Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Scriptural Arguments Against the Death Penalty

Blogger's Note: I wrote the following in response to letters to the editor of the local university's paper, in which the authors attempt to scripturally decry a paper columnist's arguments against the death penalty.

It is startlingly distressing to consider that two authors of recent letters to the editor share a fundamental misunderstanding of the doctrines and mission of Jesus Christ.

To insist that there are doctrinal and scriptural foundations that justify the death penalty flies in the face of the doctrines of forgiveness that are a cornerstone of the gospel of Christ.

In Doctrine and Covenants verses 8-10, God admonishes the Saints:

“My disciples in days of old sought occasion against one another and forgave not one another in their hearts; and for this evil they were afflicted and sorely chastened. Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.”

There is no parsing of language here; there is no room to wiggle and say, well, certain sins ought not be forgiven. Of us, it is required to forgive all men.

Additionally, God admonishes us not to be quick to judgement. In Matthew chapter seven, verses 1-5, we read:

“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in they brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

In Romans chapter 12, verses 17-21, Paul admonishes the Saints:

“Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath, for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will replay, saith the Lord. Therefore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

Here we see that judgement and vengeance are God’s, not man’s. God admonishes us to mind our own hose to ensure that we do not sin, realizing that it is God, and not us, that will judge men for their sins. God also reminds us to treat everyone, even our enemies, with kindness. If this is naive and foolish in the sight of men, then I, for one, choose naivete and foolishness.

If that is not clear enough, consider Mosiah chapter 13 verse 21: “Thou shalt not kill.” If you wander into something akin to “Thou shalt not kill without cause,” you’ve wandered from the gospel of Christ and into the “Animal Farm” realm of George Orwell.

Nephi did murder Laban. But Nephi was used by God as a tool of judgement and vengeance upon Laban to protect the future of a branch of the house of Israel. To justify the death penalty in any sense but the preservation of a righteous branch of the house of Israel through use of this scriptural example of murder demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of God’s application of justice.

And as for the writer who says there is no mention of Christ pardoning a murderer, he would do well to read Luke chapter 23:34, in which Christ forgives the Roman soldiers who crucify him.

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