On Faith- Can you be pro-life and pro-death penalty? How does one reconcile these positions?
It is often pointed out, contrary to what most people expect, that there is a positive correlation between being pro-life and supporting the death penalty. Conversely, there is also a positive correlation between being pro-choice and being against the death penalty.
Many people who are pro-choice point this out and talk about the Roman Catholic church’s attempt to have what they call a “seamless garment” approach, which means that if you are pro-life you must also be opposed to the death penalty. I support both the pro-life position and the death penalty and see consistency rather than contradiction in holding these positions. Yet that does not mean that I support, without reservation, the death penalty as it has been and is still often applied in the United States.
I am pro-life because the Bible clearly teaches us that life begins at conception (Psalm 51:5) This truth is supported with ever increasing detail as the science of embryology reveals more and more about the intricacies of human fetal development. The Bible also tells us God is involved when conception takes place (Jeremiah 1:4-5), and that God is involved intimately in the process of maturation and development of a child even prior to birth (Psalm 139:13-16).
In the most sustained passage in the New Testament concerning God’s plan and role for government (Romans 13), we learn that God ordained the civil magistrate to punish those who do evil and reward those who do right.
We also are told, in Romans 13:4, that the civil magistrate bears not the sword in vain. In the original Greek language the word used there for “sword” is the same word used for the type of sword used to execute Roman citizens who were found guilty of capital crimes. Clearly, the Apostle Paul, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, is granting to the civil magistrate the use of lethal force as one of the options available to punish those who do evil--in the case of domestic criminals, the police force, and in war, the military.
Just War theorists have cited this passage for centuries to give biblical justification for the use of government-authorized lethal force in warfare.
If one is going to support the death penalty, one also has to support its just and equitable application. Historically, in the United States we have not justly and fairly applied the death penalty. You have been much more likely to be executed if you were poor rather than wealthy, if you were a man rather than a woman, and if you were a person of color rather than white.
Those who support the continued option of the death penalty as a biblically authorized option in heinous crimes must also work for its just and equitable application. While the imbalance concerning race, ethnicity and sex have been significantly reduced, it still remains true that a wealthy person is much less likely to be executed than a poor person.
O.J. Simpson is perhaps the classic example--a man who most people would accept as being guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of having murdered his wife and another person but was let off because he could hire the best lawyers available. We need to find a way to address that unjust imbalance if we want to continue to support the death penalty.
However, on the other side of the coin, it must be said that people who are pro-life believe that life is sacred, and that when a person, wantonly and premeditatedly takes the life of another person, they have forfeited their right to continued life. And when they are found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by a jury of their peers, they should be executed.
I don’t believe that people have a right to support something that they’re not willing to participate in themselves. If I’m going to support the death penalty, I have to be willing to perform the execution myself. I think of the case of Jessica Lunsford, the 9-year-old Florida girl who was abducted from her home, raped and brutalized in every imaginable way for three days by John Couey, and then was buried alive with her doll. If the state had the chance to give John Couey his lethal injection, I would be comforted by the fact that justice was executed .
The man had forfeited his right to live. And if he had not died from the ravages of his drug abuse before he could have been executed, he should have been executed. The only just sentence for a man committing such a crime was execution.
I believe we should keep the death penalty to be used in heinous cases like this, and in cases of treason and other reprehensible crimes against humanity. I believe this is consistent with my pro-life position.
I believe that people who are pro-life are horrified by a person taking upon themselves the prerogatives of God and wantonly and premeditatedly taking another person’s life. They believe that when a person is found guilty of doing this with premeditation, they have forfeited their right to life in a civilized society.
Richard Land | Sep 15, 2011 10:54 AM