To answer the question of whether Christians can, with honesty and clarity of conscience (not to mention with Biblical warrant) support and even promote the death penalty we must first make a distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world. Greg Boyd calls them “the kingdom of the cross” and the “kingdom of the sword”. He derives the second from Romans 13:4 which states that the government doesn’t bear the sword in vain. Jesus also says in John 18:36 that his kingdom wasn’t of this world.
Put simply, these two kingdoms occupy two completely different spheres with distinct roles and responsibilities. Unfortunately, many people completely miss this point and, instead, tend to believe that where the Bible commands us to love our enemies1 and turn the other cheek2 it also forbids us from self-defense or the exercise of justice insofar as we, imperfect though we may be, can exact here on earth.
Sadly, this muddled thinking also spills over into the unrelated on abortion. Unrelated, because one deals with the death of an innocent human being for the pure pleasure of another (known Biblically as murder) vs. the state’s exacting of justice3. It’s helpful to keep in mind Romans 13:1-7 where we are told to submit to the state. Many like to qualify this with “as long as the state is within the will of God” but such a qualification fails in the face of the Biblical and historical evidence that the early Christians willingly submitted even to the point of death to the unjust laws designed to eradicate the “dangerous” sect of Christianity.
Like God, who sent his son to die in payment for the sins of the world, I support the death penalty.
I don’t see how someone can be a Christian and not support it actually4. I also don’t see how one can claim that support of the death penalty is against the Bible when God himself commanded it multiple (many multiples actually) times. It would seem that claiming support of the death penalty would necessarily entail questioning the holiness of God himself5.
Many like to claim that support of the death penalty is somehow intrinsically opposed to the notion of the sanctity of life, however I would argue that quite the opposite is true. If we say that there are no sins/crimes that merit death (including the willful murder of another human being) then we actually call into question the entire “eye for an eye” foundation upon which we base our entire understanding of justice. Sorry, but the phrase “an eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind” is patently false.
“An eye for an eye” doesn’t make the whole world blind, it makes the whole world just.
So, in sum, whether a Christian supports or doesn’t support capital punishment is, I believe, a matter of personal conviction6. However to claim that a person is not being consistent in their beliefs of the sanctity of life while, at the same time, upholding the practice of enforcing the death penalty is a stretch to say the least as it lacks logical, philosophical, and/or Biblical warrant.
- Matthew 5:44 [↩]
- Matthew 5:39 [↩]
- which is never called murder in the text even though there are good Greek words that would suffice to communicate that idea if that were the author’s intent [↩]
- Though, I’ll stop short of questioning their faith I will question their sanity and grasp of reason and logic [↩]
- Which I’m sure no one who claims to be a follower of Christ is willing to do [↩]
- I believe it is important to not run to the other extreme and start questioning the salvation of pacifists either. [↩]