in bemoaning the moral collapse of society but he fails to realize that it effects all of society, including people he may view in an over simplistic way as "the good guys." Dr. Mohler continues:

    "Furthermore, Christians should be outraged at the economic and racial injustice in how the death penalty is applied. While the law itself is not prejudiced, the application of the death penalty often is.There is very little chance that a wealthy white murderer will ever be executed. There is a far greater likelihood that a poor African-American murderer will face execution.Why? Because the rich can afford massively expensive legal defense teams that can exhaust the ability of the prosecution to get a death penalty sentence. This is an outrage, and no Christian can support such a disparity. As the Bible warns, the rich must not be able to buy justice on their own terms."

    Hallelujah! Dr. Mohler is 100% correct yet this is seemingly not enough to persuade him that Christians should not support a legal proceeding taking people's lives that is so inherently flawed within our own justice system? He merely makes the point and moves on but I do not know how any Christian could do so. Mohler spends some time speaking about the recent botched execution in Oklahoma and I do not wish to get into it because the point is again irrelevant. If we accept the death penalty then what happened in the Oklahoma case while unacceptable, is merely an outlier that needs to be corrected. My argument is that as Christians we should never get to the point where it takes us 43 minutes to execute someone to begin with. Dr. Mohler now concludes:

    "Should Christians support the death penalty today?I believe that Christians should hope, pray and strive for a society in which the death penalty, rightly and rarely applied, would make moral sense.This would be a society in which there is every protection for the rights of the accused, and every assurance that the social status of the murderer will not determine the sentence for the crime.Christians should work to ensure that there can be no reasonable doubt that the accused is indeed guilty of the crime. We must pray for a society in which the motive behind capital punishment is justice, and not merely revenge.

    We must work for a society that will honor every single human being at every point of development and of every race and ethnicity as made in God’s image.We must hope for a society that will support and demand the execution of justice in order to protect the very existence of that society. We must pray for a society that rightly tempers justice with mercy.Should Christians support the death penalty today? I believe that we must, but with the considerations detailed above."

    Here is the crux of the error. All of the things Mohler states we should "strive for" should be pre-requisites. I am honestly confused at times reading his rationale because I think he makes a much better case why Christians should not favor the death penalty. He states in this one paragraph everything that is wrong and why we should not support the death penalty and then concludes the direct opposite. I am sorry but that makes no sense logically or from a Christian viewpoint. The bottom line is when you look at the above considerations you must conclude that Christian should NOT support the death penalty. Unless Dr. Mohler seriously thinks these problems are rectifiable with a society he has already indicated has run off the moral tracks. These are not problems within the system Dr. Mohler - this is the system. As long as it is, no one who supports Christ should be supporting the death penalty.

    I will also conclude with what was not said by Dr. Mohler. Is there anyone who is beyond the redemptive work of Jesus Christ? Is there anyone who we would draw a line in the sand and say - he can't be saved. God forbid or we might wake up one day and discover that someone has drawn a new line and we are on the wrong side of it. As repugnant as it may seem to some Christians, our responsibility is to pray for even the murderer that they may come to know Christ as Savior. What if one murderer got saved and spent the rest of their life in prison bringing other prisoners to Christ? People who may have started down a road of crime but upon their release could bring the Good News into their communities because of the witness of the saved murderer? Sound impossible? Nothing is impossible with God! We should not be so quick to deal in bloodlust, even if it is measured out so poignantly and thought out so carefully. The criminal on the cross who received salvation right before his death illustrates that we have until our last breath to realize who God is. I certainly do not want to take that last breath from someone before they have that chance. Realize too that those two criminals were being crucified for something serious. Rome did not just randomly crucify people. It was meant as a message to others - a deterrent if you will. Even if it served as such, I do not think believers should be aspiring to be like a society that also fed Christians to the lions.

    I end with Scripture, the key verses today from Romans. I realize that these are instructions to us as individual Christians and the death penalty is a societal question but the issue before us is if we as individuals should support it. Paul teaches us that we should not seek to repay evil for evil. We are to try and live peaceably as it pertains to us. Never avenge - leave it to the wrath of God. Listen, if someone spends their life in prison they still must stand before God for what they did. The Bible teaches us that this life is a vapor. Their eternal punishment will be far more than we can ever do to them. I understand how charged this issue is. I understand the political forces behind it. But as Christians we are not supposed to overcome evil by evil but rather with good. There are stories all the time of Christian parents who forgave the killer of their children. Sometimes we shake our heads and cannot fathom such forgiveness. But then we look to the cross.

    Reverend Anthony Wade - May 2, 2014

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