Much controversy surrounds the death penalty. The idea of sentencing someone to death as a punishment for a crime seems cruel to many people and a just punishment to others. There are only 30 states in the United States that still have the death penalty as an option for punishment of a severe crime. (Thesis statement). The different religions also have different views on the death penalty. Individuals within that religious group may have different views on the death penalty. The Bible is filled with passages that may seem to support or oppose the death penalty. The Old Testament is full of ideas of “eye for an eye” and “life for life.” A number of biblical scholars have considered the part of the Ten Commandments that say “You shall not kill” as a forbidding individual cases of murder (The Ryrie Study Bible, Exodus 20:13). Most Christians believe that humans are created in the image of God. So,a serious crime against another person is also a crime against God. Numbers 35:31, 33 state ?“‘Do not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer, who deserves to die. They are to be put to death.”and “‘Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it”?. Genesis 9:6, says “whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed”. St. Thomas Aquinas said “the civil rulers execute, justly and sinlessly, pestiferous men in order to protect the peace of the state” (Summa Contra Gentiles, III, 146).
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St. Thomas Aquinas also talked about the need to impose the death penalty on the crime doers. ‘The fact that the evil, as long as they live, can be corrected from their errors does not prohibit the fact that they may be justly executed, for the danger which threatens from their way of life is greater and more certain than the good which may be expected from their improvement. They also have at that critical point of death the opportunity to be converted to God through repentance. And if they are so stubborn that even at the point of death their heart does not draw back from evil, it is possible to make a highly probable judgment that they would never come away from evil to the right use of their powers’ (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book III, 146).
The sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross is a focus of Christianity. Man’s sin required Jesus dying on the cross to satisfy the requirements from God to take away the sins of the world. Although the Old Testament has a number of passages to support the death penalty, the New Testament focuses on the love of God. This has been used by opponents of the death penalty. John 8:7 (NIV) in the Bible, says, “But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them; ‘If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ This passage has been used to abolish the death penalty. The sixth commandment also argues against the death penalty “Thou shalt not kill”.Several Christians also point to the love and grace of God as reason why the death penalty should not be used. That means that criminals should be given the maximum time to try to repent their sins and seek redemption.
Christian groups have individual views apart from the official stand of their churches. The Roman Catholic Church has accepted capital punishment based on the theology and views of St. Thomas Aquinas in the past. The church believed the death penalty could deter and prevent crime. It is not a means for revenge. However, during the time of Pope John Paul II, the Roman Catholic Church changed this position. Pope John Paul II released the Evangelium Vitae meaning “The Gospel of Life”. This document was written to reinforce the view of the ?Roman Catholic Church? on the value of life and to warn against violating the sanctity of life. The Roman Catholic Church now believes that the death penalty is not the best way to deal with crimes. According to the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, “Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor. If, however, nonlethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person. Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2267).
The position promoted and adopted by the Roman Catholic Church through Pope John Paul II is a revolutionary one and it is in keeping with the popular views in the world today regarding the abolition of death penalty. The more liberal groups of many churches tend to tend to want to abolish death penalty. The more conservative denominations of Christianity tend to support the imposition of death penalty. Protestant Churches also have their official stand regarding capital punishment. In 1988 the Lambeth Conference of Anglican and Episcopal bishops stated “(b) all governments who practice capital punishment, and encourages them to find alternative ways of sentencing offenders so that the divine dignity of every human being is respected and yet justice is pursued;” (The Lanbeth Conference Resolutions Archive from 1988) . The United Methodist Church states that it cannot support the use of the death penalty on the basis of social vengeance and retribution. The General Conference of the United Methodist Church, which meets once in every four years, asked its bishops to oppose capital punishment and advocate for governments to impose a moratorium on the implementation of death penalty (United Methodist Church website, 2007). The Lutheran Church in America also opposes the death penalty. Such a decision was made in 1991 through a social policy statement that the church released. The policy stated that vengeance is the main reason for the imposition of the death penalty. The Lutheran Church believes that repentance, forgiveness, and redemption are necessary for true healing to be accomplished (ELCA, 2007). With this policy, the Lutheran Church joins the many Christian churches that support the abolition of death penalty.
Given these views of different churches, most appear to support the abolitionist position. These churches believe the position of the Christian faith is one in which God’s love and mercy is more important than punishment on the crime. There are still churches within the Lutheran tradition that support death penalty. They state that Martin Luther regarded death penalty as a way to represent the justice of God. Churches are now more and more involved in cause-oriented groups in the society.
As time moves on, the views of Christian churches are changing. Almost all of the religious organizations believe in the importance of doing away with the death penalty. Traditionally, Christianity has emphasized the justice and the holiness of God and the way in which humans fall short of this. They believe justice means equality for all and that people get what they deserve. So using this argument, they believe capital punishment is necessary. In recent years, there has been an emphasis on God’s love and grace. Churches have altered their role to dispense grace and promote forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation. This does not sit well, for the advocates of the death penalty. Because the major denominations such as the Roman Catholic Church, the United Methodist Church, and the Lutheran church have a worldwide presence, abolitionist views have a better chance of growing all over the world. The Christian church is working together with the United Nations, Amnesty International, and other human rights groups in encouraging the dignity of humans. If the advocacy of rights groups and the churches succeed, this means that more and more countries might get rid of the death penalty in the coming years. How this will affect criminals and punishments remains to be seen in the coming years
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