The death penalty is as contentious as ever, particularly in the wake of this week’s botched execution in Oklahoma.
With the issue at the forefront of public discourse, R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, outlined Thursday why he believes Christians should support capital punishment.
In an op-ed for CNN, Mohler admitted that it’s not easy to answer definitively whether the faithful should support the death penalty, though he outlined stories in both the New and Old Testaments that he believes show God’s allowance of capital punishment in certain scenarios.
“The death penalty was explicitly grounded in the fact that God made every individual human being in his own image, and thus an act of intentional murder is an assault upon human dignity and the very image of God,” he wrote. “In the simplest form, the Bible condemns murder and calls for the death of the murderer. The one who intentionally takes life by murder forfeits the right to his own life.”
Mohler said, though, that the Bible has strict requirements in the case of capital murder and that such a punishment requires eyewitness testimony and an assurance that suspected criminals are not being unjustly punished.
“While the death penalty is allowed and even mandated in some cases, the Bible also reveals that not all who are guilty of murder and complicity in murder are executed,” he continued. “Just remember the biblical accounts concerning Moses, David and Saul, later known as Paul.”
Rather than presenting a black and white case for capital punishment, Mohler said the Bible, while accepting death penalty as necessary, outlines a world in which it should be “exceedingly rare.”
“We have lost the cultural ability to declare murder — even mass murder — to be deserving of the death penalty,” he wrote. “We have also robbed the death penalty of its deterrent power by allowing death penalty cases to languish for years in the legal system, often based on irrational and irrelevant appeals.”
The faith leader, who said he believes that Christians must pray for and seek a society where justice and mercy are equally weighed, said the death penalty is something that can most certainly be endorsed by believers, so long as it meets biblical standards.
“I believe that Christians should hope, pray and strive for a society in which the death penalty, rightly and rarely applied, would make moral sense,” Mohler added. “This would be a society in which there is every protection for the rights of the accused, and every assurance that the social status of the murderer will not determine the sentence for the crime.”
Polls show that at least half of the country supports the death penalty for convicted murderers, though the proportions have changed over the past few decades.
In the mid-1990s, Gallup found that 80 percent of the general public favored the death penalty for those convicted of murder, while only 16 percent opposed it. The latest polling data shows that 60 percent currently support it, while 35 percent do not.
In the past, TheBlaze has also explored in-depth where Christians stand on the issue. In analyzing recent data from the Barna Group, a research firm that assesses issues pertaining to faith, Religion News Services’ Jonathan Merritt noted that there is a big generational difference among Christians on the issue.
When asked if “the government should have the option to execute the worst criminals,” only 32 percent of self-identified Christian millennials — individuals born between 1980 and 2000 — answered affirmatively, compared to 42 percent of self-identified Christian baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964.
In sum, around 40 percent of Christians were found to support capital punishment.
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