I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t post political stuff on Facebook anymore, because I just don’t think it does much good in the world. In the case of the news about the Department of Justice reinstating the death penalty for federal inmates, however, I felt this week compelled to speak out as a Christian and a theologian.
One of the most basic ethical positions of the Church has long been an opposition to capital punishment. Catholics, Protestants, Anabaptists, Orthodox: across the board, with few exceptions, all these churches take an official stance opposing the taking of life as a form of punishment. The few strands of Christianity that do express religious support for the death penalty (many of which are politically active in the United States) are well outside the mainstream of 2000 years of the Christian tradition, and are often beholden to and inseparable from the secular state.
The death penalty is wrong, it is immoral, and it flies in the face of God’s good order for the world, an order that includes God’s prerogative to give and take life, not ours. To decide that we can rightly determine when someone deserves to live or die is to usurp the authority of God. It is even worse that this is being done by an Administration that claims to be the “most Christian” administration in history. This action, combined with so many others they have taken over the last few years, make that claim laughable, and reveal them as actually one of the most anti-Christian regimes this country is seen.
I’ll give the last word here to John Howard Yoder, from his essay on the death penalty entitled “The End of Sacrifice”: “Forgiveness is the response to evil dictated by God’s own nature and by Jesus’ example and command. We should seek to save the life even of the murderer fully culpable for the act which society wants to kill him. The death penalty is wrong, not because it is not merited by some, but because merit is not the basis on which, since Jesus, we should decide who has a right to belong to the human race.”