Away With Prison!
After thinking about it, I realize that I now oppose prisons, for the following reasons:
- Prison won’t bring a victim back to life.
- The only arguments for prisons are emotional ones.
- Prison is a government program.
- Innocent people are imprisoned.
- Prison has been legal for years and years and people still commit crimes. Clearly prison does not deter crimes.
- Mankind is imperfect and any prison system man devises will be imperfect.
- Liberty is a right from God. Prison takes liberty. Who are we to play God?
- Prison costs lots of money, to build and maintain—the structure itself but also the staff.
- Jesus said, “Judge not.” Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” Jesus said, “Turn the other cheek.” And God said, “Vengeance is mine.” Prison violates these teachings.
- Even if God said men can take away others’ liberty and explained
when we can do that—we do not live, nor want to live, in a theocracy.
(“Theocracy” means having any laws that agree with what God says. Also, please ignore that the previous reason I gave against prison refers to what God says.
If you still support prison, remember that if you would abolish prison and make it illegal, you will never have to worry about being unjustly imprisoned! Evil men who might otherwise imprison you will remember that prisons are illegal and not take away your liberty by putting you in prison.
Are You Serious?
All these statements have been made against punishing crime with death. Many, if not all, of the statements, could apply to other forms of punishment, so I parodied them by inserting “prison” instead of “death penalty.”
If you thought the reasons sounded unconvincing, irrelevant, or both, that is also how I find them in regards to the death penalty.
There are only two essential questions to ask about the death penalty. I will address the non-essentials first.
“It doesn’t bring a victim back to life”
No punishment can do that.
“The only arguments for the death penalty are emotional”
We’ll see the reason for the death penalty later, and it is not an emotional argument.
“It is a government program”
What is the “death penalty?” Simply put, the punishment, or penalty, of death for a crime.
A “state execution” is a type of death penalty, which is funded by tax dollars, but state execution is not exactly a “government program,” in that the government doesn’t regularly schedule subjects to be put on trial, sentenced to death by a jury, and actually executed. (It seems many times the result of a sentence of death after due process is an appeal, not an execution, which I’ll touch on later.)
Planned Parenthood regularly schedules the killing of humans, and the government funds Planned Parenthood, but none of these innocents receive due process, so we know that “the death penalty is a government program” is not talking about Planned Parenthood.
The death penalty is not equal to “state execution.” One may say, “Bill and Hillary Clinton have a marriage,” but one could not say, “Marriage is the union of Bill and Hillary Clinton.” The death penalty exists beyond the boundaries of anything the government programs: for example, homeowners killing intruders. In these death penalties, most often one person—and not someone with “government power” acts as judge, jury, and executioner—all within moments.
A homeowner killing an intruder is not hypothetical, or particularly uncommon. An Internet search for such incidents will have thousands of results.
Stating that “the death penalty is a government program” is misleading, at best.
Furthermore, how is it consistent to say it is just, or acceptable, to kill—carry out the death penalty—someone in the act of attempting to commit crime, but yet it is not justifiable to allow the possibility of a death penalty for someone who has completed his crime, and whose guilt has been proven (we are not talking about innocents here), in public?
If anything, killing someone who hasn’t even completed a crime would be less justifiable than killing someone who did complete his crime, especially if the completed crime was murder.
Some may say, “But a state execution is deliberated beforehand. Those homeowners don’t intend to kill, only to prevent an aggressor from stealing property or harming others.”
Some homeowners might only intend to prevent an aggressor from stealing property or harming others, without the intention of killing. However, that doesn’t change the result of their actions.
Moreover, you needn’t be a genius to know that firing a gun at someone involves the chance of ending his life. Owning a gun and ammunition, and learning how to use them, is learning the use of deadly force—the ability to execute the death penalty.
Last but not least, those against the “death penalty”—and any judges who rule against “death penalties”—are often quite supportive of police officers, SWAT teams, the National Guard, the military—all who use deadly force. When police murdered a woman in Washington, D.C., for driving erratically, where was their condemnation for that death penalty?
Supporting an armed military, armed police, or any armed private- or public-sector groups or individuals, excludes opposition to the death penalty. Claiming that you oppose the penalty while supporting any of the former is illogical, hypocritical, or both.
“It Doesn’t Deter Crime”
When a homeowner kills an intruder, I would definitely say the death penalty deterred the burglary.
“But we mean state execution.”
Is the purpose of justice, deterrence? And thus what does not deter, is not just?
And are you sincerely seeking punishments that deter crime? A punishment of public flogging would deter quite a few from stealing. How many of those who complain “state execution doesn’t deter crime” would be interested in flogging as a punishment?
Note: I am not saying that justice cannot involve a deterrent effect, but rather, this criterion is not needed to determine if a punishment is just.
