Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Few Brief Answers

Here's the scenario. You're on a short break at work. Someone comes up to you and wants to know why Mennonites oppose the death penalty, especially when so many other Christians support it. You don't have much time. The boss is walking down the hall. The blinking red lights on your phone are about to induce a seizure. You almost wish for a seizure to get you out of the this tight spot. How do you respond in a minute or less?

Or you're a student between classes and asked the same question, perhaps not very politely. Maybe your interrogator heard about the report you gave in speech class. You know he doesn't want to hear you quote Bible verses, or hear a sermon, not that you have one to give.

You know the church's position on the death penalty. You've even read a book or two on the topic, but right now you're drawing a blank. You need a quick, clear, sensible answer. At the risk of being too "bumper sticker" brief, here are a few possible choices.

1. The death penalty is an act of violence, and there's already too much violence in the

2. Executing the murderer doesn't restore the life of the victim. If it did most people would
be for it. Executions simply create more victims.

3. Executions are expensive, much more expensive that placing a person, even a teenager, in
prison for life.

4. Why promote death? Death comes for us all, sooner or later. For most it drops in much
too early, uninvited and unwelcome. For others it gnaws at the door for months or years
before gaining entrance. Death is inevitable. Why waste resources promoting something
that's inevitable? Our limited resources should be use to promote life, not death.

5. Seeing the death of others as a solution to a problem is the driving force behind the
behavior of terrorists, serial killers, students who shoot classmates, fired, bullied, or
disgruntled employees "going postal," and national leaders trying to control the resources
of another country. Civilized responsible citizens use peaceful solutions to solve problems.

OK, I admit it. The answers are getting longer. So let's slightly adjust the scenario. The person questioning you is a member of a fundamentalist, non-denominational church in suburbia. Like you, he's a Christian, but also a strong supporter of capital punishment. You adjust your responses.

1. I believe that supporting death for anyone is incompatible with following Jesus who said, "I
have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly" (John 10: 10).

2. When asked to support the death penalty, Jesus said, "Let the one without sin cast the
first stone," (John 8:7) thereby establishing sinlessness as the qualification one has to meet
in order to carry out or even support the death penalty.

3. The death penalty has no additional rehabilitative or preventive value not offered by life
imprisonment at a cheaper cost to the taxpayer. It is simply an act of vengeance and
Romans 12:19 says, "Vengeance is mine: I will repay," saith the Lord.

4. Jesus died for the sins of the world, precisely so no one would have to die for their own sins
(John 3 :16). Those who support the death penalty are denying the credibility of Jesus'

5. Christians often use the Old Testament to support the death penalty which is very strange
behavior since there are no Christians in the Old Testament. The Old Testament
injunction, "an eye for an eye," (Ex. 21:24, Lev 24:20, Deut. 19:21), was changed in the
New Testament by the founder of Christianity to orders that as Christians, we must now
return good for evil (Matt. 5 :38-42).

If you think that was hard, now comes the really tough part. Remember that it's more important to hear than to be heard, to understand than to be understood. Patient listening, rather than talking, is more likely to gain you respect. Listening is a good way to develop a friendship and open the door for future communication.

Adapted from an article originally written in the 1990s


Anonymous said...

I must take exception to your item costs over $75,000 a year to house a felon. If you intern a teenager, say 19, and he live to the age of 75, that's $4.2 MILLION dollars! It cant possibly cost that much to execute a criminal. No way....

Leonard Nolt said...

Thanks for your comment. In 2007 New Jersey became the first state to ban the death penalty, precisely because of cost. They had spent 4.2 million on each death sentence, without executing anyone! So the governor communted the death sentences of 10 men on death row to life imprisonment. Yes, although costs vary somewhat from state to state, it does cost more to execute someone than to place a teenager in prison for life. Check this article.
Thanks again for the comment.
Leonard Nolt

Anonymous said...

Leonard, you will never convince me that it takes over 4 million dollars to execute a criminal!!

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