Thursday, 25 June 2009

Does the death penalty prevent reconciliation with God?

Now on to jc_freak's objections.
Now in the case of the death penalty, rehabilitation clearly does not apply.
I don't see why not in principle. Convince him that he should not murder again.
I think that Christians should no longer support retributive capital punishment. I agree with you that we cannot expect worldly governments to live by Christian principals. Indeed, I agree with you that it may not be wise for Governments to act like churches at all, since, to some degree, governments need to interact with worldly people (war comes to mind as something that Christians should avoid, but governments need to often pursue).
I think God has expectations for governments and that they are best to govern according to God's desires. They will be judged on how they governed. The government is not the church. God has requirements for the church and requirements for government. They need not be the same. The church perhaps should not pursue war, but that doesn't necessarily mean that members of the church cannot fight in war.
But I think that Christians need to avoid supporting the death penalty because of our call to evangelize. We, as Christians, need to remember that when the government kills a convicted murderer, there is a very good chance that that person is going to Hell. This is not something we should pursue, but something that we should be actively avoiding. The longer we can keep those men alive, the more opportunities we have to reach them.... I also understand the principal that the threat of death may cause a criminal to seek salvation, but this also assumes a Christian justice system that actively works to teach criminals the gospel. This we do not have, so the concept doesn't really apply.
But we can still evangelise. The state is required to do her role and the church is required to do hers. I don't think the justice system has to be overtly Christian (though it should be godly) and teach the gospel; I think the church should evangelise within the jails.

But to your main point which is the key to this discussion. Now I agree that we should not pursue men going to hell, but I take issue with your assumption that the longer men are kept alive the more opportunities we have to reach them. This sounds somewhat reasonable but is it true? C.S. Lewis asked the question whether a man condemned to death in 30 days is any less likely to seek God than the man incarcerated for 30 years. And I think Lewis has a valid point. People need to face their own mortality. A murderer who has been caught and knows he is to die in a month is forced to face his mortality. He is forced to look thru to eternity. He is likely to ask if there will be any reckoning for his actions. Whereas the man who gets incarcerated for the rest of his life does not necessarily have these issues placed in such stark contrast. He may adapt to life in prison and continue to live a life avoiding God. I am not convinced that a longer duration of life, even if it gives more potential opportunities to witness, makes a man more likely to respond to the gospel. I wonder if facing a short life may be as or more effective in the path to repentance.

There are a couple of other issues that arose in the discussion. I said
And if a murderer murders in prison, or arranges one from prison, does the state bear some responsibility because they did not execute him. And what of the victims who are hell bound because they died before they heard the gospel
to which jc_freak responded,
Let's take the second one first. If a murderer kills an unbeliever, and that person is hell bound now, then why would that influence the way the now treat the murderer? Should we be less inclined to see that person in heaven? I dont really understand here.
That may be because you separated my comments out.
As far as the criminal killing while in prison, I did say that I support incapacitation as a reason for the death penalty, which is what you are talking about here. If a person is too dangerous to keep alive, then it is understandable to kill him.
Murderers have murdered in prison and they have arranged contract killings from within prison. The point here is that by not executing the murderer after the first crime (so that they may respond to the gospel) we have allowed him to be in a position to murder a second time and the victim of the second murder may not have heard the gospel.

Lastly,
My issue is that not whether the death penalty is present, but why it is present and how it is being used.
Bad laws and misuse of the law—yes those are very real issues, but side issues. We must establish the legitimacy (or not) of the death penalty as a punishment. Is it intrinsically allowable for the state; is it expected of the state? If it is, there may still be reasons to oppose it on pragmatic grounds. Disregard for the law and excessive numbers of innocent people being executed for example.

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