Death Penalty

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For the sake of societal order prisons are needed, but ultimately there is only one perfectly all-knowing just Judge who demands "vengeance is mine, I will repay." (Romans 12) A just Judge will hold us likewise accountable, and those who fear His Judgment should by all means support life imprisonment as an alternative to the wrongful destruction of life that trying to execute God's judgment has created.

Justice

Now, with that being said, the death penalty was used during the time of Moses, even commanded. Some crimes are so heinous that there is no denying that those responsible should be put to death. In cases where the evidence is undeniable, there is a strong argument for the death penalty, so that those who have killed multiple people do not get out and become a danger to society, not just by what they themselves may do, but how they may influence others to imitate them once freed. Even while incarcerated they are a threat to less dangerous offenders, which is why many people die in prison. This need not be about vengeance; for practical reasons the death penalty makes a lot of sense societally.

Cost-Effectiveness

Furthermore, it makes sense that the most dangerous murderers be executed to avoid spending additional state and federal funds, placing a burden upon the government. It is appeals which raise the cost for government when they are on death row; however, under the 7th Amendment cases decided by juries should not be reexamined save under the rules of the common law (which likely involved those in which new evidence arose afterwards, perhaps due to suppression or other means during trial). Simplifying the appeals process with the numerous Political Reforms I have recommended so that cases only go to trial before a jury once would reduce the cost of using the death penalty and provide additional justification and fairness to the process.

Failings of the Justice System

See also Political Reforms

Human judges are ultimately prone to error, and 165 inmates have now been pardoned from Death Row, spending a total of 1,930 years (11.3 years on average) between the time sentenced to death and being exonerated.[1] Our system is wrongfully putting far too many people to death, and even if just one were being wrongfully put to death, that would be too many.

Unfortunately, our current system is showing itself incapable of dispensing justice, with large numbers of people exonerated from death row, often as the result of racial bias. Furthermore, tyrannical judges even on the Supreme Court pervert justice and destroy democracy, as occurred with Obergefell v. Hodges when 30 state ballot referendums declaring marriage between a man and a woman voted in favor of by roughly 40 million voters were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on the basis of the 14th Amendment, even though the states which had voted in favor of the 14th Amendment had anti-sodomy and anti-abortion laws at the time (and thus clearly never intended to protect gay marriage and abortion under the 14th Amendment per the Supreme Court's revisionist history).

As such, any wide-scale implementation of the death penalty should occur only after the judicial system has been substantially reformed, to provide accountability for officials and false witnesses who, in falsely accusing or condemning others, run the same penalties as those they slander; return to an emphasis on the constitutional right to trial by jury per the 5th, 6th, and 7th Amendments while improving the juror selection process so that those guilty of false witness or felonies are ineligible to be jurors; and eliminate the unjust practice of plea bargaining whereby the innocent are coerced, through interminable imprisonment before ever seeing trial, to plead guilty to crimes they are innocent of just so they can stop being imprisoned.

A Biblical View

The Old Testament Law with its punishments of death declared all the world guilty, by it none can be justified. We are all guilty of death before God, and should not cast the first stone unless sinless ourselves. We cannot expect God to forgive us unless we forgive others - "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." God is not mocked, we will reap what we sow. (Galatians 6:7)

Vengeance

Individuals

Jesus gave individuals a new commandment, that rather than 'eye for an eye' we should not resist evil with evil but love our enemies, which Paul also reiterated. This is a hard saying to accept, and I personally question how much it applies when another is in danger, but the old pattern of vengeance is replaced with this teaching, that vengeance is to be God's, He will repay. This is based on an eternal perspective that those who do evil will reap what they sow unless they repent, and to do good to them will actually heap coals of fire on their heads if they don't turn from their wicked ways. (Romans 12:20)

Government

Nonetheless, there may be exceptions to this when it comes to government, for again, the Apostle Paul says rulers can be divinely used as a "minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil." (Romans 13:4)

As such, governmental actions should be done, not for vengeance, but for justice and societal necessity, including the death penalty.

Government Violence Can Be Sanctioned by God for the Purpose of Global Order

As noted by the Apostle Paul, governments themselves can be directed by God to keep order in society, and even "bear the sword" to "execute wrath" for God's purposes.

