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How does a Christian support the death penalty?
A protestor holds a sign calling for Georgia state officials to halt the scheduled execution of convicted cop killer Troy Davis.
September 23rd, 2011
10:10 AM ET

How does a Christian support the death penalty?

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN) - The debate over the execution of Troy Davis may have ended in the legal system, but it's continuing in the faith arena.

A day after Davis was executed in Georgia for the 1989 shooting death of Mark MacPhail, an off-duty police officer, one contributor to The Daily Beast asked this question:

How can a “pro-life” Christian support the death penalty?

It’s a question that will probably find its way into some sermons this Sunday. Lee Siegel, though, didn’t want to wait that long to dive into the debate. He says in his piece for The Daily Beast that Davis’ conviction has a “thick cloud of doubt hanging over it.”

Siegel didn’t go into those details, but they’re well known by now. Since Davis' 1991 trial, seven of the nine witnesses against him have recanted or contradicted their testimony. The U.S. Supreme Court ordered a district court in Savannah to review his claims of innocence in 2009, but District Judge William Moore ruled the following year that the evidence did "not require the reversal of the jury's judgment."

Doubts about Davis’ guilt persisted, though, and helped draw international attention to his case. Pope Benedict, South African anti-apartheid leader Desmond Tutu and former President Jimmy Carter said the execution should have been called off.

Siegel says when he heard Wednesday that Davis’ case was in the hands of the Supreme Court, he thought “justice would be done” because three of the court’s justices are “devout” Catholics (actually five of the court’s members are Catholic).

Siegel then invokes the concept of Catholic “seamlessness.”

According to that doctrine, a moral stance that places human life above any consideration has to be consistent with other situations in which human life is at issue. If you are pro-life, you must also be against assisted suicide, against war in most cases, and absolutely against the death penalty, for the sake of moral consistency.

Catholics are Christians, which leads to another question: How can a Christian justify support for the death penalty?

Some Christian supporters of the death penalty cite the biblical call for an “eye for an eye.” Yet that passage comes from the Old Testament. Christian doctrine is ultimately based on the New Testament and the actions of Jesus.

What do you think? Is there anything in the New Testament that justifies support for the death penalty?

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Catholic Church • Christianity • Church • Courts • Culture wars • Death • Ethics • Pope Benedict XVI

soundoff (485 Responses)
  1. Steve

    And looking down God saw what Cain had done, sent an angel of the Lord to slay Cain in justice and retribution.
    Oh wait, God didn't do this. God banished Cain. I guess God does not believe in Capitol punishment either.

    October 10, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  2. margie

    Finally!!! I am so glad someone has finally brought this clear and obvious fact to lite! I'm from the bible belt of Texas and know more hypocrits than "carter has liver pills"! How can anyone be prolife and for the death penalty??? The same as a bible holdin" hypocrit can go to church on Sunday and have affairs or beat his wife the other 6 days a week.

    October 7, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
  3. dudley0418

    How does a Christian support it? By being subject to the laws and those in authority above them. Hebrews, is it?

    October 7, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • anon

      sooo being a willing slave? Also, if it was from hebrews then it is probably referring to how the Jews were always someones scapegoat, or how most of the "world" (cause the bible tends to forget about Asia a lot and how the Chinese could already read and write well before the "Schism" in which some of the Jewish faith left the main flock, this caused the formation of Christian belief.

      October 11, 2011 at 8:59 am |
  4. Joxer the Mighty

    This is definitely a good question. If Jesus taught mercy and forgiveness, why do so many Christians support the death penalty? It is something I have thought very deeply about.

    October 5, 2011 at 6:28 am |
  5. Doris Bradley

    What everyone seems to forget is that the murderer knows the law and the consequences of his actions before he commits the crime. It is his choice.

    October 2, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  6. Matt

    A Christian can support the death penalty because forgiveness requires retribution. A primary element of forgiveness is trying to fix the problem the individual caused by their actions. In the case where one person has murdered another, the only retribution that can be offered is the forfeiture of their own life. Thus the death penalty allows that person to show God he is truly repentant and seeks forgiveness.

