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The death penalty (G.G.)

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This is an unfinished opinion article from a user of WikiChristian.


By Graham Llewellyn Grove

An introduction

I'm against the death penalty. The following true story is one reason why.

"I know about you" Kappler said. "People have told me you can't pass a beggar without giving him money, that you will help anyone - Americans, British, Jews, Arabs, all the same. They say you believe in brotherly love."

O'Flaherty looked at Kappler carefully. "It's why I became a priest. What do you want?"

"The American army is closing on Rome now. It won't take them long to get here" replied Kappler. "My wife and family are here. There is no German transport to take them home. If the partisans capture them, they'll kill them. I want you to get them to safety. You know how!"
O'Flaherty was shocked. "No! It is too much to ask! You have sent thousands of families to their deaths, but now you want me to save yours! No. It is the reward of your evil! I will not do it!" O'Flaherty turned and walked away.
In desperation Kappler shouted to the man who might save his family. "It's all a lie! Your God, love, mercy - all lies. You're no different from anyone else."
It was coming to the end of World War II. The Germans were occupying Italy, and Colonel Orbest Kappler was the Nazi Commander of Rome. He had been responsible for deporting 10,000 Italian Jews who were later murdered, and for executing at least 335 Italians in retribution for a bomb that killed 33 Germans. Father O'Flaherty was a Roman Catholic priest. He had hidden Jews and allied soldiers and saved hundreds of lives. He almost lost his own life because Kappler wanted him dead. And now, Kappler was begging him for help. And O'Flaherty knew he must help. Jesus said to "Love your enemies" and "Pray for those who harm you".

Kappler's family did escape to Switzerland. However, Kappler was captured and tried. He was given a life sentence for his crimes instead of the death penalty. He had only one visitor for the next 14 years but that visitor came consistently every month. In 1959, Kappler confessed his sins and repented and he was baptized by his visitor. That visitor was O'Flaherty. Kappler had become a Christian and received forgiveness of sins and eternal life through Christ. Imagine if he had been executed after the war without knowing Christ and forgiveness.

The death penalty, or capital punishment as it is otherwise known, is a topic that creates heated debate among both Christians and non-Christians. Among Christians there is no consensus about whether it is ever justified, and whether our governments should implement it or not. There are no clear trends in attitudes that can be attributed to Christians based on denomination or conservative or liberal beliefs. Whether or not Christians are for or against the death penalty seems to be more related to geography than anything else. Christians in the southern states of America tend to be pro capital punishment, whereas Christians from the northern states of America, Europe and Australia tend to be against capital punishment, although these trends are by no means universal. It's hard even to find trends in opinions of Christians from South America, Asia or Africa.

Bible verses used to support capital punishment

In the last 50 years many countries have abolished the death penalty. The United States is a notable exception (it did have a brief period without the death penalty in the 1970's). In this country there are large numbers of conservative Christians strongly in favour of the death penalty, who claim the Bible supports it. In Genesis 9: 5 God says

And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed. For in the image of God has God made man.

Again in Exodus 21:14

But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death.

However, Exodus 21:15-17 states

Anyone who attacks his father or his mother must be put to death. Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death. Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.

So to be consistent, Christians using these passages in the Old Testament to justify capital punishment should also be in favour of the death penalty for kidnappers and those who curse their parents. They should also take note of Numbers 35: 30 which implies at least 2 witnesses of a murder are required for the capital punishment to be enforced

Anyone who kills a person is to be put to death as a murderer only on the testimony of witnesses. But no-one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.

Reasons against the death penalty - the Mennonite example

Mennonites belong to Christian denomination who fled to the United States in the seventeenth century. They are conservative, biblically based Christians, who seem to live in the past. The Amish Mennonites in Ohio for example, continue to use horse and carts, and do not have the household comforts of modern life. They are also pacifists and will not fight in wars and are opposed to the death penalty. In a declaration of 1965 they urged the Canadian Government to discontinue capital punishment, stating

Since Christ through His redemptive work has fulfilled the requirement of the death penalty, and has given the church a ministry of reconciliation, and in view of the injustice and ineffectiveness of capital punishment as a means for the achievement of the purpose of government, we express our conviction that its use should be discontinued.

Many Christians point out that it is easy to be opposed to the death penalty when it is an abstract principle. The suggestion is that if it was a friend or brother or wife who was murdered, then the anger and bitterness felt would change the views of a Christian opposed to capital punishment. The Christian would then demand that justice is done here and now on earth surely? Consider this story.

In 1957, a man named Cleo Eugene murdered a Mennonite farmer in Ohio. He was caught and tried, and sentenced to die. In an incredible act of mercy, the Mennonite family and community of the murdered man, petitioned the courts to commute the sentence. Their request was granted, and Cleo Eugene lived.

The stance of different denomination and countries on the death penalty

What do different Christian denominations teach about the death penalty?

Generally there are no defined viewpoints. The Roman Catholic Church has been a vocal opponent of it in recent years. Most churches in Europe and Australia oppose the death penalty. Christians attending conservative Protestant churches in the United States are often in favour of capital punishment.

What are the laws in countries with large Christian population?

Country region Death penalty in force

Argentina:                 No 
Australia:                 No 
Chile:                     No 
European Union:            No 
Kenya:                     Informal moratorium 
Russia:                    Informal moratorium 
New Zealand                No
United Kingdom:            No 
United States:             Yes 

Comments

Paradoxically, the most ardent detractors of abortion in the United States are often the most vocal supporters of capital punishment....




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