We started this series by highlighting the noteworthy way in which California Governor Gavin Newsom explained his executive decision to close death row facilities in his state. Instead of making the usual argument of contending the death penalty is immoral, the Governor said he could not allow capital punishment to continue under his watch while knowing there are innocent people who will be executed in the process. A charge like that certainly changes things. Rather than arguing about the morality of killing killers, he argues it is immoral to kill non-killers. And as I wrote last time, we ought to all agree that executing people while at the same time knowing it is almost certain innocent ones will end up lumped in with the guilty is an immoral situation to shrug at and "just accept". The question we will be getting to in future installments of this series is if that is a reasonable assumption to make about our criminal justice system today or not. If so, then a temporary moratorium on the death penalty is more than just appropriate, it's an urgent moral imperative. Again, we will get into that debate in installments still forthcoming.
Today we need to address the longstanding, overarching charge that capital punishment is in and of itself immoral, even when we are positive those being executed are guilty of murder. Many question the moral clarity, consistency and integrity of Christians in the pro-life movement over the death penalty. "How can you be for the death penalty and call yourself 'pro-life'?" Or "How can you say you believe in the 'sanctity of life' and yet support capital punishment?" Those are not illogical questions, they're very reasonable and deserve a thoughtful response.
The basis for questions like these is sound. Human life is sacred. All human life is sacred. Even the lives of killers and rapists is sacred. Christians go even further and confess that human life is sacred because humans…even rapists and murderers…bear the image of God. The Bible is abundantly clear on the sanctity of human life from the womb to the tomb. Here are just a few examples of Scripture which clearly indicate the supremacy of humanity over all other creatures and the resulting sanctity of every human life which we must embrace:
Genesis 1:26 ESV
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."
Exodus 20:13 ESV
You shall not murder.
Jeremiah 1:5 ESV
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you
Luke 12:6-7 ESV
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.
There is no doubt whatsoever that human dignity exceeds anything in the created order. God has a special love for humanity which He does not have even for angels. We don't often think if it in those terms, but it is true. So great is His love for the world that He sent Jesus to die for people of the world. Fallen angels have no possibility of redemption…why not? Because God does not love fallen angels like He loves fallen humans.
So, again, the basis for thinking the death penalty is immoral is sound…it's incomplete…but it starts off soundly. All humans are sacred (that part is sound) therefore to take a human life is always sacrilege (that part is incomplete). The argument takes the implication of human sacredness further than the Bible takes it. The Bible never suggests it is always sacrilege, blasphemous, sinful of even immoral to take a human life. In fact, the greatest charge against the Bible by critics today is the shocking amount of God-sanctioned bloodshed in it! God commands His people to kill so many enemies and murderers in the Bible that it would be hard to even estimate the actual number of souls the Lord commanded His people to take! And lest you think this is simply an Old Testament dynamic you need to know that during the end times Christians will "make war" with the Antichrist and his demonic armies. It doesn't say they'll be persecuted by the Antichrist; it says he will make war with them…that means they will be firing back and killing people! War, unlike persecution, is never a one way street.
Not only does God order the killing of enemies in warfare, but He is also very clear that murders must be put to death as well.
Genesis 9:6 ESV
"Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image"
Exodus 21:12 ESV
"Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death."
Leviticus 24:17 ESV
"Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death."
Acts 25:11 ESV
"If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar."
I'm not exactly sure how much clearer the Lord can be, these commands are very blunt and easy to understand. And again, this is not simply and Old Testament deal. The Apostle Paul very clearly confirms there are crimes which people "deserve" to die for. There is nothing confusing about what the Bible says, murderers must be executed.
Instead of devaluing the dignity of human life, the death penalty serves to bolster it. So heinous is the sin of murder, so terrible is the act of taking a human life in an unjustified way, that the only penalty strong enough to properly demonstrate the severity of the crime is capital punishment. No other consequence gets the point across properly, every other sentence falls short of demonstrating the sacrosanct nature of human life. Capital punishment for murder is a universal sign that human life is sacred and anyone who dares snuff it without just cause (self defense for example) should have their life taken as a result. It's the ultimate penalty because murder is the ultimate crime.
So, to any Christian who maintains the death penalty is wrong, I say read the Bible. Yes, the Bible is very clear that every human life is sacred, but it also says that the sin of murder is so heinous and so odious that the death penalty is the only right consequence. Only the death penalty properly emphasizes the gravity of murder, no other punishment comes even close. And never forget, the death penalty is a command of God, it's not an option.
To the agnostic who charges pro-lifers with hypocrisy for supporting capital punishment, I say you misunderstand the pro-life position. The pro-life argument is more than contending every human life is sacred (which is absolutely true) but it goes further and argues it is immoral to take the life of an INNOCENT baby, who is guilty of no crime. Even in the cases of rape it is the never the baby who should be punished for the sin of the rapist. We are saying abortion is wrong because babies are humans and those human babies have committed no crime. Murderers deserve to be executed, babies don't.