Why Christians Can, And Should, Support the Death Penalty

As the Boston Marathon Bomber’s trial drew to a close, I found myself beyond surprised at the plurality of Bostonians who did NOT favor the death penalty for bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. In fact, only 27 percent said they’d support the death penalty (which, incidentally, is now officially his fate).

So annoyed was I that I tweeted out the following:

It seemed so logical to me. You murder someone, you forfeit the right to your own life. And in this case, the accused didn’t just kill one person. He succeeded in murdering four (including a child) and maiming hundreds.

But then—a conversation with an acquaintance got me thinking.

You see, I’m a Christian. And there’s a little matter of the Fifth Commandment:

You shall not murder.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev broke that commandment. So, if I advocate that he too lose his life, aren’t I advocating that someone else break that same commandment?

That’s the direction the aforementioned conversation took, and it got me thinking.

Fast forward a few weeks, and head from Massachusetts to Nebraska, where “lawmakers gave final approval on Wednesday to a bill abolishing the death penalty that would make it the first conservative state to do so since 1973 if the measure becomes law.”

This is a bit shocking, largely because support for the death penalty tends to cut right down party lines — with far larger support for the measure amongst Republicans than amongst Democrats.

This time, however, a surprising push came from the political right, and from the religious community.

Admittedly, the reasons were valid ones, and ranged from being “philosophically consistent” (that is, “if government can’t be trusted to manage our health care … then why should it be trusted to carry out the irrevocable sentence of death?”), to staying true to religious beliefs (like the one I outlined above).

Death — especially when deliberate — is serious business. And it is, as Nebraska Republican Laure Ebke noted, “irrevocable.”

CORRECTS SPELLING OF FIRST NAME TO HADI INSTEAD OF HABI - Hadi Jawad holds up his signs to protest the execution of Kimberly McCarthy on Wednesday, June 26, 2013 outside the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Huntsville Unit, where the death chamber is located, in Huntsville, Texas. If McCarthy is put to death as planned, she would become the 500th person executed in Texas since the state resumed carrying out the death penalty in 1982. The 52-year-old also would be the first woman executed in the U.S. since 2010. Credit: AP
Hadi Jawad holds up his signs to protest the execution of Kimberly McCarthy on Wednesday, June 26, 2013 outside the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Huntsville Unit, where the death chamber is located, in Huntsville, Texas.  Credit: AP 

Let’s head back to my theological conundrum for a moment.

I never really thought twice about my support for the death penalty, and it wasn’t until I was challenged on it did I seriously begin to question whether or not I could support it — and remain true to my faith.

So, I did a little digging. (And leaned on a pastor I happen to know quite well.)

And as a result, I’ve become more convinced than ever that the Tsarnaev verdict was absolutely spot on, and that this latest move from Nebraska is ill-advised. And here’s why:

1. The Biblical Standing for Capital Punishment

Romans 13:4 reads as follows:

“For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” (NIV)

Paul here clearly states that government has certain authorities that God condones. “Sword” cannot be translated any other way than exactly what it is — an instrument of authority used to exact capital punishment.

2. The Literal Translation of the Word “Murder” or “Kill” in the Fifth Commandment

The Fifth Commandment as translated reads that we should not “murder,” and sometimes it is translated as “kill.” But, does the root meaning of the original word matter?

In this case, immensely.

The Concordia Self Study Bible notes (emphasis mine) that the “Hebrew for this verb [murder] usually refers to a premeditated and deliberate act. This commandment forbids loss of life inflicted by illegal means.” (Reference note on Exodus 20:13)

Further, the scholars write that “several Hebrew and Greek verbs mean ‘kill.’ The ones used here and in Ex. 20:13 specifically mean ‘murder.’’’ (Reference note on Matthew 5:21)

In other words, the word used in the commandment has reference to a premeditated, malicious, unlawful ending of a human life, and not as a just punishment.

3. The Defense of Society

There’s a great old Gary Cooper film called “Sergeant York” that details the heroism of the World War I veteran of the same name — and in this film, he is shown battling between his convictions and his duty to his country.

As a Christian, he struggled with the draft because he felt he’d be breaking the Fifth Commandment. Still, he was asked by a commanding officer to prayerfully reconsider his conscientious objection, and upon doing so, York comes to the conclusion that his actions would be in defense of his fellow man:

Alvin: “Well I’m as much agin’ killin’ as ever, sir. But it was this way, Colonel. When I started out, I felt just like you said, but when I hear them machine guns a-goin’, and all them fellas are droppin’ around me… I figured them guns was killin’ hundreds, maybe thousands, and there weren’t nothin’ anybody could do, but to stop them guns. And that’s what I done.”

Maj. Buxton: “Do you mean to tell me that you did it to save lives?”

Alvin: “Yes sir, that was why.”

Did you ever stop to think about how ending the life of a monster like Tsarnaev is an act of self defense?

Tsarnaev (Source: Getty Images)
Tsarnaev (Source: Getty Images) 

That is, that by permanently ridding society of someone who has demonstrated no conscience, no feeling, and nothing but a desire to continue harming people, that we’re acting in the very same self-defense that we routinely condone when it’s a question of war, or home invasion, or any other situation which requires us to use force to stop another force?

I’m convinced that’s the case, and that the very same Bible that forbids killing in the “murder” sense allows for it when you’re defending the life of another. And that includes defending our society from the future heinous crimes someone could commit.

Keep in mind, too, that capital punishment not only puts an end to a proven public menace, but also saves society from having to support—on the taxpayer’s dime—the life of such a menace in a prison cell.

At the end of the day, yes, we CAN have legitimate concerns.

Yes, we need to have a discussion about the legal system that drags these convictions on for decades and tortures the family of survivors in the process (like in the case of James Thimm).

Yes, we need to have a discussion as to why it is that we can successfully put an animal to sleep painlessly in mere seconds, but it can sometimes take excruciatingly long periods of time to execute a human.

(While we’re at it, we should also have a discussion about how a society can mourn the pain of a monster in the execution chambers, yet look the other way as a baby is torn helplessly from its mother’s womb, piece by piece—but that’s another discussion for another day.)

And, despite the initial flippancy of my Tsarnaev tweet, we SHOULD be cautious, careful, and humane when we’re talking about ending the life of a human being, and especially in consideration of the person’s eternal destination.

But let’s not let that cautiousness stop us from ultimately protecting life.

Mary Ramirez is a full-time writer, creator of www.afuturefree.com (a political commentary blog), and contributor to The Chris Salcedo Show (TheBlaze Radio Network, Saturday, from noon to 3 p.m. ET). She can be reached at: afuturefree@aol.com; or on Twitter: @AFutureFree

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