Christianity Today writer: Christians shouldn’t kill Christians—even on death row

“I believe we should oppose the death penalty because it involves the retributive killing of our siblings in Christ. This argument, while not new, is often overlooked.” - CToday


Disclaimer: I haven’t read his case (only skimmed it), and hope to get a chance later today.

But there are some immediate problems. I’m prepared to believe that our system can’t do death penalty justly and that we should shelve the practice until we can make it work. But I can’t see how the convict’s status as a Christian has anything to do with it.

The main reason is this: the people who carry out justice—whether in the form of jail or something else—are not acting as themselves. They are instruments of law and our imperfect but “the best we’ve got” justice system. The executor of justice is an arm of law and society. He is, in that sense, not a person at all in that capacity—because he’s not doing a personal thing.

If it would be wrong to execute a Christian convict for his offenses against the law, it would be wrong to execute anyone else. By the same token, if it’s right to execute unbeliever for their murder(s), its equally right to do so to a believer (all other things being equal).

The other major problem is: how could it possibly work to have Christians treat fellow Christians differently in the execution of justice (death penalty or not) vs. how they treat non-Christians? And where does that sort of ethical calculation end? If you’re a Christian judge do you refuse to sentence a convicted murder to death if he’s a Christian but sentence people to death if they’re not?

It’s a massive category error. The Christian in a justice role is serving God by being an agent of government—which God invented for our good. He’s not acting as an agent of the Church or, far less, himself.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Paul, writing to the theoretically Christian members of the church in Rome, tells them that the ruler does not carry the sword in vain. It does not appear that Paul was categorically opposed to capital punishment of Christians. The same thing applies to 1 Peter 2. Peter wasn’t, either. For that matter, Jesus told men to render unto Caesar what was Caesar’s.

If the author had told me that due to the finality of the death penalty, we ought to make for darned sure that the person is guilty before executing them, I’d be saying “halleluiah amen!” to what he wrote. But what he writes is really (IMO) cheap grace for a population that thrives on the same and uses the same liberally to get what they want. A few anecdotes about truly repentant prisoners does not change that reality.

And no doubt that we ought to be working more for real repentance among prisoners, restitution to their victims where possible, and the like. But at the end of the discussion, I think we have a certain portion of people who need to pay for their crimes with their lives, and society is worse off if we fail to do so.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

True repentance should recognize that there will be consequences for our actions. If repentance is simply a get out of jail free card then can it really be called repentance?