Evangelicals & the Death Penalty
Is it hypocritical for Evangelicals to passionately advocate the sanctity of life in the womb and simultaneously support the state sponsored taking of a human life? I have personally known many a people, to include several professing Evangelicals, who would take such a position. I have personally witnessed Evangelicals bombastically attempt to point out the hypocrisy of believing in capital punishment while being against abortion. This blog article seeks to illustrate why it is both morally proper and biblically necessary that Evangelical maintain a pro-life and pro-capital punishment theology.
This topic reignited my curiosity as I was watching the story of Theodore John Kaczynski, aka The Unabomber. Kaczynski was able to allude police capture for well over sixteen years before his capture in 1996. Kaczynski was able to do so in large part to his mental prowess; Kaczynski possessed an IQ of 167. He was a Harvard-educated National Merit finalist and mathematics prodigy. Who knows how long he would have continued to avoid detection save for his brother making the courageous decision to alert the FBI of his suspicion? The beginning of Kaczynski eventual capture was his arrogant decision to demand the posting of his manifesto in select major newspapers to refrain from an escalation of his mailing bombs to unexpecting citizens.
With a bit of Shakespearean irony Kaczynski’s own brother was able to recognize his brother’s writing style in the manifesto and subsequently notified the FBI. This led to the eventual arrest of Theodore John Kaczynski but what makes this story of theological significance for thinking Evangelicals is Kaczynski’s brother disagreement with the U.S. government’s decision to pursue the death penalty for the elder Kaczynski’s heinous crimes.
If there ever was a crime that rose to the level of worthiness of the ultimate punishment sanctioned by the state it was this one. Between 1978 and 1995, Kaczynski killed three people and injured 23 others in his flawed attempt to start a revolution by conducting a nationwide bombing campaign targeting people involved with modern technology.
But the question still remains if Evangelicals are so keen on postulating that every human life is sacred (and it most certainly is) and worthy of dignity at every point on the life continuum from conception to natural death (amen & amen) would it not be a total contradiction to be in favor in capital punishment. It would appear that is exactly the type of ideology espoused by Kaczynski’s younger brother, David Kaczynski.
David Kaczynski certainly felt a moral obligation to share his suspicions about his brother to the authorities. While that was certainly a most painful decision, David Kaczynski apparently understood the additional loss of human life was something he was not willing to have his conscience endure, and for that Evangelicals should be ever grateful. Yet, despite the mayhem his elder brother foisted upon society David Kaczynski still expressed his extreme displeasure with the federal government’s decision to seek the death penalty as the appropriate punishment for his brother’s crimes.
Some might question (and many most certainly do) how does taking a life morally address the criminal actions of someone like Kaczynski? They might say, “Aren’t we taught two wrongs don’t make a right? Even other would say, “Aren’t Evangelicals supposed to turn the other cheek?” Others would interject, “Does not the Bible enjoin Evangelicals that vengeance belongs exclusively to God (Romans 12:9)?”
Despite all of these maxims being true Evangelicals still postulate Theodore John Kaczynski, based on all of the evidence, was appropriately given the death penalty. Evangelicals do so without any sense of contradiction to their opposition to abortion because Capital Punishment is the legal, moral, ethical and biblical taking of a life created in the very image of God. Capital punishment is reserved for only the most serious of crimes. In fact, the reader would be immensely thankful that I am not God because I would have included far more offenses in the column.
Conversely, abortion is none of these things. Abortion is the wanton disregard for the sanctity of human life, life possessing the exact image of God that Adam possessed, yet now marred by sin. Abortion is pure evil and one of the greatest ills committed in this country. The late great theologian RC Sproul called abortion, “The number one ethical issue that this nation has ever faced.”
Since Roe v. Wade over 61 million baby girls and boys have been slaughtered in the womb. As I type those words a mix of emotions start to arise within in my soul. More than the atrocities of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and a host of others combined is the evil committed by citizens of what some naively believe is or once was a Christian nation. Bafflingly, many, sadly even within the professing Evangelical community, people give their political support to the Democratic Party who celebrate the women’s right to choose, the right to terminate a life that was created by the God of the Universe.