    Granted, this is likely not the way the guilty party may feel, but it does not remove the fact that this is the primary reason the whole "eye-for-an-eye" doctrine was initially introduced. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of the death penalty except in heinous crimes. However, I believe it still needs to be around.

    September 28, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
    • Josh

      Talk about trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

      You cannot be a Christian and be pro-death penalty. The Gospel of Christ repudiates it. In the Scriptures, Christ teaches that even though Israel has been taught "an eye for an eye" that they should instead love their enemies, and "bless those who curse you". I'm pretty sure when Jesus said to love your enemy, he didn't mean to kill them. What we have here is a dilution of the Gospel mixed in with popular religion. The whole message of Christ was that he had fulfilled the Law, in other words, everything he did showed the true meaning of Torah and the Scriptures.

      One might ask what we do with murderers and the like then, the Christian answer is to love them. Even if nothing comes of it. The legal answer, is to put them in jail. This is a solution that a Christian can hold to. We can still love them through prison bars, and they can be in a place where they cannot harm others.

      We as Christians often forget that judgement is not ours to dish out. Christ tells us that if we judge others, we ourselves shall be judged by the same measure. And if we cannot forgive others of their sins, we shall not be forgiven of our sins. When we as Christians push for the death penalty, we forget that "vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord". The Gospel of Christ is a Gospel that proclaims the right to life for everyone, even murderers. After all, St. Paul was a terrorist before he was converted. You never know what kind of impact the salvation of a single soul will have on the world.

      October 3, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • Kaci

      I'm no bible scholar, but there is nothing in the new testament about forgiveness requiring retribution. Since the new testament is the new covenant of between God and his people thru Jesus Christ, you cannot reference the "retribution" in the old testament as the basis for your statement. Jesus said after forgiving "... go and sin no more" he didn't say, wait, let me punish you even though I have forgiven you. That's the problem with a lot of people who pull things out of "the dark place" – it has absolutely nothing to do with what the bible actually says or what Jesus says. It really is simple – "thou shalt not kill" means a fetus or a criminal. Don't remember seeing an asterisk on it.

      October 7, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
  7. OlFrog20

    As PRISM 1234 demonstrates, there is ample support for the death penalty _in_ the New Testament, from both Paul [submitting to Roman Empire] and Pharisees [lobbying for the execution of Jesus for blasphemy].

    What is _missing_ is an endorsement of the death penalty by Jesus in the story-line Gospels [Matthew/Mark/Luke].

    September 27, 2011 at 10:05 am |
  8. PRISM 1234

    The ignorance of unbelievers is understandable, but to see such ignorance of Christians here, it's mind boggling. It is no wonder that the world is trampling today's Christians under their feet, just like Jesus said it happens to salt when it loses its flavor. Today American Christianity is saturated with spirit of humanism, and so many are falling in its trap. You can not know the God of love if you deny that He is also the God of justice. Yes, even the worst murderer has the offer of mercy of God, but his crime has to be acknowledged, or else his sins can not be forgiven. And in this life it has to be dealt with, and the penalty has to be accepted. One thing that this one sided Christianity we have now days is doing, is making God of their own imaginations, clinging to the Name of Jesus, but denying the Spirit of Truth, who testifies of who He is, His nature,and His carachter. Look at the whole counsel of the Word of God , and don't take few verses, ignoring others, because in so doing you are making God to be what YOU want Him to be.

    What do you think those words mean?

    "Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. " Rom. 13.

    Here it plainly states that it is the role of government to enforce order and punish criminals. We are not personally to take vengeance, but the law of the land has to be executing justice, inorder to preserve the civilization, peace in society, anf prevent lawlesness...
    Is this hard to understand.? Do you think God of Justice would not require that?

    The Book of Revelations portrays quite different Jesus Christ then today's "emerging" Christianity does. If you spend time reading it, you'll find that it i NOT a poetry book written in allegory!
    One of my posts on Pg. 3 has more on this subject...
    It is a grievous thing to see Christianity so steeped in humans, because It is obvious where it leads too: it's already beginning to denying the existence of Hell, it merges all religions, saying that there ar many pats to God, it accepts unrepentant, practicing h-m-s-e xuals..So, wart then is left?!
    But has been all foretold that it will happen in times before the comming of the Lord. It is up to each one of us that we don't' allow satan to decieve us to fall for the lying spirits that rule this age.

