We are going to wrap up our series on Capital Punishment, a series inspired by the interesting way California Governor Gavin Newsom explained his reason for shutting down death row facilities in his state. Instead of offering up the usual "the death penalty is immoral" argument, he said he refused to continue with the practice in his state while knowing innocent people are getting swept up into a broken system and wrongly killed. That line of reasoning changes things and any true pro-life Christian ought to slow down in criticizing him in a knee jerk reaction, it's easy to do that whenever a liberal Democrat does ANYTHING. Don't be so quick to dismiss the concerns of a liberal Democrat, especially when one is taking a pro-life stand. Remember, he's not stopping the practice because he feels killing murderers is wrong, he is stopping it because he said he believes killing innocent people is wrong…and as far as that goes, he's right! As we detailed in our previous edition, the Bible is very clear in commanding the death penalty for murders. But only in an impartial, fair, unbiased and reasoned way! Both Deuteronomy 17:6 and Numbers 35:30 instruct that two witnesses must confirm guilt before anyone can be executed. There is no such thing as circumstantial evidence described in the Bible, the threshold to clear certainty was set very high in the Bible.
Pro-life Christians should have no problem whatsoever temporarily ending the death penalty if there is reasonable evidence to show systemic injustice leading to executions. If there is good reason to believe innocent people have been and at this rate will be executed, we shouldn't even have to think twice about an impermanent moratorium on the practice.
But is that a reasonable assumption to make? Is it reasonable to assume our system is so screwed up right now that we have innocent people being (or preparing to be) executed?
It is reasonable to believe that. Actually, it's more than reasonable to conclude our criminal justice system is that messed up, and I will provide the following reasons to demonstrate that:
The process in the United States is totally and completely arbitrary, and that is a massive ethical problem. The Bible says murders should be executed by the state. Not some murders. Not murders from certain classes. Not murders without good lawyers. Not murders who are mentally sane. Just…murderers. All of them. Is that the case today in the United States? Absolutely not! According to the FBI, in 2017 there were 17,284 murders in the United States. How many executions did we have in the United States in 2017? 23. Total. We had 17,284 murders and only 23 executions! We had 17,284 murders in this country in 2017 and only 39 people were sentenced to death!
What is that? Obviously, these numbers would never be equal because everyone isn't caught, tried and executed all in same year. However, these numbers ought to be in the same ballpark if we had anything approaching equal justice! Just sit back and think about these discrepancies, good grief! What did those 39 who were sentenced to die in 2017 do that was so much more egregious than the other THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of murderers in this country who aren't sentenced to death? Nothing…and that's a problem. What on earth is the standard for capital punishment? It certainly isn't being found guilty of murder, that's for sure. This inequality and terribly random system ought to be harshly condemned by Christians. The Bible is very clear that the criminal justice system must be impartial. Numbers 35 and Deuteronomy 17 lay out detailed procedures of justice which the ancient Jews had to adhere to in order to executed. Due process and equal justice wasn't a goal to aspire to, it was a minimum requirement in order to operate! How can we have over 17,000 murders, only 39 death sentences handed out and just 23 executed in the same year and call that equal justice? The law is obviously not being applied equally and there are a HOST of reasons for it, none of which is the point. It doesn't matter why it's not being applied equally; the point is that when it comes to the death penalty, it needs halted until that is fixed. You can't have different standards when it comes to exectuting people for crying out loud!
Not only do we have a terrible application of the death penalty where only a small fraction of convicted murderers get it (in defiance of the Bible which says all of them should get it), but the number of likely innocent people awaiting the death penalty right now is horrifying! According to researchers from the University of Michigan, as of 2014 at least 4.1% of prisoners on death row are innocent! Can you imagine being handed a gun and walked into a room of 100 convicts and being told you had to kill each one of them, knowing it is likely 4 or 5 of them are innocent? That scenario is so obscene that any pro-life Christian ought to be repulsed by the thought! Again, Numbers 35 and Deuteronomy 17 make it clear that before the state can execute someone, they must be certain of the prisoner's guilt. How can anyone be certain of guilt when there is good reason to believe 4-5% of death row inmates are innocent?
Still not aghast yet? Then let this stat sink in…from 1973 to 2015 the United States executed over 1400 prisoners. During that same time span 156 prisoners were exonerated off of death row. So that means, for every 10 executions, 1 death row inmate was exonerated! Is our criminal justice system run by Keystone Cops? What is this? Are they throwing cases up against the wall and just hoping some stick?
From 1973 to 2002, a total of 36 people were convicted of murder and sentenced to death in New Orleans. Of those 36 convicts, 9 had exculpatory evidence withheld in their cases! Once this miscarriage of justice was discovered 4 of them were thankfully exonerated!
The Bible is clear, murderers are to be executed by the state. All of them. But the state must be positive and certain they are not executing innocent people! That's not an option, folks. If our government cannot abide by the Biblical mandate regarding the death penalty and the threshold of certainty needed (by way of due process and equal application) then the sword should be removed from its hand until it can do so responsibly. Pro-life Christians must educate themselves regarding the terrible system which is leading to innocent people being sentenced to death and then be the loudest ones calling for a moratorium until significant corrections are made to our system of criminal justice.
This isn't a game, we either speak for the innocent and defend the helpless or we are hypocrites.
If authorized by law I'd personally pull the trigger, flip the switch or kick the stool out from under a murderer's feet myself and not lose much sleep over it. My sympathies are with the family of the victim. But the system by which the state investigates, prosecutes and executes people must be right. We can't get it wrong 4-5% of the time, are you kidding me? That is absolutely not acceptable. That cannot happen, and until we are sure that won't continue to happen we must institute a temporary moratorium on executions in this nation.