Death Penalty? (Part 2)

By | January 8, 2007

In a previous article, I began to discuss the question which was posed to me, “Is it wrong that we’re happy that Saddam was killed?” In that article I discussed whether the “we” in the question referred to us as Christians or citizens of the U.S. and if that makes a difference. Now I will address the primary question itself. I will be writing this article from the perspective of a Christian.

First, I think the question begs another, one of consistency. Is it wrong be happy that anyone is killed? Or is it O.K. to be happy when people who we don’t like are killed? “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” (Ezek. 33:11) I think that’s pretty clear.

Unfortunately, we’re often not so consistent. Should we be in favor of capital punishment? “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.” (Gen. 9:6) This and the mosaic law are the biblical basis for a Christian support of capital punishment. However, I believe that there is more to the story. The third through eleventh verses of John describe a story where Jesus pardons a woman who has committed an offense deserving of death under Jewish law. From this single story, we can’t say definitively that Jesus is against capital punishment. However, I think Jesus shows that a choice can be made, that we are not obligated to kill people in these circumstances, and that we can choose to show mercy.

Now back to the question of consistency. Can we be consistent in our beliefs and support the death penalty? Let me ask another question. Are we pro-life or aren’t we? One of the big things conservative Christians are known for is being against abortion. Those against abortion have wanted to be referred to as “pro-life’ as opposed to “anti-abortion”. Can we be consistent in our beliefs, being both against abortion (in the name of being for life) and be for the death penalty? I don’t think so. I would say, despite what the arguments might be, that this inconsistent belief system is based on sentimentality rather on a solid position of some sort. We don’t want to see cute babies being killed while we like to see criminals “get what’s coming to them”.

Let me return to the main question now for a moment. While I’ve argued that we shouldn’t be happy that Saddam (or anyone) was killed, I think there’s more behind the question than what the question contains itself. I hope that a main reason that people are glad that Saddam is dead is not a sense of punishment but rather that he won’t be able to hurt anyone any more. We know that under his leadership, many people were killed or hurt in other ways. Being glad that he is not able to do this anymore I would certainly say is the proper response, not only for Christians, but for any person.

But death isn’t the only way to prevent a person from hurting others. True, it is a very certain and final method, but not sole. Of course we would rather prevent people from hurting others in the first place. One argument for capital punishment is that it provides a deterrent to crime. However, from my understanding, in order for this to be very effective, it needs to be carried out quickly. In our system in the U.S. at least, it generally takes many years for a death penalty sentence to be carried out. This minimizes the effectiveness as a deterrent.

There are also other problems with the death penalty. First, a number of people on death row have later found to be innocent. There are enough of these cases to be concerning. Additionally, even though the person may have committed crimes and hurt others, they probably have families and others who don’t want to see them killed. Does the fact that the criminal hurt others justify more people being hurt by their subsequent execution? Is there any significant benefit in this? I personally don’t believe so.

So to finally sum up, it is right to be happy that a person, such as Saddam, is not going to hurt anyone else any more. But I don’t believe that we should be happy that he or anyone else has been killed. Along with this, I believe that it is inconsistent for Christians to be in support of the death penalty, and therefore I don’t believe that we should support it.

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