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: "...you 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?