Christians, Crime and the Death Penalty
Ideally, controversial issues should be discussed with careful, logical assessment, with an eye to the facts, and in the case of Christians, with the biblical worldview fully in place. But sadly this is often not the case, and what we tend to get are kneejerk reactions, emotional outpourings, and angry responses – even from Christians at times.
Issues like the death penalty will certainly see such reactions coming forth. And with a very public case now fully in the news, there is plenty of this occurring at the moment. But since so much fuzzy thinking, unbiblical thinking, and downright anti-biblical thinking is being thrown around over this case, let me try to state once more a few basic biblical principles which we must not lose sight of as we think about such cases.
God Made Both Institutions
Those with basic biblical understanding realise that God created various institutions to govern sinful man in a fallen world. We have institutions like the family for example to bring structure and order into a chaotic world. God also made two major institutions, both of which have their place, and which must be acknowledged and respected.
I refer to church and state. God of course created the church and it operates under its own principles and rules, as set forth in the New Testament. But God also created the institution of the state, way back in the Old Testament, and we see its ongoing role in the New Testament.
Both institutions are ordained by God. One – the church – deals with sin, mercy and forgiveness, while the other – the state – deals with crime, punishment and justice. Sure, justice and the like is found in the church, and mercy is found in the state, but these are two separate institutions which each have their own role to play.
Yes, there can be overlap between the two at times, but they are not identical, and must not lose their unique and separate roles and functions. So the simple biblical truth here, in regard not just to convicted drug smugglers, but to anyone else, is this: The church offers forgiveness, while the state metes out justice. Both institutions were created by God. When we knowingly break the law, we should not expect to be spared the consequences by the state.
The Death Penalty
Not only did God ordain the institution of the state, but he ordained the death penalty as well. This was instituted by God before the giving of the law to Moses, and has never been rescinded, even in the New Testament. Moreover, the sword of Romans 13:4 is seen by most biblical scholars to refer to the death penalty:
And Jesus and Paul both fully upheld the right of the state to use capital punishment, as we read about in John 19:10-11 and Acts 25:11. But I deal with the biblical and theological case for the death penalty in much more detail in this two-part article:
And I deal with a number of secular arguments, based on social, legal and political considerations here:
At the end of the day, those Christians who bitterly oppose capital punishment must deal with God about this, and not me. This was God’s idea, and we have to deal with what God has revealed to us in his word about such matters. Yet sadly I find so many Christians ignoring God and his word on this, and just making things up as they go along.
Dealing with the Drug Smugglers
Plenty of Christian groups are jumping on board the case of convicted drug smugglers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, especially since Chan has become a Christian since being arrested. Out of curiosity, I wonder how much Christian interest would be shown in this case if he had not converted.
But at the end of the day, Chan and Sukumaran went into Bali smuggling drugs, knowing full well the penalty for such a crime. And I for one have no problem with such a penalty. How many people, including innocent children, are killed every day because of drug smugglers who don’t give a rip about anyone else, but just want to get rich quick?
I am glad Chan has got right with God. If this is a true conversion, then he has been forgiven of all his sins, and he now has peace with God, and he knows that when he dies – whether as an old man, or sometime much sooner – he will be welcomed into God’s presence.
But that of course does not change the fact that he engaged in some horrific crimes which have horrific consequences for so many other people. But as I have explained in detail elsewhere, while a person can find forgiveness in Christ, the consequences of our actions usually do not just disappear.
Those who break the law do not get an automatic get-out-of-jail-free card just because they may become a Christian somewhere along the line. But see here for more on why we must distinguish the church and forgiveness from the state and justice: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2007/10/14/sin-forgiveness-and-consequences/
Running on Emotion
Right now there is plenty of emotion surrounding the case of the Australian drug smugglers on death row, which is partly why I have avoided speaking on it until now. I have discovered over the years that some of the most manic, reactionary and unthinking folks around can be those claiming to be Christians.
Christian ethical reflection should not be based on emotion, political correctness, popular opinion, or what the mainstream media is saying. Instead, we need to be thinking rationally here, and remain informed by biblical truth and the biblical worldview on all such issues.
Sure, biblical principles have to be applied to contemporary ethical issues, and Christians can and do disagree on some of these matters. But I for one tire of Christians who seem to think they know better than God on these matters, and are somehow more compassionate than God is. Sorry, but God of course is not being uncompassionate, unloving or unjust when he ordains things like the death penalty, and neither are Christians who agree with God about this.