Governments, after all, cannot abide by the same precepts as individuals in turning the other cheek if they are to exist. To quote William Penn's 1682 Province of Pennsylvania upon which the U.S. Constitution and Articles of Confederation are based:

This point was acknowledged by William Penn centuries ago, that God can guide governments to do His will and use violence in ways that Christians themselves are urged not to, for the sake of encouraging good works and discouraging bad ones. However, again, the death penalty is not a tool to be used lightly given the current failings of our justice system. If even one innocent person is being executed, that is too many. We need to produce justice and equity in our system before considering the widespread adoption of the death penalty.

Exceptions to Pacifism

See also Pacifism``

That there are exceptions is evident. Paul urges Christians to, "if it is possible, as much as lies in you, live peacefully with all people." (Romans 12:18) This passage thus shows that there will be cases where it is impossible, both given the circumstances and one's own nature, to live peacefully with others, even when committed to generally taking wrong and forgiving one's enemies.

Even Jesus could not stand the sight of all evil, and intervened using physical force when He saw God's temple being misused for material gain through fraud and dishonesty.

Declaration of Independence

This is, essentially, the same argument made in the Declaration of Independence for creation of the United States, that the colonies had repeatedly attempted to compromise and seek a peaceful resolution with England, but that evils had become finally insufferable.

Which Exceptions?
Defense of Others

There may be cases where defending others might be justified, particularly when it is a life and death situation. While we are commanded not to avenge ourselves, it is commonly recognized that defense of others when they are in mortal danger is honorable.

Government

As previously mentioned, the Apostle Paul stated that God uses government violence to encourage good works and discourage bad ones. As such, governmental violence can be used to further God's will by promoting good over evil.

Stopping Global Evil/Protecting the Church's Reputation

Per the Declaration of Independence, there is a point where, as Edmund Burke once famously noted, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." When it is in the power of good people to stop global evil, they are justified in exercising their inalienable rights per the Declaration of Independence.

This principle can be, to a degree, observed in 1 Corinthians 6, where the Apostle Paul urges legal matters between Christians to be settled within the Christian Church. As Paul observes, Christians will ultimately judge angels, and as such are all the more suited to judge matters in this life. While Paul nonetheless urges them to just take wrong instead, he does state that when problems arise within the Church, they should be handled by the Church.

This follows after Paul, in the previous chapter, urged Christians to expel those who are engaged in clearly evil lifestyles that the Church might not be defamed.

One might reasonably conclude that, were such a person unwilling to leave Church property while engaged in a lifestyle that destroys God's reputation, they could be forced to leave through force in the same way that Jesus used force to make those misusing God's temple leave. (Luke 19:45)

Rehabilitation and Mercy

It's important that very honorable, good people be in charge of parole boards with a high degree of wisdom. Many criminals will claim to be rehabilitated and become good people, to have seen the error of their ways. That doesn't mean much. Indeed, many leave prison and return to their evil ways, or even get 10 minute online theology degrees and then make the name of Christ look bad; committing evil in the guise of Christianity.

While it is important that we be willing to show mercy for those who have seriously reformed, it must be with an eye to their actions, not their words or the appearances they put on. The goal should be to rehabilitate when possible, but prudence must guide the process as well. Those who have killed numerous innocent people are arguably so dangerous to society that taking the risk they may be rehabilitated may not be worth it.

The Law

The Old Testament Law was a just declaration of what is right and wrong (Romans 7:7,12) but according to that Law all are guilty before God, none will be justified by it. Jesus alone could be the only exception because He alone was declared to be God. (John 1:18)

Forgive to be Forgiven

Jesus showed with the adulteress we cannot justly put others to death via the Old Testament Law unless sinless ourselves. We are not to cast that first stone unless without sin, vengeance should be God's.

Since we are guilty of death before God, we are to forgive others if we want God to forgive us. If we do not forgive others, we cannot expect God to forgive us. Jesus in Matthew 18 gives the example of a servant who, forgiven a huge debt by his master, then has a debtor imprisoned for a small amount owed. The furious master then demands that the servant repay his debt in full and be imprisoned until he has paid completely.

Sources

  1. N.a. (2019, March 28). "Innocence: List of Those Freed From Death Row." 'Death Penalty Information Center.
  2. Penn, William (1682, May 5). "Frame of Government of Pennsylvania." Lillian Goldman Law Library. Yale University. The Avalon Project.