Why My Faith Won’t Let Me Be OK With the Death Penalty

12426488_mI’m taking a deep breath now. The way you would inhale right before you jump out of an airplane (which I’ll never do). While I won’t take a physical leap at 10,000 feet, I’m taking a bit of a psychological one here, because I’m about to express an opinion on a highly-emotionally-charged subject, and I’m pretty sure I’ll alienate some folk.

I’m going to tell you why, as a Christian, I cannot support the death penalty.

I used to. Right after Jim and I were married, we were held up at gunpoint in a parking lot late at night. In a nice part of town, in case you wondered. The robbers took all my jewelry and made Jim lie spread-eagle on the very cold asphalt before speeding away with our brand-new wedding rings.

To say I was traumatized is to grossly understate the terror I felt nearly all the time. Around the same time as our robbery, several brutal, seemingly random home invasion robbery-homicides occurred. One poor woman went out to get her mail and the robber accosted her in her driveway, forced her into the house, and shot her in her own bedroom. These things became connected in my mind in the midst of my post-traumatic stress, and for several years I lived in fear. I was afraid to walk out to get my mail. Afraid to be alone, even during the day. Terrified of parking lots. I was afraid to take a shower when I was alone in the house.

My life was ruled by fear. And so were some of my opinions and beliefs.

They caught the person responsible for the robbery-homicides, and I wanted him tried and fried. I wanted to be sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he wouldn’t kill me or anyone else I cared about.

Enter the senior pastor of my church, sometimes in the late 90s. He was a man whose theology and life I admired then and still do. Until one day he talked about capital punishment. And he was against it.

When someone I respect presents an alternate point of view, I think it’s worth it to consider their argument. Maybe I’ll end up agreeing, maybe not, but I always consider it. This time I changed my mind. A 180.

I realized that other than escaping immediate physical danger, no wise decision is ever made from fear. I wanted the man to die out of my own fear. Fear stokes the flames of racism, bigotry, and a refusal to respect anything different than what we believe. The time had come for me to stop being ruled by fear.

I became ashamed of my arrogance. How is it my right to judge whether another human being, made in the image of God, should live or die? And how on earth do I reconcile my sense of vengeance with anything Jesus taught?

For me, there was simply no way to square the death penalty with my faith. It is God’s place to say who will live and who will die. His, and His alone.

Some of you would say, “Well, they took a life, they chose the sin, they were cruel, brutal, tortured and terrorized a person.” Yeah, many of them have. But I’ve sinned, too, and, no offense, so have you. I’ve been unkind, selfish, prideful, and I’m guessing you have, too. None of us are without wrongdoing.

It’s ironic to me that some use the Bible to justify capital punishment. The story of the Bible is God’s redemption of our souls, not His condemnation. Don’t we realize that we are just as culpable as the murderer? And yet, God chose to send His Son to atone for our sins, and for those of the ones we would put to death. To put another person to death is to say that they are less deserving of His atonement and redemption than we are. And friends, that’s prideful.

The only One who is perfect and fit to judge shows us infinite mercy. We who are imperfect, rather than choose to imitate Jesus, prefer death over mercy for a brother or sister. I’m thankful that my Heavenly Father’s mercy is greater than my sin, even if it means His mercy is also greater than the sin of the murderer.

One last thing. Nothing that is devised and mediated by humans is perfect, and that includes our justice system. I started to look up the statistics on how many prisoners have been executed and later found not to have been guilty of the crime. I started to, but I didn’t. Because, for the purposes of this post, it doesn’t matter.

One is too many.

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