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    An Eye for an Eye

    Should Christians support capital punishment? January 24, 2012 by Dani Shaw
    Filed Under:
    Opinion & Critical Thought
    Capital punishment strikes me as fundamentally flawed. Killing a person to send the message that killing is wrong seems contradictory at best and hypocritical at worst. The fact that executions are pre-meditated, and corrections officials or private citizens are paid to carry them out, makes them seem all the more heinous. What goes through the mind of an executioner as he or she administers a lethal injection or activates the electric chair? Does he believe the condemned prisoner is a threat to society who deserves to die? Or does she see the humanity of someone who made a terrible mistake, often decades earlier, and who may no longer pose any threat to society?

    Capital punishment has been abolished in most of the Western world. According to Wikipedia, only the United States and Belarus continue to practise capital punishment, and Latvia has reserved the death penalty for war time. By contrast, the death penalty is practised in 14 out of 54 African nations as well as 24 of the 55 Middle Eastern and Asian-Pacific states. And although the United Nations has called for a moratorium on the death penalty, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights does not mandate its complete abolition. Rather, it requires states that have not abolished the death penalty to restrict it to the “most serious crimes.”

    In the Middle East and parts of Africa, adultery is often considered a “most serious crime,” punishable by death by stoning. These executions are especially troubling, not only because they are savage and barbaric, but also because the legitimacy of the allegations made against the accused and the fairness of their trials are often called into question.

    By contrast, the United States tends to reserve capital punishment for murder. The story of Troy Davis, a Georgia man who was executed on September 21 despite maintaining his innocence, revived public debate about the death penalty. Davis was sentenced to death for the 1989 murder of a 27-year-old off-duty police officer. At the time of sentencing, he was 22. He spent the final 20 years of his life fighting both his conviction and his sentence. His execution date was set and postponed three times along the way. Unlike other death-row inmates who often have lengthy criminal records and a history of violent crime, Davis had only one prior conviction of carrying a concealed weapon. For that, he was fined $250. Despite multiple appeals, a constitutional challenge, widespread public support as well as the support of prominent international leaders such as Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Davis' conviction and sentence were upheld.

    How should Christians respond to these situations? We cannot simply ignore crime in our communities. And not all accused are innocent. Too many people get caught up in a life of crime, committing increasingly dangerous and violent acts. Some of them are a genuine threat to the safety of others, whether to fellow criminals or innocent bystanders. In some cases, it can be very difficult to show compassion.

    Salvation Army positional statements on capital punishment reflect the diversity of views and the complexity of our own spiritual heritage on this issue. While each and every territory affirms the belief in the sanctity of human life and the possibility of redemption, they do not universally condemn the death penalty. The Australian territories' positional statement unequivocally asserts that “Salvationists do not support the death penalty.” By contrast, the Canada and Bermuda Territory and the United Kingdom Territory with the Republic of Ireland acknowledge that there are Salvationists who firmly believe in the state's right to execute and the moral acceptability and deterrent effect of capital punishment.

    How do we resolve this dilemma? The Salvation Army has resolved it by choosing not to advocate for the continuation or reinstatement of the death penalty and by continuing to minister to families of both victims and offenders.

    Outside the Church, George Clooney may have resolved the dilemma best. Playing a presidential candidate in the movie The Ides of March, Clooney's character gives the following answer when asked about his views on capital punishment and what he would do if someone killed his wife. “If I could get to him, I would find a way to kill him … I would commit a crime for which I would happily go to jail.” When asked, “Then why not let society do that?” Clooney's character responds, “Because society is supposed to be better than the individual.”

    Dani Shaw is a lawyer, a former political advisor to the prime minister and the federal minister of health, and a long-standing member/observer of The Salvation Army's Social Issues Committee.


    On Monday, August 27, 2012, Lorna Rogers Simard said:

    As I said, I am agnostic on the question of capital punishment. I understand the gospel is about love and forgiveness, but I also have read of murderers who want to be put out of their misery and beg to be executed. some on death row come into relationship with God and want to be released from the emotional and psychological pain of the earthly life to live with the Lord forever. They want to pay in this way for their terrible crimes. Some people would argue that the loving thing to do is to release them from their state of existence. Some Christians argue that God will judge them in perfect justice, knowing all the details of their damaged and scarred lives. Sometimes for some people, living is worse than dying. Some people would say they have lost their humanity, or that the image of God is destroyed totally in them - perhaps the Holy spirit has left them.

