Why I Oppose the Death Penalty

Death Gurney My primary objection to the death penalty is theological. Killing for vengeance does not reflect the God revealed in the Bible. In Deuteronomy  32:35 God says, “To me belong vengeance and recompense.” Leviticus 19:18 adds, “You shall not take vengeance . . . but love your neighbor as yourself.”  Similar themes recur frequently in the Old Testament.

Jesus himself as asked to rule in a death penalty case.  His response: “Let one without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:7).

For those who see capital punishment as a way of upholding the sanctity of life, I suggest that Christ’s death on the cross, itself an application of capital punishment, overrules the idea that shedding blood testifies to the sacredness of life.  Christ died that others might live.  He took the places of the guilty and of the enemy, including the murderer Barabbas.  Christ died for all.  “Unless we believe that every person, whether murderer or not, is redeemable and must have the chance to be redeemed, there is no real gospel” (Howard Zehr).  Reconciliation with God and with humanity is at the heart of Christian hope.  When the Sate executes, it kills that hope.

There are many other reasons why I oppose the death penalty. Here are a few:

  • Maintaining the legal machinery of death and carrying out executions costs taxpayers a staggering amount of money.
  • There is no scientific evidence that the death penalty actually deters crime any better than long prison sentences.
  • The very real possibility of executing the innocent exists – especially in Florida
  • Minorities and the poor are most likely to receive the death penalty.  As Florida Governor LeRoy Collins put it, “Most who are killed are poor and friendless.”
  • The death penalty is applied randomly and capriciously – influenced more by politics  and the  quality of legal counsel than by the even application of “justice for all.”
  •   The death penalty puts the U. S. in embarrassing association with the few countries that cling to it.  Only three countries execute more prisoners than we do – China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.  We belong to a notorious club of human rights abusers.  More than 128 nations have abandoned capital punishment in law or practice.
  • Life without parole is a sensible (and more economical) alternative to death.

There is no denying that most of the people on Florida’s Death Row have done terrible things.  Like familiar murderers in the Bible, Cain, Moses, David, and Paul, they deserve punishment.  God, however, did not sanction the execution of those offenders.  Instead God showed them the mercy that is one of the chief attributes of God.

 I don’t expect the State to change its laws to accommodate my theological objections, but I do plan to keep saying that the death penalty is morally wrong and terrible public policy.

About Brant Copeland

I was born in Brownsville, Texas, grew up in San Antonio and in Lake Charles, Louisiana. I'm the pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Tallahassee, Florida.
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