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by Rev. Dr. Robert R. LaRochelle

Bob LaRochelleI wish to begin by stating my fundamental conviction, one that undergirds the convictions expressed in this brief reflection: When exploring questions of ethics, one who calls herself/himself a Christian needs to explore the insights that Jesus brings to the ethical question at hand!
While Jesus does not address capital punishment as such, one does not have to look very far to conclude that, in the life His followers seek to emulate, Jesus advocated nonviolence, redemption, forgiveness, second chances, and God’s abiding mercy, poured out even to those who committed some rather egregious moral actions. Without taking a proof texting approach, one could quite legitimately look to Jesus’ admonitions to love even our enemies, and His insights about the dangers of ‘taking up the sword’, along with His approach to facing His own execution as indicators, that Jesus favored a nonviolent approach to living. It is really difficult to quarrel with these facts.
I find it ironic that so many who espouse literal interpretations of Scripture shy away from citing Jesus’ language and teaching as they defend the use of capital punishment. It is curious that so many states with such large numbers of ‘evangelical Christians’ also have such high rates of executions performed by agents of those states.
The topic of capital punishment can be approached from many different starting points. While I would argue against it on many grounds (lack of effectiveness, danger of executing innocent people, waste of money, etc.), it seems to me that, in this space, we need to limit ourselves to commenting on it in the context of the ethical approach of Jesus. This is not a simplistic  ‘What would Jesus do?’ (WWJD) approach, as we understand that God allows us free will to make free, informed ethical decisions.
However, it IS an approach that takes into consideration that in our moral decision making, if we call ourselves Christians, we need to turn to Jesus and examine his SPIRIT and the ethical orientation of His life. In other words, I think that if you want to argue in favor of capital punishment, it is pretty hard to cite the example and the teachings of Jesus as sources through which you will defend your position.
If you are going to endorse the death penalty, I think, even though I would disagree with you, that you would make a better case talking about it in terms of deterrence or in some broad, general moral terms not connected, than you would if you were, at one and the same time, claiming that you seek to follow Jesus’ ethics and that you also support capital punishment.
It strikes me as problematic that so many Christian conservatives, so deeply troubled with same sex marriage and other ‘signs of the secularization of America’, are so comfortable running away from that victim of capital punishment himself, Jesus, the One we as Christians espouse as our Lord and even our Savior as well….
I invite your comments and our dialogue….

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  1. LaRochelle finds “it ironic that so many who espouse literal interpretations of Scripture shy away from citing Jesus’ language and teaching as they defend the use of capital punishment.”
    I am not sure why he finds this ironic as he starts his article by admitting that “Jesus does not address capital punishment as such.” So is it really that surprising that whose who believe the Bible is the word of God would base their view of Capital Punishment on those passages that addressed Capital Punishment, rather than trying to justify a believe that conflicts with those passages by inferring a position from passages that don’t?
    So conservative Christians are not running away from Jesus when they accept what the Bible says about Capital Punishment, or same-sex marriage for that matter, they are simply accepting what they believe the word of God is teachings.

  2. Hi Elgin: My point is that Jesus exemplified nonviolence all the way to his death. He even admonished those who would seek to use the sword in his defense to put it away. Jesus called on His followers to turn the other cheek. It is very hard to cite Jesus in defense of the death penalty. Among all the teachings and examples in Scripture, those of Jesus have highest priority….Bob

    1. Bob
      What you label as non-violence are really statements of submission and acceptance which make perfect sense in their context but make no sense when applied to the criminal Justice system, and worse if applied universally.
      Luke 6:29 says “If someone strikes you on the cheek, offer him the other one as well, and if someone takes your coat, don’t keep back your shirt, either.” Should we take this then to mean that if a man’s wife is raped, he should offer the rapist his daughter as well? Of course not.
      Ultimately the problem I have is how you restrict this to the death penalty. Why not all punishment. It cannot be an appeal to non-violence because Government’s power is grounded in violence, or at least the very real threat of violence. If you do not comply, the level of violence will be increased until you do.

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