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  My Take on the Death Penalty
by J. Grant Swank, Pastor
1
December 2002

This Pastor ponders whether he as a Christian should support the death penalty.


Events and the media have once again brought the death penalty issue to the fore. That should automatically flap a "moral / ethical flag" in the Christian's mentality.

Do we or don't we?

Does the Christian support the death penalty or does he not? In either case, why? And "why?" on biblical grounds--not emotional or opinionated or world-think grounds--but biblical grounds.

Death penalty is a matter that does not call for much deliberation when one considers the revealed Word as our database for conclusion reaching. God has already answered the debate for us; therefore, it is up to the thinking person to reject or receive that divine revelation.

In the Old Testament, God commanded the death penalty in twenty-some cases. This was not because God was barbaric, but because God was civil.

The Israeli twelve tribes had no law enforcement agencies. Further, they were surrounded by barbarisms of strange magnitudes exhibited by neighboring pagan nations.

Consequently, for God to establish an Israeli civil community, He set forth stringent punishments--some being the death penalty. He Himself became, in other words, the Law Enforcement Agency for the new nation of Israel. That chosen community thereby was to model morality / civility to the surrounding nations.

Extremely severe penalties then were commanded by God in order to bring in line an Israeli community which tended to be unruly like its neighbors. If God had been lax in penalties, human nature, being what it is, would have tested gladly the boundaries. But when penalties were severe, human nature thought twice before testing the boundaries, hence the death penalty prescribed by God in some instances.

However, once Israel lost its nationhood by "going a-whoring after other loves", Israel's civil structure disappeared. Israel as a nation lost its temple, its government--that is, its two primary components of culture--religion and politics.

Pagan nations then ruled over the heretofore nation of God.

In this loss was the disappearance of death penalties previously prescribed by God. The death penalty period as dictated by divine revelation, in other words, ended near the close of the Old Testament era.

That is why when Jesus appeared as flesh-and-bones divine revelation, He pronounced, "You USED to say, 'An eye for an eye', but NOW I say to you: LOVE your enemies." Jesus pronounced a civility of love toward one's enemies. "Love your foes, pray for your foes." This was the NEW Testament for it was now a NEW way of dealing with others--all others.

Government was now established primarily within the believer rather than under Israeli kings. "The Kingdom of God is within you." Law was now primarily of the heart. "My law will be written on your hearts." That was the new politic.

Further, the tabernacle was now primarily the human frame: "Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit." That was the new religion.

Therefore, for the New Testament Church Age, it is the law of love toward all--friends and foes. Jesus provided a simply stated ethic. He refused to garble it with amendments.

But, one may ask: "What about these atrocious crimes?" The biblical answer is still the same: love your friends and foes in Jesus.

What kind of Christian love then can be shown to a multiple-murderer / rapist / arsonist / child molester? What kind of Christian love can be meted out to a Hitler?

It is a Christian TOUGH love. TOUGH love keeps the exceptional criminal alive but consigns that one to supervised environs without parole. Hopefully, even that exceptional criminal then may come upon redemption through Christ, yet never be placed in tempting circumstances whereby he again may do OTHERS and HIMSELF harm.

Keeping the individual alive also allows the possibility that, realizing human justice systems to be flawed, that person in truth may be found innocent though originally pronounced guilty. Indeed, the future may prove this to be fact if new evidence is forthcoming. History has case files on those in the aforementioned category.

Reason this moral / ethical situation from God's perspective: Adam and Eve slew God's love when they played loose with Eden's snake. However, God did not slay them. Instead, God banished them to their own solitary isles of remorse, hoping at least for their eternal redemption.

You once slew God's love by going your own stubborn way. In reality, you pronounced yourself Lord of your life. It is a hurtful truth to you now that you are a believer; nevertheless, living once in sin and for sin, you were once that calloused toward your own loving Creator.

However, did God obliterate you? No, instead God searched you out, LOVED YOU EVEN WHILE YOU WERE ENEMY, in hopes of redeeming what was left of your destiny.

He now invites each Christian to live out that same kind of persevering, at-times-tough love toward all others--especially those who are Enemy.

God has already walked for us the path of love-for-foes. We, of all creatures, should know this for sure. Praise be to a loving, merciful God!

He then invites us to join Him on that love path. He has walked it for US. He asks us now to walk it for OTHERS.

Email J. Grant Swank

BIO

Joseph Grant Swank, Jr., Pastor, New Hope Church, Windham ME

Graduate of accredited college (BA) and seminary (M Div) with graduate work at Harvard Divinity School.

Married for 41 years with 3 adult children.

Author of 5 books and over 2000 articles in various Protestant and Catholic
magazines, journals and newspapers. Writer of weekly religion column for
PORTLAND PRESS HERALD newspaper, Portland ME.

Hobbies: Traveling to South America, Europe, Middle East, Canada; writing;
watercolor painting; meeting new friends.

Current occupations: Pastor; Teacher at Alternative Learning School for
at-risk youths.

Pastorates: Calgary, Alberta; Indianapolis IN; Akron OH; Fishkill NY;
Manchester CT; Walpole MA; Windham ME.

Winner of First Prize Writing Contest which yielded a three-week guided tour
of the Middle East.

Columnist for websites: MensNewsDaily.com, IntellectualConservative.com, MichNews.com,
Chalcedon.com, rePUNK.com, ConservativeTruth.com, FreeRepublic.com (USO Canteen Chapel link), WoundedShepherds.com (Insights link).