Scott McKnight is blogging on the death penalty today. In short, McKnight believes that, while the death penalty is just, Christians should oppose it because Jesus calls his followers to extend grace to those who do wrong.
I like what McKnight has to say on this subject. It resonates with me on a visceral level. However, as I am often inclined to do, I feel the need to address this subject by asking lots of questions while religiously avoiding anything that might betray an actual, useful viewpoint.
Here are a few of the questions-
1. As I said, I love the grace, not justice approach. But what about any other action that the state takes which punishes people? The results may be less draconian, but shouldn’t the principal work the same way? Should we advocate the abolition of imprisonment of criminals (also an act that can hardly be considered grace-oriented)? Should we hand out speeding tickets? Should we fine polluters?
2. Should we eliminate lawsuits while we’re at it? After all, why should someone be forced to pay money damages to someone else just because they knowingly refused to correct a defective design of a product that caused someone to be maimed or killed? Not very grace-oriented to force them to pay for the victim’s medical bills and lost income is it?
3. How about late fees on utility bills (or, better yet, my video rentals)? Should we advocate laws that abolish those? It strikes me that this reasoning can quickly lead to anarchy.
3a. For sure, lets abolish efforts to collect Gen-X student loans and consumer debt, why don’t we? Let the slackers skate on their obligations, if they decide not to pay things back.
4. What about texts like Romans 13, which suggest that the state exists to punish the unjust? Don’t they imply that the state has a right to execute those who have committed crimes of sufficient magnitude?
5a. Even if it IS okay from a Romans 13 perspective, is it appropriate for me to vote for candidates who want to execute criminals? (I think this question gets to the heart of what McKnight is trying to say- and, in spite of my questions, his point is hitting home with me)
5b. To put it another way, is it just that easy – to say “God wants me to handle my personal relationships a certain way so therefore I should vote for public policies that cause the state to handle its relationships with criminals/tortfeasors/etc in a Christ-like way…”? Must one’s political viewpoint regarding state policy assume that the state – a governmental entity – must effectively act as a disciple of Jesus?
6. Is that viewpoint expecting the wrong things from an entity that, according to Paul, exists primarily to keep bad guys under control?
I honestly can’t get my thinking wrapped completely around this issue, nor is my conscience sending me a single, clear message. It feels quite intractible. Maybe if I weren’t such an emergent-post-conservative-anti-big-government-non-religious-right-guy-who-is- seriously-flirting-with-libertarian-politics-wimp, the answer would be more clear.