The Bosque Boys are blessed with a host of brilliant friends, one of whom is a noted legal scholar, who happens currently to be investigating the problem of capital punishment and Christianity. In response to an Okie Gardener's "Zacarias Moussaoui, the Death Penalty, and Christianity," I asked "Gossenius" to provide a concise contrasting perspective. Many thanks for this contribution:

Christ and the Death Penalty

In attempting to reconcile the Christian faith with support for the death penalty, the Okie Gardener asserts that he “needs a New Testament warrant, explicit or implicit, to dismiss an Old Testament command.” I certainly agree with that. What I think the Okie fails to consider is that Jesus explicitly condemned the death penalty.

In John 8, Jesus is asked to opine on a lawful execution which is about to occur. There is no suggestion that the defendant was innocent, or that the crime was minor by the standards of that day. Contrary to the Okie’s position, Jesus did not shrug his shoulders, summarily conclude that the death penalty is necessary, and walk away.

Rather, he challenged the gathered crowd: That a person without sin should cast the first stone of the stoning. Famously, no one does. They do not have the moral authority to execute another person, even when the law of man calls for it. Could his teaching be any clearer? Jesus came upon the death penalty, about to be conducted, and stops it. Imagine if he had come upon an abortion about to be committed and condemned it. Wouldn’t that be our first argument in fighting against abortions? Why should we draw a different lesson regarding his direct condemnation of capital punishment?

Of course, there is also the fact that the execution of a convicted criminal is at the very center of our faith—the execution of Christ himself. Can we truly reflect on that killing of the truest of innocents and support the death penalty, a punishment which threatens (and has inflicted) death on those who were innocent of the crime?

Oddly, once Okie dismisses the gospels as a basis of authority, he justifies the death penalty by saying that “a dead murderer cannot kill anyone else.” Zacarias Moussaoui won’t have that opportunity, either, living out his days in the Supermax prison.

But what of general deterrence—the theory that the bare fact there is a death penalty deters some who would kill from doing so. As Albert Camus observed nearly 50 years ago, if we really believed in this, we “would exhibit the heads. Society would give executions the benefit of the publicity it generally uses for national bond issues or new brands of drinks.” Even if executions were public, would they deter murder? Consider this: In early 20th-century England, where public executions were common, 170 of 250 condemned convicts had, prior to their crime, actually witnessed an execution. Some deterrent.

Camus was wise, but he does not settle my mind on the issue, for Camus is not at the center of my faith. Christ is, and his direct condemnation of the death penalty is plenty good enough for me.

--- Gossenius