September 23, 2011

The Death Penalty

Troy Davis was executed in Georgia this week. He was charged for the 1989 murder of an off-duty police officer. This case brought the open wound of the death penalty painfully back out into the public eye and, as a result, provoked countless conversations and arguments on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. As a pastor and as a Christ-follower, my views about the death penalty have changed over the last few years. As the news of Davis's death spread all over the internet and local and national news on Wednesday evening, I posted this on Twitter:

I do not support the death penalty. Hard to go to sleep when justice is perverted.

My comment raised some reactions and questions. Some asked, "In this situation or in every situation?" Others wanted to know how I came to this conclusion. What about the Old Testament? Genesis 9:6 says, "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image." (ESV) To put it into everyday language: " must execute anyone who murders another person, for to kill a person is to kill a living being made in God's image." (NLT) While this is true, we also know that Christ came along and established a NEW covenant with us - his people. An eye for an eye was addressed head-on by Jesus in Matthew 5. So are there times, situations, or circumstances where retribution is justified? When the death penalty is OK in the eyes of God? Here are my thoughts.

Jesus said in John 3:17, "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him." As Father Demetri Kantzavelos puts it in The Revolution: A Field Manual for Changing Your World, "The church can minister to living persons, corrupted as they may be. But the Church cannot call the dead to repentance and cannot visit and minister to them as Jesus taught." There are murderers every single day who come to repentance and faith in Christ. If they were dead, this wouldn't happen. Are there times when an individual has so severely brought the hallways of hell to someone else's doorstep that they simply deserve to die? I don't know. Those are difficult words for a control freak to say, so I repeat them: I DON"T KNOW. 

What if the accused - the judged - is actually innocent? Do you know how many death row inmates have now been cleared because of DNA evidence? In all honesty, I don't know the number. All I need to know is ONE. 

What if the Lord desired to use their repentance to bring others to faith? Again, I don't know. What about a man like Dennis Rader, the BTK serial killer? I lived in Wichita, KS, for 10 years and watched the aftermath of this man's capture, trial, and imprisonment. Does he deserve to die? Does he deserve the death penalty? Probably. But I'm pretty sure that Paul was explicit in Romans 6:23 that "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord." Apparently, I deserve the death penalty as well. How do we wrestle these things out?

That's the point. We have to wrestle with these issues. We have to dig into the Word and ask the Holy Spirit of God to give us wisdom and discernment...and love and compassion. And you don't have to sit still while you labor through this. Grab a friend from church and get involved in local prison ministry. Write someone in jail a letter. Pray for them! 

These are my thoughts. What are yours?
What do you think about the death penalty?


Steve Finnell said...

you are invited to follow my blog

Brian Mayfield said...

Thank you.

Scott Young said...

I really enjoyed reading this Brian.....
"Does he deserve to die? Does he deserve the death penalty? Probably. But I'm pretty sure that Paul was explicit in Romans 6:23 that "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord." Apparently, I deserve the death penalty as well. How do we wrestle these things out? "
We all deserve death, we all fall short, to be honest I never put much thought into the death penalty until now... bringing up tough questions is what the Lord did everyday while He was here.... keep it up

Keena said...

I'm not sure how I feel about the death penalty. I can see both sides of the arguement. You made some valid points that I have not thought of before so I will delibrate on those and seek God's face on that question. Good post!!

Soli Deo Gloria said...

I makes not difference if one is for or against the death penalty the end result is still man's suffering.

Should we pardon a muderer? or sentence him to death?has the old testement run beyond it experation date? or is it an eye for annd eye?

The one thing we know for sure is that man is corrupt in all his ways, and a false justice will the good suffers with out recompense is as much an atorcity to mankind as murder?

Emma Hills said...

I was really pleased when I read that you are against this act of cruelty as well. I've got no religion, but I totally agree with you. Violence is never going to be an answer for our problems. The only thing that death penalty shows to the comunity, is a very clear example of repression from the government. If you punish the criminal by killing him or her, the you are just the same kind of person as him or her. After all, you don't fight against fire with more fire.
Great post!

Sharp said...

I agree with you. For all the same reasons. My first instinct in many cases is to see a horrific crime reported on TV and think "Just rip out his spine barehanded and bludgeon him to death with it!" But once I calm down I review all the same things you did. One of the biggest is the risk of killing an innocent person. It happens all the time. Some people think it's worth it to accept that margin of error. I doubt they would if they or a family member were the one wrongly accused. And that's much more likely to happen if you're black, by the way.

But more than anything are Jesus' own command in Mt. 5, where he specifically countermands the eye-for-an-eye instruction. And his description of the sheep versus the goats in Mt. 25, which you allude to in your suggestion to get involved in prison ministry.

That brings up another point. A majority of us don't have relatives who've done time. It makes it very easy to dismiss those in prison. All my life the standard sentiment I've heard from friends and family is, "Lock all 'em all up and throw away the key. Let 'em kill each other off if they want to. Good riddance to them." I dare say many Christians, especially we Southern ones, feel this way. But Jesus said that however we treat them is how we treat him.

I'm getting tired of saying this prayer but it needs to be said: God have mercy on us.