    September 26, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      Correction:
      "It is a grievous thing to see Christianity so steeped in HUMANISM"....

      September 26, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
    • G.

      I would have given you some credit if it weren't for your lack of humility. Read Proverbs to see what Salomon says about 'arrogance', Mr. Know it All.

      October 1, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  9. MaybeAgnosticMaybeNot

    J.W

    That is another reason why a Christian should be against the death penalty. The person will have more time to think about what they did and may become repentant as they are in jail.

    If your read what Christians post on these boards it appears to me they are more concerned with winning an argument than bringing people to Christ. Following that logic they could care less about a murder's soul, even though Jesus would.

    September 26, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  10. MaybeAgnosticMaybeNot

    Let he who is without sin give the first injection.

    September 26, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
  11. J.W

    The only justification of the death penalty is revenge. I do not recall Jesus saying that we should get revenge on the people who do us wrong.

    September 26, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • DamianKnight

      @JW,

      There is a fine line between "justice" and "revenge."

      September 26, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • Chuckles

      @JW

      Disagree,

      I think revenge would be more satisfying to know that a killer who may have killed my loved one is now rotting in jail, and being constantly reminded of the life he stole. Death would only bring him peace whereas living for a while in a cold dark jail cell is far far worse.

      September 26, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • J.W

      When someone is executed we are basically committing one sin to try to correct another. And there have been several cases like this one where it was questionable whether the person was even guilty.

      September 26, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • J.W

      Actually chuckles I agree with you. People do not seem to see it like that though. They think that death is the ultimate punishment. People think that murderers are never remorseful about what they did, but I do not believe that either.

      September 26, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • Chuckles

      Totally read your original posting wrong.

      I actually guess I agree with it, I also wonder how many murderers in jail are remorseful by the end? I don't think it's possible to answer that question, but I would rather give a person 80 years to think on his actions then allow him to die early. What I find most frustrating is if that a person who accepts the death penalty as justice really believes in heaven and hel.l, how would they feel about sending a murderer to heaven if he confessed and repented and all that right before lethal injection?

      September 26, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • J.W

      That is another reason why a Christian should be against the death penalty. The person will have more time to think about what they did and may become repentant as they are in jail.

      September 26, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • Chuckles

      Interesting, 2 sides of the same coin. I think it's ridiculous that a person could and should get into heaven if they've killed someone and repent later on in jail. However, since the overwheming majority favors the death penalty which would stop them from being able to repent and would send them straight to hel.l.

      I on the other hand, not believing there is an afterlife, would rather a person spend years upon years reflecting on their crime(s) and becoming remorseful or repentent before they are allowed to go into the dark oblivion.

      The scary thing is, by my logic and the average capital punishment favoring christian we both agree to a certain extent. We would rather the murderer suffer than get a chance at peace, and yet we fall on two separate sides of the issue at hand.

      September 26, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • Mark

      When we execute a dog which has killed a person, is it "revenge?" The death penalty, which has support from both the Old and the New Testaments, is merely a way of removing from society one who has demonstrated that they do not value the lives of others and thus need to be removed so that they do not kill others. Including fellow prisoners. It may be revenge for some, but for other is it just (as are ALL penalties) and for the good of society. Hence, there is no need to define this as "revenge."

      October 1, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  12. Huw

    "Is there anything in the NT that justifies support for the death penalty"?

    The New Covenant is brought in by the death of Messiah and we are justified by His resurrection. The death sentence was handed down to Adam and in him to mankind. The wages of sin is death and death comes to all men. The manner of our death, as the manner of our birth is predetermined. The Eternal Almighty is glorified in salvation or destruction. The destruction of the unregenerate sinner glorifies His justice and continually establishes His sovereignty. The salvation of a sinner shows forth the glory of His grace. amen.
    You suggest that being under the New Covenant we should not abide by the Old. But the scriptures state that the law is not for the just, but the unjust. The unregenerate cannot claim sanctuary under the New because they are subject to the Old.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:45 am |
    • Freethinksman

      So when you kill someone, God is glorified.

      And we're supposed to respect peoples' faith.