“Deterrence” considerations can lead us into pre-emptive measures, and justice is supposed to be retro-active.
Second, “It didn’t deter X from happening, so it’s useless (or wrong)” rings hollow. It can be said about other things. For example, a man once said of the Constitution,
But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain—that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case it is unfit to exist.
It seems rather a knee-jerk reaction to say that something shouldn’t exist on the basis that it didn’t deter or prevent something else. God warned and warned His people not to commit crime or they would be punished, but His warnings did not deter people from committing crime. (No, I say not, nor believe, that the Constitution is on the level of Scriptural authority.) But we need to see that the “non-deterrence” objection can be used for the Constitution as much as it can for the “death penalty.” Thus, it is not a sticking point.
Nonetheless, some readers may still think the deterrence factor is highly relevant, because they think justice should be preventive. So I’ll suppose for a moment that it is a most relevant criterion.
“Crime,” generally speaking, can cover a slew of actions (such as owning a plant that God made), and many—if not the vast majority—of crimes are exempt from the possibility of the death penalty.
When Punishment X is not even allowable for many crimes, of course Punishment X is not going to deter crimes exempt from the punishment. Blaming a certain punishment for not deterring “crime” when it cannot even be sought in court for many “crimes” is like blaming prison for not deterring speeding.
Looking briefly into more numerical aspects—in my home state, the last time she ever punished criminals (two serial killers) with death was 1965. That was over fifty years ago.
In 1972, the Supreme Court ruled five to four against death penalty laws in 40 states—more than two-thirds of the states—and mine lost the option to punish any crime with death. Although the Court re-authorized the penalty in 1976, only until 1994 did my home state’s legislature restore it as an option—for seven specific, narrowly-defined crimes.
When years—more than a generation’s time!—pass after a state execution for a criminal, making it a possibility may not deter crime much. This, however, does not prove that prohibiting state execution deters crime. Dennis Rader, whose binding, torturing, and killing of victims got him the name “BTK,” committed all his crimes when state executions were illegal.
“Innocent people are wrongfully executed”
...Which implies that those who are guilty could be rightfully executed?
Men—including jurors, judges, lawyers, and homeowners—can make mistakes. Yes, innocents have been mistakenly, in some cases deliberately, convicted of crimes. It is difficult, if not impossible, to know the exact numbers in the U.S., but the number of exonerations can be helpful.
One tally put the number at 2,061 exonerations from 1989 to 2012; one hundred and one, or 4.9 percent, of them were cases where the exoneree had been sentenced to death. Seventeen of these exonerated, or 0.8 percent, had spent time on “death row.” A sentence of death, then, may not even result in time on death row!
But the vast majority of the exonerations—over 95 percent, or 1,960—of those wrongfully convicted did not involve a death sentence. Who is calling for abolishing prisons because 95% of exonerees were wrongfully imprisoned?
While righteous indignation kindles over an innocent suffering for the crime of another, is the concept or permissibility of a punishment itself responsible or inseparable from specific, finite men who mistakenly used the punishment for those not deserving it?
“Men are imperfect, their justice systems will be imperfect, therefore the death penalty should be illegal.”
Men ARE imperfect, and our imperfections affect our deeds. (Actually, we can know perfectly that we’re imperfect on the authority of the source that tells us perfectly that the death penalty is moral, and when it can be applied. We’ll get to that later.)
Abolishing the legal possibility of state execution after due process could at best remove only one area that our imperfections could affect. Our imperfections and flaws would remain. But even we imperfect, flawed men are able to be perfectly, flawlessly certain from evidence proving that X is guilty of a capital crime. Concluding that the death penalty should be illegal because “we’re all flawed!” is a specious conclusion. We shall see later how Paul did not make that conclusion, but the exact opposite.
“But the death penalty involves ending a life.”
Yes, and you remember that the military ends lives, policemen end lives, SWAT teams end lives, homeowners end lives. They take FAR more lives than state executions do. And it’s legal. If you claim that you want state execution after due process to be illegal because “men are flawed,” then you most certainly should want to dis-arm those flawed men in military or police positions.
death penalty state execution
costs too much money”
Ironically, a number of those who give this as a reason to end the “death penalty” often advocate spending more and more money on the government education system—a system that does cost far too much, and lacks Biblical justification. In their muddled minds, apparently the more spent on education the better, whereas what is spent on state execution means state execution should be illegal altogether.
I also wonder if they think the military costs too much, or if police forces cost too much, et cetera.
Homeowners who kill burglars don’t charge others a fee for doing the service of ending a criminal’s life, so the death penalty does not cost nearly as much as one would think.
Ultimately, with the state execution form of the death penalty, much of the cost are not inherent to what it takes to end a life. And depending on the state, the costs may come from allowing murderers to appeal and appeal their sentences.
