Why I oppose the death penalty: a biblical view

ThisWeek Newspapers, May 8, 2003 http://www.thisweeknews.com/
Scott Hummel

On May 14, Jerome Campbell is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection.

Having looked at only a fraction of the evidence, it would be unfair to comment on whether he’s guilty. It is interesting to note, however, that he’s the first death-row inmate in Ohio to request and receive DNA testing to help his case.

He argued that blood found on his shoe was his own and not that of the murder victim. As it turns out, last summer’s DNA test showed he was telling the truth, at least about that. Yet he’s still on death row.

Even if Campbell is guilty of aggravated murder, is the death penalty the proper punishment — for him or anybody else?

I don’t think so. As a conservative, I don’t see this as a liberal-conservative issue, for some liberals support the death penalty.

As a Christian who believes in the infallibility of the Bible, I would consider my opinion to be worthless if contrary to what Scripture says.

Don’t get me wrong. The case easily could be made that capital punishment is biblical. I believe it is (Genesis 9). But I don’t believe the Bible demands the death penalty in every instance.

To make my point, let’s look at two Sauls — one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament.

In 1 Samuel, Saul at first was a man of righteousness. Chapter 10:10 says, “The Spirit of God came upon him in power.” And he was made king of Israel.

But King Saul disobeyed God, and from that point forward, he became more and more separated from Him. God had rejected Saul as king of Israel.

Enter David, a shepherd described as a man after God’s own heart. He defeated Goliath and became the new king of Israel. Saul became quite jealous when women came from all of the towns of Israel to meet him, singing, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.”

Saul had turned. He sought David, repeatedly trying to kill him.

In Chapter 24, the tables had turned. David now was in pursuit of Saul, with God’s blessing.

His men said to him, “This is the day the Lord spoke of when he said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.'”

David crept up unnoticed and sliced off a corner of Saul’s robe.

He did not kill him.

“May the Lord judge between you and me,” David told Saul (1 Sam. 24:12).

David again spared Saul’s life in Chapter 26.

Remember that even David himself had his friend, Uriah the Hittite, murdered after having slept with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba.

Afterwards, David was punished, but God forgave him.

The New Testament speaks of another Saul — Saul of Tarsus.

Galatians 1:13 describes how intensely he persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.

Acts 8:3 tells how Saul had gone from house to house, dragging off Christian men and women and putting them to death. He would go from synagogue to synagogue to have Christians punished, even trying to force them to blaspheme.

“In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them,” he said in Acts 26:11.

Later in the same chapter, Jesus called on Saul to follow Him. Jesus called him to be a servant to others “so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18).

To make a long story short, Saul repented and Jesus forgave him. Saul became Paul and wrote many of the books in the New Testament.

Still not convinced? Then consider this.

I’m pro-life and believe that abortion is wrong in every circumstance. To me, it’s a matter of avoiding hypocrisy. I’m not saying that just because I’m pro-life, it would be hypocritical of me to support the death penalty; that’s not the hypocrisy to which I’m referring. It’s more hypocritical, in my opinion, for those who oppose the death penalty to be pro-choice.

I’ve met women who have had abortions. Many of them are now pro-life and suffer from unbelievable guilt. A group called HEART (Healing the Effects of Abortion Related Trauma) ministers specifically to these women.

If I believe abortion is murder — and I do — then I have to consider it a capital offense. If I were a supporter of capital punishment, then I would have to believe these women should be eligible for it.

If a man after God’s own heart can spare King Saul’s life, and if Jesus can spare the life of Saul of Tarsus and make him Paul an apostle, who am I to support putting to death a man who might not be guilty?

I’d rather pray for Jerome Campbell.

Scott Hummel is news editor for The Villager. He can be reached via e-mail at shummel@thisweeknews.com

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday May 9, 2003.
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