Why I’m Proud (and not so proud) to be Staunchly Against the Death Penalty

Recently my home state has gone on a killing spree of inmates on death row. It has been a painful time. I am against the death penalty. I was raised by parents who were and are anti-death penalty.  I have some good and honorable reasons for holding that stance and some very Christian (yet oddly not that honorable) reasons as well.

When I was a kid, someone was debating with my mom about the death penalty and asked, “If someone raped and murdered Anne, wouldn’t you want them dead?” And my mom answered, “Of course I would, but that wouldn’t make it right.”

It’s not right to kill people. “Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” is an outdated code that, if allowed to run amuck, will leave us with a world full of blind people who can only eat soft food (no doubt the soup and pudding industries would support such a strategy).

I think that every time we take joy (or even satisfaction) in the death of another human (no matter inhumane that human has been), our own hearts harden a little. We become a little less adept at showing compassion and a little less likely to offer forgiveness. And the less forgiveness we offer, the less peace we have and the harder our hearts are likely to become. It’s the slippery slope that leads to a vicious cycle.

So I feel pretty good about the above reasons for being anti-death penalty. A little self-righteous and self-congratulatory, even. But then there’s the other reason. The one I’m not so proud of.

As a Christian, I believe that we all have the opportunity to be forgiven because of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. I believe the capacity of the God who created us and walked among us and conquered death for us is infinite. That means that the serial killer in cell block three has as much access to God’s forgiveness as I do. (On the flip side, it also means I have has much access  to God’s forgiveness as Mother Teresa does. Thanks be to God!)

I don’t like the idea of hastening a heinous criminal’s trip to be with Jesus for all eternity. I want them to suffer here on earth for as long as possible.  And make no mistake, prison is a place people suffer. Anyone who sees incarceration as a cushy gig with a guaranteed cot and three hots has not visited a state prison recently…or ever. I want those who have intentionally ended the lives of others to be as miserable (if not more so) than the people whose lives who been destroyed by the violent death of a loved one. I do not want the perpetrators of violence to be allowed to escape a life sentence in hell via the death chamber.  I sadly join the ranks of many who are able to twist devoutly Christian beliefs into a position that is distinctly un-Christian.

I’ve got some hard places in my own heart that I need to work on softening. I remain committed to ending the death penalty. I wish I could say that it was for all the right reasons.


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