    I can see both sides of the argument and cannot come to a definitive conclusion on this issue. In this life we see through a glass darkly but in eternity we will understand clearly. Meanwhile I think every Christian has to live and abide by what they think is right.

    I think it's also important to bear in mind that what is the loving thing to do is not always clear and is also complex and difficult to determine.


    On Monday, August 27, 2012, Douglas Smith said:

    I am somewhat surprised at the equivocal nature of the Canadian positional statement on capital punishment as the international position adopted by the IHQ in 1996 is quite clear as follows:

    The Salvation Army believes in the sanctity of all human life. It considers each person to be of infinite value, and each life a gift from God to be cherished, nurtured and preserved.
    The Army believes that forgiveness and transformation are possible for each human being, regardless of his / her past. Christ’s death is redemptive for all who have faith, making it possible for the worst of offenders to find new life in Christ Jesus if they are truly repentant. Long experience in rendering service within the criminal justice systems of many lands, and in ministering to both offenders and victims, and to their respective families, has confirmed the Army’s belief in the possibility of forgiveness and redemption for all through repentance toward God, faith in Jesus Christ, and regeneration by the Holy Spirit.
    Because of these beliefs, it would be inconsistent for the Army to support efforts to continue or restore capital punishment. While agreeing that wrongdoing should be adequately dealt with, Salvationists do not support the death penalty.

    Approved by I.H.Q November 1996 (end quote).

    Christianity is a religion of love and forgiveness with the law of the Old Testament replaced by the law of love of the New. We in the Salvation Army particularly believe in redemption for the whosoever. In this context I cannot understand Christians support the use of the death penalty.

    On Saturday, March 17, 2012, Lorna Rogers Simard said:

    Years ago as a student such ethical debates were interesting and as a good debater I could well argue either side of the debate, but later in my life the debate took on a more personal element for two reasons:
    1. Five years into my high school teaching career I had to testify at the murder trial of a student in my homeroom class. It was my first time in court ever in my life – it was a daunting experience and I can remember reflecting after I testified that it would have been even more difficult if I knew this 18 year old boy was headed for execution if convicted. He was found guilty and he was guilty, and was given a life sentence, 25 years without parole. But from the viewpoint of a person who has testified at a murder trial, it is an extremely difficult experience and if there was the spectre of execution looming, I'm sure it would be even more difficult for people who are called to give testimony.
    2. The debate was to take on an even more personal element when my one and only sibling was murdered 10 years ago this year – savagely and brutally beaten to death on a beach in Maine July 31st , 2002. He was murdered by a group of drunken people whom he bravely fought off single handedly, the police believe, for about 20minutes with his skull cracked from alcohol bottles being broken over his head and his brain hemorrhaging. I don't speak of these details often and dare not think about it often, but according to the testimony of the murderers, he was screaming for help and to shut him up they stuffed his mouth with sand thus asphyxiating him. One might expect that this might solidify my views on this debate – it doesn't.

    Two of the four drunken people were charged with first degree murder with depraved indifference. I have confronted those two murderers in court and delivered impact statements at their sentencing hearings. They are terrifying people and it is so awful to think that the last people my brother saw on this earth were filled with such anger. I gave all four of the killers Bibles with their names engraved on them and for the two going to jail, I presented binders filled with impact statements from family and friends and suggested they could read these letters while in prison.

    Due to problems in the case due to perjury and the way forensic evidence came in, the trials were called off the night before they were to begin and plea agreements were offered. Killer#1 did 85% of 5 years and was released in 2007. Killer #2 did 85% of 10 years and will be released this July 30th, 2012, almost 10 years to the day of the murder.

    Having had a loved one murdered I can say that there is never justice for a life taken, and I don't believe execution would alter this. I don't have a position in this debate on capital punishment, but I would just throw out some questions to think about:
    1. Although the whole Bible is God's inspired word, as Salvationists do we not also believe that it contains progressive revelation of God with the closest to God's full image being seen in the earthly life of Jesus? Therefore while the OT calls for execution for the capital offence of adultery, Jesus says to the woman found in adultery, “Go and sin no more”. Would not this response also apply to the capital offence of murder?
    2. What is more loving and more humane - to execute someone or to require them to live many years confined in prison?
    3. The important thing is for all people to come into relationship with God through the forgiveness of sins. Does execution preclude that? No, not necessarily, because there are stories of death row prisoners who have sought forgiveness before their executions and have actually asked to be executed knowing they have been forgiven and will soon be with the Lord.
    4. Who is willing to be the executioner? It would seem to me that if a society supports capital punishment for murder, then any citizen in that society should be able to fulfill the role of executioner. I'm not sure I could do that.
    5. Would society not save a lot of tax money by executing? Of course.
    6. Is capital punishment a deterrent? Given that most murders are committed under the influence of alcohol or drugs I would suggest that the brain is incapable of thinking of deterrents under the influence.