Those who want to hound the Indonesian government about this are welcome to do so. And we all can pray for these men and their families. But I for one will not go on some “social justice” march demanding they be spared the death penalty.
How many others were not spared the death penalty because of the lousy drugs these guys were all too happy to sell? Where are their second chances? And why are Christians not getting all agitated about their deaths? It seems we have a bit of selective moral outrage going on here.
And going to a country with widely known official policies on this makes them even less excusable. If a family who lost a loved one due to these drugs seeks to forgive the drug smugglers, that is up to them. But the government has a right and obligation to uphold its laws, seek justice for criminals, and seek the protection of its people.
This piece of course does not even come close to dealing with all the various issues involved in the debate. But it was not meant to. It was simply meant to lay out some basic biblical principles with which we can seek to address this tragic case.
One need not agree with all that is said here. But those Christians who do disagree need to offer biblical support for their position, and not just run on emotion. As I say, I can get a lot of emotion and even abuse and hate from Christians on these sorts of topics, and that is certainly not wanted here.
I therefore offer this word of advice in closing: please read carefully all six articles that I have linked to above before posting your comments. If you read those pieces first, it is likely that most of your objections and questions will have been dealt with.
38 Replies to “Christians, Crime and the Death Penalty”
If the death penalty was still given in Australia, then some secondary victims of criminals would still be alive today. It would also save the hundreds of appeals, jail costs, bail costs, parole costs and give closure to the victims and their family.
More stuff coming out about Andrew Chan. Apparently he was a real charmer back when, and his activities weren’t limited to Indonesia alone.
You make a really good point about his conversion. If he has become a Christian then he goes to heaven. End of story. Just like the thief on the cross.
God’s forgiveness of his sins are however completely unrelated to the crime he committed and the punishment that still applies on a temporal basis.
Actions have consequences.
The same outcry occurred when the then Texas Governor George W. Bush refused to commute the death sentence on murderess Karla Faye Tucker, who had become a Christian and apparently a model prisoner. However, Bush did the right thing, otherwise fake conversions could be used as a get-out-of-death-row-free card. Contrast the repentant malefactor on the cross with Jesus rebuking the other malefactor, saying that they had done wrong and deserved to die, while Jesus was innocent.
Thank you, Bill, for speaking out loud about those issues. Never thought about that topic too much, but the other day, one of those emotional Christians told me about that story and my first thought was ‘well, they have committed crimes and now they’re being punished for it which is just fair’. Why are Christians nowadays so enraged when people who obviously did something wrong are being held accountable? Why are Christians such cowards when it comes to true justice? Why are Christians shocked when they hear about God’s wrath? Might this be because in churches it’s all about God’s grace & love, but not about His righteousness, holiness & wrath? Where is the fear of the Lord? Where is a healthy understanding & teaching of ALL of God’s attributes in the churches? If you dare to talk about sin & repentance & God’s wrath you’re marked as a ‘Bible bashing Christian’! How can we dare and talk about those things and calling sinners for who they are? Yes, we’re all sinners. But the only one who can help us out of this is Jesus Christ. That’s why we’re originally called ‘Christians’. Not telling people about God’s justice and wrath is actually deceiving them. Et voila, out of this come all those ‘Christians’ who think Jesus is everyone’s best friend and wouldn’t harm a fly. We reap what we sow. ‘God gives them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts… who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also APPROVE of those who practice them.'(Romans 1)
Yes exactly right Jennifer. It does indeed come down to what kind of God we believe in. See this excellent brief sermon by David Pawson on this:
If Chan was seeking to use his religious conversion to aid his bid for clemency a smarter move might have been for him to convert to Islam – after all Indonesia is a Muslim majority country. Perhaps he is genuine?
What a great article by David Pawson , thanks Bill ,never heard of the guy , but will research some more.
Excellent article Bill.
It has helped to crystallise capital punishment for me, in this case.
I dare say, if Christians had first heard the ‘victim impact statements’ of all those who lost loved ones, had families destroyed and a myriad of other costs, they would be calling for the toughest punishment, well except for the most evil unbiblical and cruel – capital punishment.
Having the Wisdom of God at their finger tips (Scripture & Scripture expounded by top scholars), so many Christians are still as foolish as the world and proud to be so.
