Why I’ve change my mind on the death penalty

In honor of my good friend Mark, who, I’m pretty sure is the only person who checks my blog now and then, I write this, my first post in almost a year. He called me one day a few weeks back to let me know that my blog had been hacked. So, I finally got around to fixing it and in honor of this new, clean, web-log and a good friend noticing, I write this post.

I, like Mark, though we be on different sides of the political spectrum, care not what others think if we dare to think openly and change our mind on something. Believe it not, “changing one’s mind” is not a crime. I’m not running for office, though, even if I were, I’m not sure it should matter much. There’s such a false stigma associated with it as if it were actually important what I thought in the first place. This is, of course, why we think it matters if a candidate changes their mind, in that they, unlike you and me, actually could affect some changes in the law based on their changing their minds. This is true, no doubt, but I see no evidence that it is somehow dangerous or even prevalent. So, friends seem to somehow hold other friends accountable on the big issues. This is what I’m claiming just doesn’t matter much.

The topic is the death penalty; capital punishment.

I’ve change my mind on capital punishment. I used to support it, now I don’t. Here’s why:

It all started when the introduction of DNA evidence began uncovering innocent people being wrongly incarcerated, some on death row. I’m sure there are many other Christians such as myself who had managed to convince themselves that a small number of mistakes were inevitable and acceptable. But, they kept coming, more and more. I soon supported the calls for a moratorium on all executions. We were in uncharted territory with DNA evidence and it was time to just stop until society could catch up with the science.

Well, in the meantime, I continued to reflect on capital punishment. My Bible is full of ideas and concepts about punishment. I’m sure you’re aware that the Old Testament prescribes the death penalty for all kinds of things that we would never accept in today’s society. But, it’s also full of ideas about the concept of punishment in general. We Christians use words like Grace and Mercy and have a little saying to help us keep it straight: Grace is receiving something you don’t deserve and Mercy is not receiving something that you do deserve. Our God is both full of Mercy and full of Grace.

That being said, we don’t believe in sin without consequences. In fact, we believe that consequences inexorably follow sin. (Look up Jonathan Haidt’s talks for a good secular explanation of this. Especially his Bill Moyer interview. He uses the word Karma, or “what goes around, comes around.”)

But, these consequences come along with the Mercy and Grace; so, one can be both guilty and forgiven. The Bible is full of these illustrations too: Jesus interfering with the capital punishment of the prostitute; he did not claim she was innocent, but forgiven, and she was shown mercy.

So, let us consider a person incarcerated in our country today and on death row. Let us also consider him guilty. The reason for this little thought experiment is to turn the corner from the above mentioned moratorium to the final abolishing of the death penalty. So, our hypothetical person is indeed, very, very guilty. He’s a monster. He’s confessed. The DNA evidence is in and convincing. Whatever you need to conclude that he’s guilty, there you go. Why shouldn’t he receive the death penalty?

The fact is, he should. Rather, he deserves it.

And, this is how I turned the corner on this issue. Since I actually believe in a loving and just God, I actually believe that his sin has consequences for him personally. So, I’m convinced that he really does deserve the death penalty. I no longer need to jump through moral hoops to says that. He really does deserve it.

If you’re a Christian, I’ve got some bad news for you: you deserve it too. Furthermore, you’re gonna get it. You’re going to die. Your Bible tells you why in Romans 6:23: “For the product of sin is death…..” And don’t act like your shocked by all this; the very earliest parts of the Bible tell us we’re gonna die because we disobeyed God; commonly referred to as “The Fall.”

A note to my secular friends who may be put off by all the religious-speak: if this is something you’re actually interested in, as in, why the Bible says things like this, you cannot dismiss it easily as outdated crazy-talk. Very learned and experienced people throughout all of history have contemplated and written on these subjects, and continue to do so today. If you start with the assumption that it can’t mean anything for you today, then I can’t help you understand it. A better starting place would be: that all sounds like crazy-talk, I wonder if it mean anything to me today? If you sat in on one of my Bible studies, we would acknowledge that it sounds like crazy-talk, but since we know it’s not….thus begins the study.

So, considering a death row inmate, they really do deserve the death penalty, if they’re guilty. For me, it’s no longer an issue if the guilty deserve to die or not; they do. But, the combination of doubt and the valid Christian debate as to whether or not the state has the right to justifiably murder a criminal has led me to change my mind on supporting the death penalty in my state.

If a truly guilty criminal is executed tomorrow, I will not shed a tear. But, we know that DNA evidence is resulting in more and more innocent people being let out of prison and the thought of a person being unfairly incarcerated for years is more than I can stand. The thought of the state executing an innocent person? That possibility has to stop.


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