In the last two columns, I showed how the Bible consistently affirms capital punishment from Genesis to Revelation, including the teachings of Jesus. Nonetheless, many sincere Christians doubt this, and it is only fitting to consider their objections.
Religious Objection 1: We should forgive people, not execute them.
Since forgiveness is the core of Christianity, people often say we are obligated to extend forgiveness to the murderer. After all, in Matthew 6:12 Jesus taught us to pray, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” And He added the emphasis in verses 14-15, “For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” Such mandatory forgiveness hardly seems best expressed through execution.
One way to respond is by examining precisely what a justice system based on this interpretation of Jesus’ teachings would look like. If it is true that executing someone is unchristian, it’s hard to see which punishment wouldn’t have to go. Though Life in Prison without the Possibility of Parole (LIPWPP) is more lenient than execution, life imprisonment still seems to be unforgiving. It’s difficult to imagine a murderer sitting in jail after 40 years pondering the awe-inspiring forgiveness of his captors. Much shorter imprisonment would be more forgiving, but no imprisonment at all would be the zenith of forgiveness. Even community service, probation and fines are less than fully forgiving. Thus, not merely execution, but all possible expressions of a justice system are incompatible with the forgiveness people claim Jesus is advocating. LIPWPP advocates are showing the shallowness, not the depth, of their commitment to the principle of forgiveness.
I’m sure some would object that I’m being ludicrous here, but I would remind them of the clarity of the text. Its seemingly universal scope is not limited to merely capital crimes or execution. Moreover, Christian doctrine holds that we can be forgiven for any and all sins. Therefore, if the duty of the government is to forgive as much as God forgives us individually, we must not punish even a pickpocket or parking violator lest we forfeit our own forgiveness.
Now if someone seriously advocated anarchy for this reason, I would at least applaud his consistency. But one needn’t embrace such radical stupidity to honor Jesus’ doctrines. The problem is, obviously, not with what He taught, but with how His teaching gets misapplied.