They really do think they are kinder, more loving, more wise than the God of the Bible, as they reform God and Christianity into their own image.
Oooh I really do struggle with this. But having said that I do not know much of the history of these two fellows. If this was their first time smuggling drugs (not just caught), I would say, have a bit of mercy. But I am reading contrary information.
As a Mum, I struggle with this. I feel so badly for their mothers and can’t help but to put myself in their position. It is really heartbreaking. I hope for their sake that this is over very soon.
On another level, I struggle with the cold hearted response of so many Australians about this. Yes, they did the crime, but we can still have a heart and compassion for these two. I know what they did was heinous, but they are people too, facing a cruel and horrible death. It is possible to say that you think the death penalty is just, and at the same time show love and compassion.
I also struggle with the fact that they are happy to send these two to the firing squad but let their own terrorists off lightly. I could have a bit more respect for the legal process over there if it seemed more fair. And I have very grave doubts that it is fair.
But feelings don’t matter in these cases, only facts.
I hope something good will come of this – a very stern warning about respecting law at the very least and that we never have to hear about another young Aussie committing these crimes.
And hopefully Chan’s conversion is genuine and he has something great to look forward.
Thanks for a thought provoking post 🙂
Good article, Bill.
Andrew Chan’s conversion is genuine, he leads the Church in prison and ministers to the inmates. My pastor and his wife visit Andrew regularly and spend time with him. I am praying that his life is spared and he continues his good work.
Great articles Bill and brings clarity to what is a very emotional subject at present.
Oh well, when Chan and his buddy become human cadevars of ’tissue and cells’ their supporters will soon move onto ‘the next big thing’ – they always do. It won’t be abortion – although it is millions of times bigger than this matter. Bibleless humans have always been a fickle bunch.
And as you rightfully say Bill it is a very sad matter all around – for all the mothers and others whose lives are affected by drugs and other Godless activities. Infact, in this case it is just plain terrible on the two mothers – at least the mothers of addicts get a chance to help in saving their children’s lives. These poor women must be utterly devastated. And to be shot – it’s not an injection.
May God rest their souls, take them in peace, and may their mothers and families be also granted some peace.
And I pray that many learn from it.
God Bless Bill.
Great topic Bill.
As we all know, Jesus never instructed any of his followers to kill anyone directly. He even rebuked them for recommending God do a Sodom-style brimstone event on a local town.
But it is impossible to deny that instructions for capital punishment and military conquest are in stark contrast between the Old and New Testaments. Even the dramatic death of the conspiring giving-fakers, Ananias and Saph, was a direct God thing, without a sword in sight.
And unlike David’s mighty men, the NT crowd is never commended for their military prowess or battle-hardened manhood (Judges 8:20).
So, if the best support in the NT comes from Romans 13:4, then the case is obviously pretty fragile. This is a description of the rights of secular rulers, not directions for the Church. And God uses secular rulers, even ones He despises, to carry out His judgments when necessary. Think debauched Romans, barbaric Philistines, brutal Babylonians…
I am not arguing that capital punishment is evil, or that just wars do not exist. During the Lindt Cafe saga – I was praying for a bullet to get the guy.
However, I would suggest that if a Christian is daily on the battlefield winning souls to Christ (think Frank Jenner), they should be exempt from military service – they are much more productively fixing the world carrying on as they are. (Or even military service like Desmond Doss would serve as a model to aspire to.)
But when a Christian is stuffed with luxuries and doing stuff-all for the Kingdom of God, then they might as well shoot the bad guys. It’s not really any worse than what they are doing already – leaving people to go to Hell.
(Phew – convicting myself here…)
And doing stuff-all while pontificating about the evils of war – well, that’s a hippy.
Don’t forget that God instituted the Death Penalty himself in Genesis 9:6 and we see in the Law that it included sexual crimes, so God made sure that the most serious crimes where punishable by death.
It has been mentioned before, that those people who sob their hearts out for convicted drug dealers are dry eyed about abortion. Cognitive dissonance here. Someone made a good point, that their convicted terrorists are given more mercy than drug dealers – something wrong there.
Thank you for the article about this controversial issue. It is very thought provoking.
It is true there is a lot of hysteria and emotion surrounding this issue and I have to confess that I feel some sadness about it.
