Comparing Political Platforms (10) Death Penalty

For those of you finding this series (Comparing the Political Platforms) longwinded even if an important corrective to focusing on personalities, today’s installment will be a refreshing wind on an old dispute: The Death Penalty. Each political platform has a concise statement on it.

DNC We will abolish the death penalty, which has proven to be a cruel and unusual form of punishment. It has no place in the United States of America. The application of the death penalty is arbitrary and unjust. The cost to taxpayers far exceeds those of life imprisonment. It does not deter crime. And, exonerations show a dangerous lack of reliability for what is an irreversible punishment.   (p 16)
LP We oppose the administration of the death penalty by the state.
RNC The constitutionality of the death penalty is firmly settled by its explicit mention in the Fifth Amendment. With the murder rate soaring in our great cities, we condemn the Supreme Court’s erosion of the right of the people to enact capital punishment in their states. In solidarity with those who protect us, we call for mandatory prison time for all assaults involving serious injury to law enforcement officers. (p.40)

christians fifth amendment and the death penaltyThe Fifth Amendment is probably best known for someone “pleading the fifth” but the whole text reads: No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.


So, due process must happen, but deprivation of life is constitutional.

The flip side, however, is that just because it’s constitutional doesn’t mean that it’s preferable.

The Democrat Platform explicitly identifies exonerations as evidence that the death penalty should be abolished. To them, it is arbitrary, unjust, and cruel and unusual. Libertarians also point to it as a failed policy—adding to it their objection to expansion of power for government–and therefore, they reject the death penalty by adherence to their Libertarian ideal.

What does the Bible say about the death penalty?

The Bible actually commands the death penalty in the Old Testament and accepts it as a given in the New Testament.  And all God’s people said, “Ouch.”

God’s Word does not give us the detailed outline of when it ought to occur today, on our side of the Cross. But the fact is, if someone is dead, the opportunity to commit further crimes has just been eliminated in the death of the criminal. But the fact also remains that the death penalty is the taking of a human life.

In Exodus 21:12, we read, “Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death.” In fact, so much of Exodus 21 deals with who must be put to death that it seems like no man would be left standing. Same thing with Leviticus 20. It’s really pretty frightening, if the Christian is honest.

But the point of these commands was deterrence.

It was designed to set consequences.  This was not for budgeting purposes to see how far one was willing to go rogue.  Rather, its goal was deterrence in order to alert and convince people to honor God in all things so that these consequences could be avoided.

Is the death penalty still a deterrent?

The Democrat and Libertarian Platforms would argue that it’s insufficient to merit its practice ever again. The Republican Platform argues its constitutionality and to leave it up to the states, which is the limited government view as a Republican core principle.  Remove any and all possibility of deterrence by abolishing part of the Constitution and it opens up a whole can of worms best left alone.

The Christian in me sees a priority of life over death, truth over lies, deterrence over punishment, and reality over wishful thinking. Disobedience to the law is a given. People will die, even be murdered. Suffering does happen. So what do we do as Christians in the real world?

In Hebrews 11, the Bible talks of the great cloud of witnesses who were put to death in various gruesome ways for no crime greater than obeying God.  Or these days, preaching Christ. In 2 Timothy 2:7-9 Paul talks about being in chains for the Gospel. In Revelation 2:10 Jesus says, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

For the Christian, a prison is not a prison, but a place to be a witness for Christ. And the Christian—by virtue of faith in our Savior—knows that death does not have the final say. There will be a resurrection at the end of it.

Whether or not a death penalty remains a possibility for punishment… reserved only for the most heinous of crimes…people DO respect death, especially their own.  For most of us, it’s a deterrent.  It’s why no one wants to be captured by ISIS.

People will continue to die in horrific ways, some at the hands of criminals, some in wartime activity, and others as a consequence of their own actions. Each of us must consider deterrence as the best of all options since it preserves life the best. And to hold the punishment called the death penalty in the sober awareness that—before God as our witness– it is a human life we’re talking about taking which is every bit made in the image of God as the fetus a pro-lifer protects, the child we shield from abuse, the girl we rescue from sex trafficking, the woman we harbor far away from domestic assault, and the aged man for whom we stand and proclaim he has value to this world so long as he lives.

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Categories Articles, Articles and Devotionals | Tags: | Posted on August 12, 2016

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