      Not a chance.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:42 am |
    • Chad

      In the New Testament there was a woman caught in adultery. And they were ready to stone her to death. Jesus said he who is without sin cast the first stone as he knelt down and wrote in the dirt. One by one they dropped their stones and walked away til the only ones left were Jesus and the woman. He turned to her and told here that her sins were forgiven and sin no more.

      Christians are called to save lives, not destroy them. Christians should be concerned for the man's standing with God. The more I read the Bible, the more I understand, that we are all owed nothing but death. But God graciously gives us life through Jesus through his love and nothing we do. Jesus forgave the woman then told her to sin no more. It's the freedom from punishment that allows us to live in freedom from sin. When I realize I am forgiven, I am not condemned and the love of Jesus flows through me.

      We need to stop following misconceptions of "Christians" that came before us and start understanding the true word of Jesus Christ.

      I am with sin, therefore I cannot condemn this man.

      September 26, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  13. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    Poor herbie. What a little drama queen.

    September 25, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
  14. Freethinksman

    It all depends on how a Christian chooses to read the bible. The Bible is the perfect tool for justifying most any atrocity conceivable. As soon as a person looks outside themselves for justification of immorality they can find it. Any morally decent person would see that the doubt raised by new evidence should at least warrant a closer examination in the Davis case. The Christian needs only to defend his actions by convincing himself that even if he is wrong, he will be forgiven. The Bible should never be invoked where moral questions need to be answered. It offers whatever answer the seeker seeks, and is immune from civil criticism.

    September 25, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Agreed. To add to your post, the Bible also offers its readers an excuse to condemn other people for any behavior they find objectionable.

      September 25, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  15. karenbeth

    What would Jesus do?
    Do you think that Jesus would inject a prisoner with the death fluids?

    The death penalty is a cognitive disorder of the world. INSANITY!

    September 25, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  16. Bibletruth

    A fetus isnt a human until it can live outside its mother........interesting concept. Maybe "with constant care" should be added to that? And just what is it that makes a killed item in the womb from say a hard and deliberate punch to the stomach area a crime that should be thought of as any more serious than the stealing of a loaf of bread or a candy bar?

    September 25, 2011 at 5:13 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Who said anything about a fetus not being human or alive? The issue isn't when life begins but when rights do. And they don't begin until birth. Your idiotic assertion that causing someone else to abort by punching her in the stomach is a crime and that therefore abortion is a crime is typical of idiots like you.

      You don't get the concept of choice. Try to rub those two brain cells together and figure it out.

      September 25, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Another fallacy of this reasoning is the idea that those who are elderly and unable to care for themselves could be eliminated because they aren't "independent". Bibletruth ignores the fact that the elderly have rights under the law. The issue is not that a fetus is unable to care for itself; the issue is that it can ONLY survive by depending on the body of the woman carrying it until later in pregnancy. The woman, therefore, is the only one who has the right to decide whether to continue the pregnancy or end it.

      If that bothers you, don't have an abortion. Or find a way to transplant fetuses into the bodies of others who wish to carry them. Otherwise, none of your business.

      September 25, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • .........

      spam alert repeat copy paste hit report abuse to all reality postings

      September 25, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Whassamatter, herbie? Reality getting under your skin?

      September 25, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • Reality

      It is very disturbing that we give legal protection to the fer-tilized eggs and the developing young of protected/endangered animal and ins-ect spe-cies but give no legal protection to our own growing young ones.

      September 26, 2011 at 12:37 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Oh, can it. Born children ARE protected under the law. If idiots like you had their way, the moment a woman became pregnant, she would lose all legal rights in favor of the fetus.

      Get a clue, ding-dong.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:07 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      By the way, Reality, when was the last time the female of an endangered species was prevented by law from aborting? Get back to me on that, why don't you?

      After you grow a brain.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:11 am |
    • Reality

      Obviosly, Mom Nature has not provided all of her off-spring with intelligence. She does, however, endow humans with the knowledge on how not to get pregnant and also those mighty words of "Do No Harm" to anyone during their various stages of life to include babies growing in their mother's wombs.

      September 26, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Idiot, there are no 'babies' in wombs. There are fetuses. And women have the right to decide whether or not to continue to carry them to term or not. If you don't like it, tough.

      September 26, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.