    Just to say I am agnostic on the issue of capital punishment – I just truly don't know. But my testimony is that God has been our strength throughout all the grief and horror that our family has had to deal with and through all the legal proceedings which sometimes seem endless. Also the support of our Salvation Army friends will always be remembered, including the local Corps Officers (the Pelletier's) in a small town in Maine who prayed with our family and sat with us in court the first time we had to confront the first of my brother's killers. As I ended my eulogy at my brother's funeral - “May glory be to God in and through the murder of my brother Derek Kenneth Rogers.”

    On Tuesday, February 28, 2012, Jeff said:

    This is a quote taken from this webstie about our positional statements.
    "Positional statements are not binding on individual Salvationists, but are published for their guidance, and for the information of the general public." I think Capt Lublink and others are fine to openly disagree with the statement.

    On Tuesday, February 28, 2012, Donald Jefcoat said:

    Capt Lublink there is in the officer covenant the line "to love the unloveable" murderers could be classed as some one you may or may not choose to love. I would veiw them to be unloveable or hard to love. However your opinion is yours and mine is mine. God Bless you as minister the love of God to those in your charge through ministry.

    On Tuesday, February 28, 2012, Jon said:

    Captain Lublink,

    I appreciate your decision to pull out of the argument. I think it may be for the best. As a theology student, however, I must remind you that scripture verses can also be "cherry-pick[ed]" to support capital punishment. Is that not what you did when you supported Bob's comment or used verses from John and Romans as examples? In other words, Juan's statement speaks volumes. Let us all take ten steps back to remember that we could often use the Bible to justify numerous claims if we do not take our current situation into account along with the historical context of each biblical statement or argument.

    At times, it is essential to speak out on controversial topics; however, when you do, you must anticipate all sides of the argument and never assume from the beginning that your own interpretation of scripture is best.

    I think my main issue with your position statement is that you did not even begin to provide scriptural, doctrinal, or theological support for your initial comment: "In all conscience I support capital punishment. I believe our government is morally and ethically responsible to protect its citizens from violent offenders." In addition to not providing scriptural support, it appears that you did not think of the consequences of an officer speaking out on the subject without justification for the statement. By this, I mean that your words could be seen by some who do not pay attention to the article in question as an official position of the Salvation Army. This would then potentially cause problems for the Army's restorative justice and social justice programs.

    I do, however, respect your position and understand that we have opposing views. Opposing views are essential for advancing the faith.

    Best wishes.

    On Friday, February 24, 2012, Jac said:


    DNA has definitely increased the accuracy at which violent crimes are solved, but there is still room for error however small that would be.

    On Friday, February 24, 2012, Major/ Capt P Lublink said:

    I think I am going to gracefully pull out from this conversation, but I want to give it a couple of last thoughts. A recent documentary by BBC - found on the web - stated that that Christians who believe that the Bible is the literal word of God were more likely to be in favour of the death penalty than members of other religions. From this statement, it is obvious then that Christians are divided on the issue and that it is therefore incorrect to state that a reason to reject the death penalty is found in Scriptures. Secondly, as the article above states very well, the Salvation Army positional statements reflect the diversity of views within the denomination - to me this includes officers and soldiers. There is nothing in my officers' covenant which prohibits me from accepting capital punishment as a valid form of punishment for murders.

    To those who do not support capital punishment and who claim biblical support, I don’t think it is ever a good idea to cherry-pick verses from the Bible to support a claim. We should very rarely make things about this verse or passage versus this verse of passage - we need to look at the whole of Scripture and to look at the spirit of Scripture.

    Some Christians accepts capital punishments, some don't. Each view must be respected and debated respectfully.

    Best regards

    On Friday, February 17, 2012, Donald Jefcoat said:

    Capt your answer to finding a reason to reject the death penalty lies in two places one is you officers covenant the other is the the bible. The covenant is to love the unloveable, the bible says to love our enemies. (sorry I dont have my bible beside me to look it up to provide you excact scritpter location). My simple is how can murdering a person that we veiw as an ememy equate to loving them?