Capital punishment is grounded from a clear and explicit reading of both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament specifies 36 capital offences including crimes such as idolatry, magic and blasphemy, as well as murder. The New Testament is equally clear with the classical passage which speaks directly to the matter found in Romans 13:1-4.
One of the great Christian minds of the church’s past, Augustine, contributed this to the discussion
The same divine which forbids the killing of a human being allows certain exception, as when God authorises killing by a general law or when he gives an explicit commission to an individual for a limited time.
Since the agent of authority is but a sword in the hand, and is not responsible for the killing, it is in no way contrary to the commandment, ‘Thou shall not kill’ to wage war at God’s bidding, or for the representatives of the State’s authority to put criminal to death, according to law or the rule of rational justice. Augustine, City of God
Let me absolutely state my thesis: God endorses and gives license to the employment of Capital Punishment. He decrees capital punishment as the appropriate response to an individual taking the life of another person with malice and forethought as opposed to acts of passions or with no premediated or intent (see Genesis 9). Other actions such as kidnapping and blatant disrespect were also included yet due to the New Testament Evangelicals understand we would no longer include these offenses.
Abortion, on the other hand is the unlawful taking of a life created in the very image of God. Abortion finds it source in the very father of lies and the perpetrator of murder: Satan. As with much we will either align ourselves with God, the true source of all good, true and beautiful or we will remain slaves to the darkness. After all the hand wringing and public discourse it really boils down to these choices.
Evangelicals, one of the needs for our day is to be consistent. One of my spiritual mentors impresses upon the necessity of even when we are found to be incorrect on a matter the source not arise from inconsistency in our thinking. That requires skills like abstract thinking and critical thinking. Both, apparently in short supply in society but more importantly in the professing Church. Please note two crucial reality:
1) It is a SIN to incorrectly interpret the Word of God. Study to show thyself approved (2 Timothy 2:15) is an imperative. Failure to conform is in plain terms a sin as is our failure to conform to any of God’s directives
2) We are commanded to love God with all of our minds, a sobering command as our minds are often fixated on our navels, our pleasures, our earthly pursuits but rarely the deep things of God. We can quote the lyrics to a Beyoncé or Taylor Swift song of no lasting consequence, but many can’t recite the Ten Commandment or even in secular terms speak intelligently about the constitution of the Supreme Court or the process required to impeach the President of the United States, but I digress from my experiences teaching in the public schools.
David Kaczynski got half of it correct but theology is not horseshoes so getting it close is never the target. Sin is pictured in the Holy Writ as missing the bullseye. The Bible can be understood as either Law or as Gospel. Since the requirement to live in eternal bliss with the very God of creator is perfect adherence to the Law man is utterly devoid of any hope. That is where Evangelicals understands God steps in as the Divine Rescuer & Rescuer. God is both just and the justifier: “It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26) [emphasis mine].”
The demands of life require I bring this blog to a close. I reiterate it is not logical or morally inconsistent for Evangelicals hold to a fervent defense of a pro-life agenda and still simultaneously advocate for an aggressive death penalty worldview. One word of caution, I adhere fully to a “it is better to left ten guilty men go free than one man be falsely imprisoned or killed” legal mindset but I still nonetheless advocate for an aggressive death penalty mindset.
Why? Simply and exclusively because I am convinced that is the mind of God in the matter. To the degree I am correctly understanding God’s revelation I care not about opinion polls or the culture embrace or rejection of the necessity to implement Capital Punishment to those who do not adhere to the laws of the land as the law of the lands find their source the very throne room of God.
Let me know what you think about my thesis concerning the juxtaposition of Abortion and the Death Penalty. Until then, Keep your Hands to the Plow and Seek to Serve for an Audience of One!