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Does the Bible Say That Capital Punishment is Pro-Life?


LOUISVILLE, Ky. (ABP) – A Southern Baptist seminary president says that according to the Bible, capital punishment is pro-life.

“The death penalty is not about retribution,” Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said in a podcast Sept. 22. “It is first of all about underlining the importance of every single human life.”

Mohler, who has a Ph.D. in theology, said in Genesis 9, where capital punishment is mandated for murder, “it is precisely because the taking of one human life by another means that the murderer has effectively, morally and theologically, forfeited his own right to live.”

“The death penalty is intended to affirm the value [and] sanctity of every single human life, and thus by the extremity of the penalty to make that visible and apparent to all,” Mohler said.

Mohler said the differing reactions to two executions carried out a day earlier illustrated “how fickle we are in terms of our understanding of justice.” Thousands of people protested Georgia’s execution of Troy Davis, a black man convicted of murdering a white police officer on evidence his supporters said was shaky. At the same time, an execution in Texas of a white supremacist for the infamous dragging death of an African-American 13 years ago received far less attention.

"It seems that even those who oppose the death penalty outright believe there are some cases that ought to be opposed more than others,” Mohler said. “And even those who support the death penalty almost always support the death penalty within certain, very clear, parameters. Even if those parameters are not defined by policy, they are defined by moral intuition. There is something within us that cries out for the fact that murder must be punished and that the lives of the innocent, in terms of being the victims of these crimes, must indeed be vindicated.”

Mohler predicted the death penalty will become more and more controversial in the years ahead because the “general trend of secularization and moral confusion has undermined the kind of moral and cultural consensus that makes the death penalty make sense.”

He said societal attitudes about issues such as abortion and euthanasia indicate “we really do not now have the bedrock shared consensus that every single human life is a life made in the image of God and that every single human life at every stage of development is to be honored and protected and preserved.”

“That more than anything else explains today’s confusion about the death penalty,” he said.

Alan Bean, a white Baptist minister who runs Friends of Justice, an organization opposed to racial and socioeconomic inequities in America’s criminal-justice system, took a different view. He accused the state of Georgia of murder.

“I don’t use the m-word casually or for rhetorical effect,” said Bean, a member of Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. “But when it is no longer possible to distinguish guilt from innocence, when the state’s case lies in tatters and everybody knows it, there is no civil justification for taking a life.”

Blogging Wednesday night, Bean said, “State-sanctioned killing is never morally justified, but even those who support capital punishment in the abstract should have grave concerns about what happened tonight in Jackson, Ga.”

Mohler agreed that if socioeconomic disparity makes some persons more likely to be executed than others “that certainly should be of concern to Christians.” But he said the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles concluded with the courts that the evidence against Davis was sufficient to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Mohler also said that because of advances in forensic investigation, wrongful convictions are less likely now than in the past.

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