    On Friday, February 17, 2012, markbraye said:

    both Jac and Juan make great points.

    we should very rarely make things about this verse or passage versus this verse of passage. look at the whole of Scripture. look at the spirit of Scripture.

    for me, the words of Christ from the Sermon on the Mount and the story found in John 8 are important to the issue of capital punishment.

    in John 8 Jesus was confronted with a situation that called for the death penalty. his response speaks volumes.

    On Thursday, February 16, 2012, Capt PR Lublink said:

    Hi Jac. One reason capital punishment was eliminated in the 1960s was exactly because of the chance we were wrong and that the person being executed was in fact innocent. Times have changed however with DNA testing and there are times now when there are absolutely no doubt that the person being punished is guilty. If I am not mistaken it was DNA testing that proved David Milgard innocent.

    On Thursday, February 16, 2012, Jac said:

    Juan says it right when he says we cannot cherry pick verses of scripture to support the claim, whether for or against.
    I'm not sure I think the Bible addresses the issue of capital punishment in the way we are describing here. I do think however if we want to use verses of scripture to argue for it, then we all would be dead.

    Forgive me though for stating the obvious, because for me the issue is as simple as what if we're wrong? James Driskell, David Milgard being 2 cases I can think of off hand.

    On Wednesday, February 15, 2012, Capt PR Lublink said:

    I would call myself a soft-core proponent of capital punishment and I am not trying to convince others. I could be convinced that capital punishment is wrong, but so far I have not found any arguments to change my mind. Certainly, our society today regards all life as being sacred - but I can't find convincing biblical support for this, only isolated verses thrown here and there. In ages past, community life was considered sacred where each person contributed to the wider society. Those who committed heinous crimes were judged and punished accordingly - sometimes this involved capital punishment for the good of society.

    On Tuesday, February 14, 2012, Shoeless Joe said:

    In numbers 15:32-36 "A Sabbath-Breaker put to Death" Does the Lord believe in Capital Punishment? Verse 35 Then the Lord said to Moses, "The man must die,The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp." So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the Lord commanded Moses.

    Makes me think......Hummm.........

    On Thursday, February 2, 2012, Juan said:

    I must admit that I am somewhat surprised by the number of people in this part of the world who still adopt a capital punishment mindset. Without passing judgment on which viewpoint is the right one for a Christian to adopt, I would suggest that there seems to be lack of empathy and understanding here for those who commit the crimes - the prisoners whom William Booth said he would fight for?

    I am not suggesting that these individuals should not be punished for their crimes or that society should not be protected. It is inaccurate though to paint these crimes as if an individual just made the decision to go out one day and kill another individual, perhaps to just get 3 square meals a day or a color TV. Just ask yourself: is it likely that any of the people posting here on this article are going to commit a murder tomorrow or next week or even have any real potential for that type of violence. No, it is not likely going to happen. But we view others through our own personal lens. "We wouldn't just decide to kill someone, so these people shouldn't either", we rationalize, "but they did and now they must be punished". It is a very naive outlook for Christians, particularly Salvationists (who are supposed to have a heart for all people, especially society's outcasts), to have.

    What about consideration of the medical and scientific studies that have been conducted on the brain function of violent criminals? Are some people pre-disposed, or at least more likely, to offend than others based on biological matters alone? What about the psychological and psychiatric reasons why a person commits crimes? Importantly for The Salvation Army, what about sociological context? How do our communities and neighbourhoods influence crime rates? Should the Army be focusing more on making our communities and society more healthy (i.e. kingdom building) so these things happen less rather than solve the problems with lethal injections? It seems to me there is an opportunity here for a SA response to this matter that is appropriate to the reason why we were raised up. Promoting capital punishment doesn't seem to me to be it. As someone who oversees a SA corrections program, I have learned that these issues are not so simple. More importantly, I've learned that these criminals are real people.

    PS - I don't think it is ever a good idea to cherry-pick verses from the Bible to support a claim. The Bible needs to be examined in its overall context. On the same hermeneutical principle used above, I could also argue for the death penalty for those who: curse (either God or parents), practice withcraft, worship another god, or even pick up sticks on Saturday! Every Canadian who has ever played a game of shinny before Hockey Night in Canada is doomed!!!

    On Tuesday, January 31, 2012, Royal Senter said:

    I strongly believe that here are many who deserve the death penalty. I have no doubt that the Bible makes that point clear though I won't try to make the case. That being said, I think that the whole point of the Jesus' coming into the world and dying for our sins was that we no longer must be subjected to what we deserve. "The wages of sin is death," and that applies to all sin. Jesus' death fulfills that holding out the hope of salvation for all, even those that are thought of as "the scum of the Earth" for committing some truly horrific crimes.

