Christianity and the Death Penalty Essay

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Christianity and the Death Penalty

Though they are both Protestant Christians they share different views on one extremely controversial topic. John Howard Yoder and Gilbert Meilaender may share a religion, however they do not share the same idea of the death penalty. Yoder believes all forms of violence should be rejected and that “lines are written because of a conviction that it is not only right for Christians to ask mercy for particular criminals, but that Christians should in fact, support efforts to abolish the death penalty as a legal way of dealing with offenders” (Yoder, 28). Where as Meilaender believes that “the death penalty has not been forbidden” nor “required” just that “It is simply permitted” (Meilaender, 49). Not only do they have the same religious views, but they also use the same biblical passages as evidence for their arguments. Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, these passages are up for interpretation by the reader. Yoder and Meilaender have opposing views; yet base these views off of the same verses in the Bible. For example, Genesis 9:6 states “whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man”, Yoder sees this as a way of limiting vengeance. He believes that the death penalty is a sacrifice and a way of making amends to God. On the other hand, Meilaender looks at this same passage and says that this it depicts “the institution of government and the authority delegated it by God”, he believes that “retribution is required” and should be handled by the government, which is “precisely why it is so essential that we understand civil and criminal punishment as public retribution, not private vengeance” (Meilaender, 50). Romans 13:4 says that it is “the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer” according to Meilaender this is the government because “what none of us is permitted to do as a private citizen on his own authority the state may do—not because it is itself “lord” of life and death, but because it is the authorized agent of the God who is that lord” (Meilaender, 50). However, for Yoder this passage is just a symbol of the sword and judicial authority, “it is not the instrument used by the Romans for executing criminals” (Yoder, 31). These passages are used as evidence to back up their main ideas and thoughts in their discussions. The passages that Yoder utilizes convey the idea that the death punishment is a form of sacrifice because “The lifeblood of every man belongs to God alone” (Yoder, 29). “The blood of man and beast belonging to God, certainly a sacrificial concept” which signifies that “all animate life, not only that of man, as sacred, belonging to God alone. Not killing man thus comes under the same heading as not consuming the blood of sacrificed animals” (Yoder, 30). These are reasons why Yoder thinks that the death penalty is not just a legal matter, but deeply rooted in religion. Yoder uses this reasoning to back up his idea of abolishing the death penalty because “respect to this divine ownership means, in the case of animals, that the blood shall not by consumed; for men it means that there shall be no killing” (Yoder, 30). Also since Jesus gave His life to clear away our sins “no more blood is needed to testify to the sacredness of life, and no more sacrifices are called for to expiate for man’s usurping of the power to kill. With the cross of Christ the moral and ceremonial basis of capital punishment is wiped away” (Yoder, 31). Therefore the death penalty is no longer necessary according to Yoder, Jesus died for all of our sins and His life was the ultimate sacrifice and so we no longer need to sacrifice man as a form of punishment. On the other end of the spectrum, Meilaender believes that we should continue to utilize the death penalty. Meilaender believes that the death penalty is a fair punishment for those who have committed such horrible crimes as to be punishable by death. This