“But we’re not God”
This begins to touch on the first of the two essential questions about the death penalty. We learn from Scripture that God gives men life. Life is a right from God, not from a fellow man.
However, can a man forfeit his right to life? And did God tell us when this right is forfeited?
“But Jesus said Judge not, Turn the other cheek,” “But Jesus is the Prince of Peace,” “But Jesus told Peter to put his sword away,” and other remarks are trotted out as “evidence” that Jesus was against armament, physical self-defense, and thus the death penalty.
To answer this, we’ll look at Scripture, beginning with the ending and ending with the beginning.
A Sin Unto Death
Revelation chapter 19 tells us that Jesus will come and “make war.” (v. 11) Out of Jesus’ mouth goes a sharp sword (v. 15) and v. 21 says the remnant of the beast’s followers were slain by His sword.
The Apostle John wrote in 1 John 5:16, If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.
In Hebrews 11, the Bible’s Hall of Fame and Faith, the Bible praises men who “through faith subdued kingdoms,” (v. 33), and “waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens” (v. 34). It says that these physical wars and death penalties were done through faith, not against faith.
The Apostle Paul declared his willingness to receive the death penalty, if he had committed a sin unto death: “For if I be an offender, or have committed any thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die: but if there be none of these things whereof these accuse me, no man may deliver me unto them. I appeal unto Caesar.” Acts 25:11
Moreover, in appealing to Caesar, Paul implied that a fellow man can have authority in determining if someone else has committed a sin worthy of death: a sin that meant its perpetrator forfeited his right to life. He implied that imperfect, UNSAVED men could know perfectly whether someone else is guilty of a capital sin.
Acts chapter 10 introduces us to Cornelius, a Gentile, and more than that, “a centurion.” A centurion was a military man who had, not a hundred, but about eighty other military men under his authority. This Cornelius was “a devout man,” who feared God with all his house, gave much alms to the people, prayed to God always (v. 2).
We read how Cornelius had a vision from God (v. 3); how the apostle Peter came to Cornelius’ house; how Cornelius and the other Gentiles received the Holy Spirit.
If the New Testament taught that the death penalty is never justified, how could Cornelius be properly called a devout man, or a JUST man (as in Acts 10:22)? Cornelius was not only accustomed and trained in the use of deadly force, he held authority over dozens of other men who could also use deadly force. One of these men is mentioned in v. 7, “[Cornelius] called two of his household servants, and a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually.”
Jesus and the Death Penalty
Jesus told Pilate, “If My kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews.” (John 18:36)
...and our Savior expressly declared, that if His kingdom had been of this world, then would His servants fight to protect Him; or in other words, that then and in that case, He would not have restrained them from fighting. The lawfulness of such fighting, therefore, instead of being denied, is admitted and confirmed by that declaration. [All emphases in original] —Life of John Jay, p. 392
When Jesus said to Peter, ”Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?” He laid bare the reason why Peter could not use deadly force to defend Jesus. Not for a second because it is immoral to use deadly force on behalf of innocent life. The cup God gave Jesus to drink was the cup of sin: Jesus was going to be seen as guilty of capital crimes. The wages of sin is death; without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin (Heb. 9:22), and the death penalty had to be executed.
When the multitude of forces came to seize Jesus, He asked if they were come out “as against a thief, with swords and staves” to take Him. (Matt. 26:55, Mark 14:48, Luke 22:52). He implied that that there is a time for the just use of deadly force, that thievery is one of those just times.
Jesus even recommended the death penalty, as recorded by three gospels, Matthew 18:6, Mark 9:42, and Luke 17:2. All three accounts are quite similar, and we’ll go with Mark here:
“And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a milltone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.”
NOTE: Nowadays, people use “offend” as in “hurt another’s feelings,” forgetting that “offend” is also synonymous with “violate,” “trespass,” “transgress.” However, we still have terms such as “repeat offender,” which keep some of the objective definition of “offend.”
Jesus, then, was not talking about only hurting a little kid’s feelings; He was talking about committing grave crimes against a child, such as physical or sexual abuse.) And Jesus said the death penalty would be BETTER for a child offender than what would happen to him elsewhere (at the hand of God).
Jesus actually told His disciples to buy swords: “[H]e that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, a buy one,” Luke 22:36b.
In the Letter of Dolabella on Jewish Privileges, written in 43 B.C., “they [the Jews] can neither carry weapons nor march on the days of the Sabbath.”
In telling them to buy swords, He was instructing them to disobey Roman law! (They even told Him, “Lord, behold, here are two swords,” and He said, “It is enough.”)
More of Centurions and Soldiers
In Matthew 8, a centurion came to Jesus and asked Him to heal his servant—stipulating that since he was’t worthy to have Jesus under his roof, all he wanted Jesus to do is speak the word, and the servant would be healed. “For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to anther, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it,” concluded the centurion (v. 9)
Jesus marvelled and responded, “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.“ (He also healed the centurion’s servant, of course.)