    On Monday, January 30, 2012, Capt P.R Lublink said:

    Hi Donald. I'm really sorry I offended you with my comments. I trust though you will understand that everyone has the right to their opinions and the right to be respected for them. As stated in Dani's article "there are Salvationists who firmly believe in the state’s right to execute and the moral acceptability and deterrent effect of capital punishment". I guess I am one of those salvationists!

    Those Christians who advocate the death penalty sometimes quote from Romans 13 and John 19: 10-11. Christian nations have applied capital punishment for centuries - were they misreading Scriptures then? I don't believe so. Am I fully qualified to discuss this matter? Probably not - and I welcome different perspectives.

    I don't' understand your comments about discussing discussing controversial issues - the reality is that the magazine "Salvationist" has published this article with the opportunity for anyone, including officers, to express their opinions in an attempt to better understand the issues at hand.

    On Friday, January 27, 2012, Donald Jefcoat said:

    Captain Lublink when I was in College we taught over and over in the helping field that our opinion on controversial topics should never be discussed. I see why. I find it repulsive that a leader in an organization that prides itself on helping people would make the statement they advocate for death of a living being.

    Here is a question for you Captain. When did we receive authority from God to condemn a person to death? Even Satan was denied that. It is our job to minister even to our enemies and to bring no harm to them. In my humblest opinion sir I would rather be stoned in the town square then to kill a person. And I would rather show that person the truth and the way. And I don't think a good nation goes around killing people as a punishment and our nation has felt that capitol punishment be removed as a discipline option.

    On Friday, January 27, 2012, Capt P.R Lublink said:

    Mark, in answering your question to me - I would refer you to Bob's comments above. Capital punishment is a consequence of a person thinking they can take another life's without fear of consequence. Sorry, I don't buy any of Dani Shaw's arguments against capital punishment. It is interesting that this discussion is taking place at this time when the Internet tells us of a case in the US where a criminal on death row is boasting that he will now enjoy the next few years watching colour TV and three wholesome meals a day, without real fear of capital punishment being actually carried out on him. Life in prison for this hardened criminal has received a much better deal than our homeless people - to the despair of the victims' families who are looking for justice and some closure to their pain.

    On Friday, January 27, 2012, Bob MacLaughlin said:

    I must disagree with Dani Shaw’s article on capital punishment, especially the statement made in the first sentence. Wherein is stated that capital punishment is fundamentally flawed. I must ask if God’s thinking was flawed when in Genesis 9: 5,6 He says “I will require the life of every animal and man for your life and your blood. I will require the life of each man’s brother for a man’s life. Whoever sheds man’s blood, his life will be shed by man for God made man in His image.” And that rule stems from the time of Noah and the covenant God made with him.
    Now let’s fast forward to Moses’ day and the Ten Commandments and reference Exodus 20: 13 Do not murder. Seems pretty clear, because the consequence for breaking that command is found in Exodus 21: 12 “Whoever strikes a person so that he dies must be put to death” But the intent covering that act is dealt with in following verses and the laws about personal injury.
    No where in scripture do we find arguments about whether the punishment is a deterrent, rather it is a consequence to a heinous act, the taking of a life of another human being. If there is any flaw in the discussion on capital punishment it is in the way modern man, the law and lawyers interpret and administer justice. I fully support capital punishment as a consequence of a person callously thinking they can take another’s life without fear of consequence.

    On Thursday, January 26, 2012, markbraye said:

    David, you're comment is a little passive-aggressive and cryptic. i assume, correct me if i'm wrong, you're referring to capital punishment in the Old Testament. it's an interesting conversation. the New Testament is the Word of God as well. both testaments seem to present two different views on capital punishment.

    Captain Lublink, your comment is interesting as well. i really hope our government can protect us from violent offenders without using capital punishment. isn't that what prisons are for?

    folks of a certain political kind strike me as very interesting. they fight for the life of unborn children, rightfully so, yet they're ok with the killing of violent criminals; men and women who have been convicted of horrible crimes. pro-life in the womb; pro-death in the world.

    where/when/why/how does this disconnect happen?

    On Thursday, January 26, 2012, Capt P.R Lublink said:

    In all conscience I support capital punishment. I believe our government is morally and ethically responsible to protect its citizens from violent offenders.

    On Wednesday, January 25, 2012, David Jackdon said:

    Now tell us what the Word of God says?

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