Georgia’s recent execution of convicted police-killer Troy Davis activated many religious death penalty opponents. But there was significant dissent from the claims that Christianity uniformly opposes capital punishment.
The 16 million Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant communion, specifically affirms it. And its most prominent theologian defended it amid the Davis controversy.
“The death penalty is intended to affirm the value [and] sanctity of every single human life, and thus by the extremity of the penalty to make that visible and apparent to all,” declared Louisville-based Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler, who presides over his church’s largest seminary. “There is something within us that cries out for the fact that murder must be punished and that the lives of the innocent, in terms of being the victims of these crimes, must indeed be vindicated.”
Mohler warned that the “general trend of secularization and moral confusion has undermined the kind of moral and cultural consensus that makes the death penalty make sense.” And he observed: “We really do not now have the bedrock shared consensus that every single human life is a life made in the image of God and that every single human life at every stage of development is to be honored and protected and preserved.”
As Mohler pointed out in his podcast, Georgia’s execution of Davis inflamed thousands of protesters. But the execution on the same day of a far less appealing Texas white supremacist who brutally dragged to death a black man did not arouse the same fury. “It seems that even those who oppose the death penalty outright believe there are some cases that ought to be opposed more than others,” Mohler said. Of course, some of Davis’ advocates insisted he was actually innocent of gunning down a police officer who was defending a homeless man in a Burger King parking lot amid multiple witnesses, though the courts rejected appeals across 20 years.
“It is precisely because the taking of one human life by another means that the murderer has effectively, morally and theologically, forfeited his own right to live,” Mohler explained. “The death penalty is intended to affirm the value [and] sanctity of every single human life, and thus by the extremity of the penalty to make that visible and apparent to all.”
The official Southern Baptist stance on capital punishment cites the divine command to Noah after the flood, as recorded in Genesis: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.” Unlike the punishments instituted later under the Mosaic code for the Hebrew theocracy, this command is considered by Southern Baptists and many Christians as still universally binding. They also cite St. Paul’s admonition in Romans that government is divinely ordained to “wield the sword” against the wicked.
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Source: Mark Tooley, The American Spectator