If Jesus had believed and taught that the death penalty was never justified, He would have expressed this in some way to the centurion. When the centurion talked about the soldiers under his authority, a pacifist would have had a prime opportunity to respond with pacifist declarations! But Jesus said nothing about leaving the military or ceasing to use deadly force. (At other times, Jesus would say, “Go and sin no more,” to a person, but He did not even say that.)
John the Baptist was “filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15c). When he was preaching his message of repentance, soldiers in the audience “demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do?”
“Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely, and be content with your wages,” replied he (Luke 3:14b).
Do violence to no man... John the Baptist knew that deadly force could be used in violation—violence—of the rights of others, rather than in their protection. The following phrase, “neither accuse any falsely,” builds on the ways that one can violate another’s rights.
Be content with your wages... In John Jay’s letter on Just War, he elaborated:
Can these words be rationally understood as meaning that they should receive wages for nothing? Or, that when ordered to march against the enemy, they should refuse to proceed; or that, on meeting the enemy, they should either run away, or passively submit to be captured or slaughtered? This would be attaching a meaning to his answer very foreign to the sense of the words in which he expressed it. [Emphasis in original]
What About “Judge Not”?
Jesus did say “Judge not” but He went on to say much more and the following verses show that He meant how you treat others is how you will be treated. Elsewhere, He told men to judge righteous judgment (John 7:24).
What About “Turn the Other Cheek”?
If you are slapped on one cheek, is that the same as murder? The answer is obvious. Jesus was not addressing how to deal with capital crime. In fact, the instruction to “turn the other cheek” categorically cannot be applicable to situations with murderers, because a person who has just been killed cannot turn the other cheek.
Isn’t Shooting An Intruder Sending Him to Hell?
I have heard fellow Christians—Biblically unsound, yet logically consistent in their opposition to the death penalty—raise this question as a reason why they didn’t support anyone owning, much less using, weapons.
Answer? No man ever has the power to send another man to hell. Whether a man goes to hell depends on how he relates to God (whether in obedience or disobedience). And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. —Jesus, Matthew 10:28
What About the Woman Jesus Didn’t Stone?
The law God gave to Moses required that “the adulterer and the adulteress” should both be put to death (Lev. 20:10). The scribes and Pharisees brought only the woman, and mis-quoted the law. They were not asking Jesus if He believed in the law God gave Moses; they were creating a strawman and asking Him if He believed in it.
Further, they had not planned to stone her anyway, because the Romans didn’t grant the Jews authority to put people to death. When Pilate told the Jews, “Take ye [Jesus], and judge Him according to your law,” they responded, “It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.” (John 18:31)
They purposed to trap Jesus, not to uphold God’s morality. They wanted to get Jesus in trouble either with the Romans, or their straw-man of Old Testament law. Jesus’ wise response (and His writing in the dirt) exposed them as hypocrites.
To Every Thing There Is A Season
Scripture cannot be morally inconsistent. The moral principles of the Old Testament remain the same principles for the New Testament. Numbers 35:31 plainly states that a murderer forfeits his right to life: Moreover ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, which is guilty of death: but he shall be surely put to death. Verses 33 and 34 state,
So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: for blood it defileth the land: and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it. 34 Defile not therefore the land which ye shall inhabit, wherein I dwell: for I the LORD dwell among the children of Israel.
Whenever someone murders someone else, he defiles the land. This is a moral and spiritual reality. The land cannot be cleansed of the innocent blood, but by the blood of him that shed it.
However, these verses in Numbers are supplementary to the original passage that established the morality of the death penalty for a murderer.
The morality of the death penalty is in the Noahic covenant, a covenant which the New Testament did not change. Every condition of the Noahic covenant is still in effect today.
Genesis 9 sets out the terms of the Noahic covenant:
- Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth (9:1)
- The fear and dread of man shall be upon every beast, every fowl, all that moves on the earth and all the fish in the sea (v. 2)
- Every moving thing shall be meat for man; as the green herb God has given man all things (v.3)
- The blood of an animal shall not be eaten (v. 4)
- Whoso sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made He man. (v.6)
In other words, God said a murderer forfeits his right to live.
The sparrow still flies away at man’s approach; the death penalty is still moral.
The animals are still meat for man; the death penalty is still moral.
The blood of an animal shall not be eaten; the death penalty is still moral.
The husband and wife are to be fruitful still; the death penalty is still moral.
It is the Old Testament that states why and when mankind fell (the reason I can agree we know perfectly that we are imperfect). It is also the Old Testament that outlines why and when the death penalty for murder is moral.
Solomon lyrically expressed this moral reality in Ecclesiastes 3:
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven...
3a A time to kill, and a time to heal...
8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.