Monday, May 12, 2014

Against the Death Penalty

Earlier this month, Al Mohler wrote an editorial on CNN's Belief Blog about why Christians should support the death penalty. There were so many things wrong with this article that I was going to write some of my reactions. Thankfully, Roger Olson (who has FAR more followers than I do) wrote an excellent piece noting the many inaccuracies in Mohler's regularly flawed "logic."

One of my big areas of interest is in transformation and motivation (both of particular interest to both theology and psychology). I'll reiterate what Olson said in response to Mohler: the death penalty does NOT act as a deterrent. While many Christians may say it is a deterrent for them, they also probably wouldn't ever engage in the kind of crimes that would get the death penalty anyway. So who is it really a deterrent for?

This gets into a larger discussion of motivation. Many people (especially fundamentalist Christians) advocate for aversive punishment. While that may work for people who normally follow rules anyway, it's not terribly effective for those who are not necessarily automatically compliant. I would put the death penalty as an aversive punishment. And people who commit crimes to earn the death penalty are likely not terribly compliant. So we need to figure out a different approach.

Hint: Reinforcing desired behavior is the most effective approach for all people. But that means we have to approach people with grace, and why would Christians want to do that?!

This, then, also gets into the idea of transformation and redemption, absolutely central concepts to the Gospel and for me, a much more compelling reason to oppose capital punishment. If central to our faith is the idea that anybody can be redeemed (and ultimately at any time), then we need to give that opportunity. By killing someone, we are essentially stating that there is no hope for this individual. Is that our right? Should we really remove the ability of God to touch this person's life? Or some good to come through this individual? There's plenty of biblical stories about such redemption, transformation, and God using evil for good...

But Mohler and others argue that some people deserve death. We can get into long and drawn-out arguments over who can decide who deserves death. But let's suspend that. Let's assume some individuals do deserve death (frankly, hearing just a synopsis of the crimes the Oklahoma individuals have been convicted of gives me a gut reaction of them deserving death) AND that there is no doubt of guilt. Particularly for those who believe in the penal substitutionary theory of atonement (which Mohler avows), then we all deserve death. Yet because of Christ's sacrifice, we are spared.

If God will grant a pardon from death, why shouldn't we do so, even if death is deserved?

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