Is The Death Penalty Un-Christian

 

File 20170427 15084 m8jrz
Kurt Morrow, CC BY-NC
 

Mathew Schmalz
College of the Holy Cross

Arkansas executed a fourth prisoner on death row last night. Three days prior to that, the state had done two back-to-back executions by lethal injections in Lincoln County, Arkansas. Four other executions have been blocked by court order. The Conversation

As a Catholic scholar who writes about religion, politics and policy, I understand how Christians struggle with the death penalty – there are those who cannot endure the idea and there are others who support its use. Some Christian theologians have also observed that capital punishment could lead to the conversion of criminals who might repent of their crimes when faced with the finality of death.

Is the death penalty anti-Christian?

The two sides

In its early centuries, Christianity was seen with suspicion by authorities. Writing in defense of Christians who were unfairly charged with crimes in second-century Rome, philosopher Anthenagoras of Athens condemned the death penalty when he wrote that Christians “cannot endure even to see a man put to death, though justly.”

But as Christianity became more connected with state power, European Christian monarchs and governments regularly carried out the death penalty until its abolition in the 1950s through the European Convention on Human Rights. In the Western world, today, only the United States and Belarus retain capital punishment for crimes not committed during wartime.

Support for the death penalty is falling worldwide. World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, CC BY-SA

According to a 2015 Pew Research Center Survey, support for the death penalty is falling worldwide. However, in the United States a majority of white Protestants and Catholics are in favor of it.

In the Hebrew Bible, Exodus 21:12 states that “whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death.” In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus, however, rejects the notion of retribution when he says “if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

While it is true that the Hebrew Bible prescribes capital punishment for a variety of offenses, it is also true that later Jewish jurists set out rigorous standards for the death penalty so that it could be used only in rare circumstances.

Support for death penalty

At issue in Christian considerations of the death penalty is whether the government or the state has the obligation to punish criminals and defend its citizens.

Saint Paul, an early Christian evangelist, wrote in his letter to the Romans that a ruler acts as “an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” The Middle Ages in Europe saw thousands of murderers, witches and heretics put to death. While church courts of this period generally did not apply capital punishment, the church did turn criminals over to secular authorities for execution.

Thirteenth-century Catholic philosopher Thomas Aquinas argued that the death penalty could be justified for the greater welfare of society. Later Protestant reformers also supported the right of the state to impose capital punishment. John Calvin, a Protestant theologian and reformer, for example, argued that Christian forgiveness did not mean overturning established laws.

The case against

The deterrence value of capital punishment remains an issue of debate. In the United States, there are also strong arguments that capital punishment is unfairly applied, especially to African-Americans.

Among Christian leaders, Pope Francis has been at the forefront of arguing against the death penalty. Saint John Paul II also maintained that capital punishment should be reserved only for “absolute necessity.”

Pope Francis observes that the death penalty is no longer relevant because modern prisons prevent criminals from doing further harm.

Pope Francis speaks of a larger ethic of forgiveness. He emphasizes social justice for all citizens as well as the opportunity for those who harm society to make amends through acts that affirm life, not death.

Jesus’ message was of forgiveness. Brandon, CC BY-SA

Jesus’ admonition to forgive one’s enemies is often thought to do away with the “law of the talion,” or an “eye for an eye” retribution – a standard that goes as far back as the prebiblical Code of Hammurabi – a law code of ancient Mesopotamia.

For many, the debate is about the relationship between Christ’s call for forgiveness and the legitimate powers of the state.

Those Christians who support capital punishment argue that Jesus was talking about heavenly realities, not the earthly matters that governments have to deal with. Christians who oppose the death penalty say that being Christian means bringing heavenly realities to the here and now.

This debate is not just about capital punishment, but about what it means to be a Christian.

Mathew Schmalz, Associate Professor of Religion, College of the Holy Cross

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

An Opinion – Dear Donald Please Leave The Building Now

By Herb Ryan
Editor
Custer Free Press
October 9, 2016

Donald Trump, anointed presidential candidate of the Republican Party has finally and irretrievably crossed the wavering line of unacceptable actions. Anyone with an ounce of commonsense can clearly see that this person is not fit to be President of the United States of America.

Trump was the candidate the people wanted, rejected in the campaign process were:
Republicans: Jeb Bush. Ben Carson. Chris Christie. Ted Cruz. Carly Fiorina. Jim Gilmore. Lindsey Graham. Mike Huckabee. Bobby Jindal. John Kasich. George Pataki. Rand Paul. Rick Perry. Marco Rubio. Rick Santorum. Scott Walker.And among this list of republican candidates could Ted Cruz or John Kasich not have been a better choice.

Sadly, the American people went for the lowest common denominator. The math was simple. Trump, in his campaign speeches did the same thing that most egocentric politicians do. He promised to build walls across the Mexican border, order mass deportations against certain ethnic groups, stop all immigration from Islamic countries, further empower and already militaristic repressive police state and continue to subjugate the rights of women and the LGBTI community. Fear mongering, a tactic used by almost every dictator in recorded history is the candy that the people wanted.

If Trump comes back from this latest episode and remains on the ticket, we are surely a country that has lost it’s basic common sense. The decision for Trump to withdraw from the race is our decision, not his. The evangelicals and others who find themselves thoroughly disgusted by the thought of Hillary Clinton as President along with other Christian groups now have a moral decision to make. To follow the tenants of their religion, or to support a man whose morals are so lacking that he mocks the very concept of Christianity.

No one is asking Hillary Clinton to withdraw, even though she carries a lot of baggage that will make her presidency difficult. Without a majority in the house and senate, the bitterness over the election will follow her full term calling into question every decision she makes. The moral standard is based on the person running for president. Bill Clinton has the character and morals of a sewer rat. Hillary Clinton, the actual presidential candidate is in the opinion of the public, a liar and not trustworthy.

Tonight, the two candidates, in front of a world-wide audience will once again embarrass themselves and America in a so-called debate. Please watch this if, Mr. Trump shows up, it will be entertaining, I do not expect anyone to take the high ground and above everything else be afraid, be very afraid. One of these people could be President of The United States of America for the next four years.