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Voting As a Christian: The Social Issues
The Protection of Life: Other Issues (part 2)
In part 1 of chapter 3, “the Protection of the Life”, Grudem touches on the issue of euthanasia also known as “mercy killing”. The author explained how euthanasia goes against the Word of God, and endangers the life of all citizens as well. Having a law such as this would permit abortion along with other laws that permit mercy killings and physician-assisted suicide. But what about capital punishment, should the government take the life of individuals who are convicted of murderous crimes? The death penalty is normally the punishment for premeditated murder and treason. Throughout the bible we read on capital punishment and its use.
Genesis 9:6 says: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image”. At this point the flood had subsided and God was instructing Noah and his family on what they were to do regarding life. This verse clearly favors capital punishment, Grudem writes “This law says that when someone murders another person, the murderer himself should be put to death: ‘by man shall his blood be shed.’ One may consider this as vengeance but it is God who says “from his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man” (Gen. 9:5). Because we are created in God’s image we are held at a higher standard than any other creature on earth. “When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on earth”. The author writes “This verse therefore lays the foundational principles for all human governmental authority.” God had formed government in order to rule over the land He created for us.
Within the New Testament there are passages that refer to the need of government and its duties. One passage that shows the significance of civil government is from Roman 13:1-7 where Paul replies to the government as “the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:4). This passage is consistent to what is read in Genesis chapter 9. Paul refers to the “sword” a number of times; in one case he says the civil government “does not bear the sword in vain” (Rom. 13:4). There is also mentioning of the sword in the books of Acts, Hebrews, and Revelations. 1 Peter 2:13-14 also speaks on the importance of civil government, it tells us to subject ourselves to authority for the Lord’s sake.
Many active Christians consider it wrong to punish a criminal, but Paul says “Beloved, never avenge yourselves…but leave it to the wrath of God” (Rom. 12:19). It is not mans place to retaliate for the sake of personal revenge, but for the sake of justice. Grudem writes: “Therefore such a desire cannot be seen as morally wrong, nor is it inconsistent with forgiving others and continually committing judgment into the hands of God, even as Jesus did when he was on the cross (see 1 Peter 2:23 and 23:34). Once we put judgment into the hands of God, we will give up the desire for ourselves while giving us freedom to show acts of mercy to them.
Are there really any crimes worthy of capital punishment? The main argument for this, is that many believe if the crime done was done with such an evil intent and degree, then capital punishment should be permissible. Grudem tells us that the final decision should be placed upon the state or nation when it comes to matters such as this. In the Mosaic covenant (in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) say that crimes even like stealing should put one to death. However, we cannot apply Mosaic laws as “those laws were only intended for the people of Israel at the particular time in history.” In concerning modern government, capital punishment should be a penalty for crimes that lead other people into death. For instance, if a person committed espionage that results in deaths of citizens in a country. Other crimes that should fall into capital punishments are brutal rape or beatings that permanently disables a person. However, the US Supreme Court dropped such penalties in Kennedy v. Louisiana on June, 2008 as it was argued the victim did not die.
In Genesis 9:6, it informs us that God gives civil government the power and right to carry our capital punishment for specific crimes (more specifically in the crime of murder) Many non-Christians also wish to carry out justice in the crimes of premeditated murder. This isn’t surprising as Romans 2:15 explains to us that “the work of the law is written on their hearts while their conscience also bears witness.” This tells us that every single person has the compass of right and wrong, which reflects God’s moral law. There are also objections concerning this matter from people that use specific bible verses to justify why capital punishment should not be enabled. Here, we will explore several arguments Grudem presents.
• In Matthew 5:38-39 says “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” However, when Jesus says this, he is speaking to an individual person and how they should relate to other individuals. Jesus is not saying this in the context of a government and how they should act in regards to punishing a crime. Grudem states “Matthew 5 is addressing personal conduct….”
• In John 8:2-11 shows us the story of a women caught committing adultery, however Jesus says “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” However, in the Old testament in Deuteronomy 22:23-24 that someone who commits adultery should be put to death. However, when Jesus says this, this cannot be looked upon as Jesus no longer wants us to enforce the death penalty. Although the Mosaic covenant tells us to do so, Grudem states that “it is not a story about a murderer and it cannot be used to apply to the use of the death penalty for murder, which was established in God’s covenant with Noah long before the time of the covenant with Moses.”
• Many people argue that the death penalty should not be enacted because God spared some murderers such as Cain and King David. However, Grudem argues that “this objection merely changes the subject from the responsibility of civil government to the freedom of God to pardon whomever he wishes.” God in essence can choose to bring immediate judgment and pardon others. However, this story should not dictate what civil government should do.
• Many people argue that Christians should apply a “whole life ethic.” This means to oppose anything that intentionally takes a human life, such as abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment and war. This is also known as the “seamless garment” argument. Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago supports this view as he states “The spectrum of life cuts across the issues of genetics, abortion, capital punishment, modern warfare and the care of the terminally ill.” However in Ezekiel 13:19, God says “You have profaned me among my people for a few handfuls of barley and scraps of bread. By lying to my people, who listen to lies, you have killed those who should not have died and have spared those who should not live.” Therefore, the idea that we should protect all human life is false and we should “protect the innocent and also punish the guilty, in proportion to the crime they have commited.”
There are also many objections to the death penalty based on results and fairness. For instance, Grudem says that many believe the death penalty: does not deter crime, innocent victims might be put to death, violence by government provokes more violence in society, it is unfairly administered, so that the poor and some ethnic minorities are much likely to receive the death penalty and capital punishment historically has been used in cruel and oppressive ways (even by Christians). Here we will explore these objections and why they are wrong.
• While people argue that the death penalty does not deter crime, studies have shown that “for each murderer executed, as many as fourteen to eighteen additional murders are deterred.” Even those that oppose the death penalty admit to this deterrence affect as H. Naci Mocan an economist at Louisiana State University says that “each execution saves five lives.”
• Those that argue innocent lives are put to death, are wrong as “no known example of an innocent person put to death in the United States since the resumption of the death penalty in 1976. A number of innocent deathrow prisoners have been released due to DNA testing, but that does not prove that many people have been wrongfully been executed.” Without carrying out the death penalty, life imprisonment is often the other choice. However, life imprisonment results in expensive costs and a chance for the person to commit more crimes in prison.
• The argument that “violence enables more violence” is wrongs as studies show capital punishment has a deterrent effect and saves innocent lives.
• While many argue that racial or economic factors may be unfairly practiced concerning the death penalty, this does not justify the reason not to carry it. This is an argument that “demonstrates that it should be carried out fairly, among rich and poor alike, and among members of every ethnic group, when crimes worthy of capital punishment have been committed.”
• Many people also argue that the death penalty have been abused in past history. While, this is indeed true, these executions of abuses should not be defended by anyone today; and Grudem states that “such abuses are not arguments against the rightful use of the death penalty.”
The issue of capital punishment is important for four reasons. Firstly, God teaches that government should administer punishment in the Old and New Testament. Secondly, this satisfies every person that is instilled with the longing that those who commit murder should be punished. Thirdly, this satisfies God’s requirement and lastly, capital punishment serves a deterrent effect when executions are administered fairly and swiftly. This is especially important for us Christians as these issues may be brought up in conversations and we must be able to voice what God intends. Next week, we will explore the issues concerning gun control.
1) In Romans 13:1-7, Paul replies to the government as “the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:4). What does Paul mean here?
2) What is the “seemless garment” argument? How can we rebuttal?
3) Does the argument “death penalty does not deter crime” applicable?
4) Why is it that every person has an innate sense of justice when crimes are committed?