Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Who would Jesus Execute?

Usually I hate bumper sticker theology and politics. Well, not usually. I still do. But on my drive home I saw this bad boy:

"Who would JESUS execute?"

That got me thinking. Always a bad sign. I thought about Romans 13 and the words of Jesus, and compared the two. My initial thought was that some lines of communication had gotten crossed, and Paul simply hadn't gotten the memo.

Or Jesus was thinking only in a particular context in regards the death penalty, which I'm not certain he ever seemed to mention. I don't want go down the road of claiming "well since Jesus didn't say nothing...", so I'll make a few observations.

First, Jesus didn't seem to say anything about the death penalty, but Jesus didn't say a lot about a lot of things. I don't think it would be wise to really extrapolate such words from Jesus as to promote a political cause.

Based off this, does Jesus become our "trump Paul" card? We don't find much in the Sermon on the Mount about capital punishment, but we do find principles for social justice. Indeed, many Christian pacifists have used the Sermon on the Mount to adhere to their principles. For good reason. I don't find much in that Sermon about the death penalty.

Second, I'm not so sure that Paul's intent in Romans 13 was to convince us about the legality of governments and the death penalty. The principle behind this is verse 4, but it seems to be speaking about earthly authorities. But, Paul brings up "overcoming evil with good" in chapter 12 of Romans,
and "overcoming evil with good." I'm also not convinced that chapters 12 and 13 in Romans are to be read in isolation, as memory seems to indicate that they are all in one paragraph. But, that's not a hill I'm willing to stand on today.

In the words of Karl Barth:
“God does not yield before our encroachments—and when do we not encroach upon His rights? The encroachments of revolution He meets with the sword of government; the encroachments of government with the sword of revolution. And in the fate of both we behold our own destiny—in fear and in pity. The wrath of God falls upon all of us. Upon each one in some way or other the sword is drawn; and it is not drawn in vain. Whether we attempt to build up some positive human thing or demolish what others have erected, all our endeavours to justify ourselves are in one way or another shattered to pieces. We must now assert that all these endeavours of ours not merely cannot be successful, but ought not to be so." (p. 490 of Epistle to the Romans).
There seems to be room for Christians to draw a parallel in Paul's writings in that submission is to bring about peace or healing, or to showcase our lifestyle to be wholly without blame. This would include attempting perfection, and not repaying vengeance. That's up to God. I doubt the myth of redemptive violence, but only because we are the one's who seem very quick to carry it out; especially since God is notoriously patient with us.

At this point, I'm not convinced that the Bible whole-heartedly endorses the death penalty. However, the question of acting in violence to save another life is in question. Part of me wants an evil person to suffer for his crimes. Part of me would probably rejoice in the fact that evil has been extinguished. But what troubles me is that Christ did indeed die for him as well as me. So I will leave that last sentence on the table to temper the finale of this post.

Just because Jesus didn't speak on something doesn't negate whether or not that thing is true or false. We must try to take Scripture as much into account, and thus far, I'm still not inclined to accept the death penalty. But, I haven't taken the option off the table as extreme circumstances and various other passages would suggest it's legitimacy. But everything in me wishes we lived in a world where we didn't need the death penalty. Or pop music. Or hello kitty.

To thinking it through.



  1. This is a topic that hits close to home for me. You see, I was convicted of murder. Long story short, my girlfriend was raped and when the cops failed to do anything I took matters into my own hands. I served ten years in the prison that holds Texas's Death Row where I worked as a janitor. As you can see I have a unique perspective on this issue. I've seen the horror of real violence, and felt the rage of seeing someone I love be victimized. I've talked to men who knew the exact time they would die about Jesus and salvation. Most of the men on death row regret what they did in a way most of you can't imagine. They did something truly evil, yes, but should they be killed for it? I don't think so. I've become one of those pacifist Christians. Violence is evil. Period. We cannot, as Christians, endorse fighting evil with evil and still call ourselves followers of Christ. I think it is time that Christians woke up and actually tried to change the world. " For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God." Romans 18:19-21

  2. Love your thoughts, sir/madam.