Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Do We Need Jesus in Our Death Penalty Conversation?

   A leading voice in the Southern Baptist community, Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, responded to the tragic botched execution in Oklahoma earlier this month with this statement to CNN this week:
"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." 
His 1200-word opinion piece went on to say that he worried that the use of the death penalty would decline in the US and that Christians should stand up and work to defend the death penalty. Read the entire piece on His argument included some references to Scripture - he mentions that Moses, David, and Saul (later Paul) all committed murder, but were not executed - but he leaves out one notable, and often very quotable source: Jesus.
   Before I go on, I should say that I have personally been against the death penalty for a couple of decades now. The evidence, as I see it, points to the overwhelming slant based on personal economics and race. That doesn't even mention that the latest studies find at as many as one in twenty-five persons executed are actually innocent! The United Methodist Church's official stance, crafted at the quadrennial General Conference, includes this statement:
We believe the death penalty denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore and transform all human beings. 
   It was Shane Claiborne's take on all of this that caught my attention this week, though. He was the first to note Jesus' absence from Mohler's statement. Here are snippets of Claiborne's article:
Consistently, Jesus said things like “I did not come for the healthy but for the sick, not for the righteous but for the sinners”…“blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy”…“inasmuch as you forgive you will be forgiven”…“judge not lest you be judged”…“You’ve heard it said ‘an eye for an eye’ but I tell you there is another way....” We dare not forget the story – of a God who so loved the world that Jesus was sent, not to condemn the world but to save it.   We must not forget that much of the Bible was written by murderers who were given a second chance. Moses. David. Paul. The Bible would be much shorter without grace.
   What do you think about the death penalty? Since it's return in the US in 1977, is murder down? Does it work. And finally, do we need Jesus in our conversations about the death penalty, gun rights, healthcare, taxes, Little League baseball, and all of the other stuff that occupies our attention? I think yes.
   Grace and Peace, Scott


  1. An excellent post, Scott. I'd like to reprint it in our "Best of the Blogs" collection on United Methodist Insight, Please respond to Thanks!

  2. You asked many questions at the end of your expression of your personal opinion, too many to answer in one comment. So I will answer the first three. I think the death penalty for murder remains as valid as God and Jesus declared that it is. Murder is down in the US since the death penalty began to be used again after 1977. The death penalty works in a variety of ways. Most importantly it provides an approach to justice for murder victims with an abundance of mercy for the murderers. Second, it prevents murderers from killing again. Third, it provides a major benefit for murderers by helping to focus their thoughts on the power of Christ to redeem, restore and transform them. That is a focus that murderers almost always prevent their victims from having. The words of Jesus are important with respect to this issue as when He taught with the parable of the tenants. The absence of any words of Jesus in opposition to the death penalty for murder is also important.