More on capital punishment

Here is a link to the PDF-file of Mennonite Central Committee’s position paper on the death penalty. As bloggers across California debate the merits of the delayed Kevin Cooper execution, I thought I would do a bit more digging into the theological rationale for seeing capital punishment as inherently wrong and unChristian. It’s worth looking at, especially this claim, which I have heard before from my fellow Anabaptists:

Christ’s death on the cross, itself an application of capital punishment, canceled the Old Testament basis of shedding blood to testify to life’s sacredness (Hebrews 10). Christ died that others may live. By trading places with the guilty and the enemy, by dying in the place of the murderer Barabbas, Christ closed off any sacrificial reason for the death penalty. Jesus did not die for some sinners. He died for all. Unless we believe that every person, whether murderer or not, is redeemable and must have the chance to be redeemed, there is no real gospel. Depriving a person of the possibility of reconciliation with God and humanity is the real tragedy of capital punishment.

(Bold emphasis is mine). Though the MCC pamphlet does look at the issue of the possibility of the innocent being executed, it wisely grounds its opposition to capital punishment elsewhere, in the gospel.

And for those who think opposition to capital punishment is an innovation for modern liberal Christians, I found this quote from Lactantius, a third-century Christian writer whom I vaguely remember from a graduate course in patristics:

For when God forbids us to kill, He not only prohibits us from open violence, which is not even allowed by the public laws, but He warns us against the Commission of those things which are esteemed lawful among men . . . . a just man (ought not) accuse any one of a capital charge, because it makes no difference whether you put a man to death by word or rather by the sword, since it is the act of putting to death itself which is prohibited. Therefore, with regard to this precept of God, there ought to be no exception…

One thought on “More on capital punishment

  1. In studying church history I am grieved and embarrassed by how often the state and church used capitol punishment to silence the dissenting voice. After being a staunch death penalty advocate all my life, I switched to a “liberal” stance two years ago.

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