SO….. WHAT ABOUT THE DEATH PENALTY?
With heavy hearts Australia reflects today on the execution of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.
Yes, they did the wrong thing. They knew the risks. Crime warrants punishment.
On the other hand there was many reports of genuine reconciliation and rehabilitation, and even genuine new-found faith In Christ.
When does punishment end and restoration to community begin? Can a legal system that includes the taking of human life be fail-safe? Many think not. Is the death penalty any kind of deterrent anyway? Studies seem to suggest it is not. Doesn’t violence beget violence? These are some of my questions today…..
So, many are confused, saddened even angered by the possibility of too harsh a penalty and a human justice system which seems far from being fail-safe in delivering justice.
The following is taken from our LCA theological statement on Capital punishment – interesting read… hopefully helpful for today…..
1. The Old Testament and New Testament assume capital punishment (Genesis 9:6; Matthew 26:52; Romans 13:4). On the other hand, the word of God does not give us a clear acceptance or rejection of the death penalty.
2. The Old Testament presupposes a theocracy, and the principle of ‘an eye for an eye’ (Joshua 7:20,25,26; Leviticus 20:1-5). It demands capital punishment for many crimes for which our modern society and the church do not demand it, eg kidnapping (Exodus 21:16), maltreatment of parents (Exodus 21:15,17), incest (Leviticus 20:1l-14), adultery (Leviticus 20:10), profaning the Sabbath day (Exodus 31:15).
For these reasons there appears to be no clear direction in the Old Testament for us today in regard to capital punishment.
3. In the New Testament the passage Romans 13:4 is most generally assumed to demand capital punishment.
13 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 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. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
But two points must be noted in regard to the understanding of this text:
(a) ‘The sword’ is a general term taken by St Paul from the language of Roman law (ius gladii); it refers in a general sense to the power of the State to administer and execute the law, including capital punishment, but the reference describes the rightly given authority of the State, it does not prescribe how the State must govern.
(b) The passage does not indicate specific crimes to which the death penalty should be applied.
4. In the modern secular state, rational considerations alone determine what constitutes a crime and what should be the fitting punishment. (We don’t live in a “theocracy”).
5. For this reason, and because of the lack of a clear biblical directive, the church can only say that capital punishment is not contrary to the will of God, but is not demanded by God.
6. Nevertheless, the church should not cease its witness to the sanctity of human life and demand punishment for those who commit murder.
At the same time the church should encourage the state to develop clear and plausible concepts of the reason, meaning and purpose of the punishments which by law it determines for crimes that have been committed.