However, Andrew Chan may not have become a Christian if he hadn’t been caught drug smuggling. Now his soul will be saved and he will be with God for eternity which is ultimately all that matters.
However, what troubles me is that there have been people wrongfully hanged for murders they did not commit. One famous case was that of the Catholic Timothy Evans in the Christie murders in 1960’s London. Even one mistake is too many.
Thanks Patricia. As I said in my article above, if you read the other articles I link to, you will see that I have already dealt with these possible objections. And I have dealt with the matter of innocents. As I said elsewhere:
Of course there is no perfect justice in a fallen world. To throw out the death penalty because it is not perfect is as helpful as saying we should throw out all laws, courts, judges, jails and police, because we do not find perfection there either.
But let me look at this objection more closely, and with figures. One of the most influential abolitionists living today, Hugo Bedau, has admitted that innocent people being killed today is just not happening. In 1962 he looked at a long list of cases, and found only a handful of wrongful convictions leading to the death sentence being carried out.
But writing in 1971 he had to admit he could not find one more case of this happening. Indeed, he had to say as a result that it is “false sentimentality to argue that the death penalty should be abolished because of the abstract possibility that an innocent person might be executed, when the record fails to disclose that such cases occur.”
The situation here reminds me of the outrage over the hanging deaths in Malaysia in 1986 of Barlow and Chambers, two young Australian drug smugglers. The Malaysian government had reintroduced the death penalty in 1983; after the hangings then PM Bob Hawke called the actions of the Malaysian government “barbaric”.
Barlow and Chambers were very aware of the laws of Malaysia, but chose to take their chances.
I just pray that both Sukumaran and Chan know the peace of God that passes understanding in this dreadful time.
I can’t disagree with you on the theological justification for the death penalty, it has certainly been established by God for a purpose and is indeed just.
As you noted in the comments of one of your linked articles though, there is always room for grace in God’s domain, as illustrated with Jonah in Nineveh or the discourses in Jeremiah 18 and Ezekiel 18. This is obviously completely dependant on genuine repentance however.
I find it’s very easy to “take sides” in this debate, when often we need to consider the balance of God’s perfect justice as well as his perfect grace. It’s so hard to fathom!
In terms of lessons learned, I think it’s beneficial for us to take stock and dwell on the grace God has given us when we too deserved a much worse judgment than what these two men are going through.
Another excellent work Bill.
May I post this link on my Facebook page?
Thanks Paul. Yes feel free.
It is sad that this is occurring, but these men have clearly committed the crime, and the jurisdiction in which the crime was committed has this as their penalty.
In truth, it is probably more a case of our laws being far too lenient, not just on drug smugglers and dealers, but even murderers, rapists, and especially terrorists.
Interesting comments Bill. I’ve read all your blogs on this issue and have some comments to make.
Firstly,Genesis 9:6: “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.” While this permits the death penalty in cases of premeditated murder (not drug trafficking) just because something is permissible does not mean it is beneficial or constructive (1 Corinthians 10:23). Consider the first murder recorded in the Bible – that of Abel by his brother Cain. God Himself did not see it as beneficial to take Cain’s life (Genesis 4:10-16). He punished him by banishment from the community (like prison), but also protected him from others who would wish to kill him.
Secondly, if weattempt to justify the use of the death penalty by using selected Bible texts we also need to deal with the plethora of verses that endorse capital punishment for reasons that we find abhorrent today (consider Deuteronomy 21:18ff; Ex 31:14, Numbers 15:32-36). If we still enacted such laws most of the human race would have to die!
Thirdly, there is no explicit command in the New Testament scriptures for the use of the death penalty, just a reference to the fact that the Roman Empire used capital punishment in certain cases, and so the Christian would do well to obey the law of the land, “But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason.” This does not mean we can’t challenge and question the law of the land. The New Testament views capital punishment in much the same way as it does slavery – it doesn’t endorse it, it merely gives instruction because of its existence.
Regarding Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran – what is being requested of the Indonesian Government is that they would use their sovereign power to grant clemency to two reformed and rehabilitated men (and others on death row in Indonesia) and commute their death sentence to life imprisonment. Yes these men did do the wrong thing ten years ago; they trafficked drugs, they were foolish young men; they’ve “done the crime” and would like to “do the time” – they are just asking not to be executed. Andrew and Myuran were doing an amazing job inside Kerobokan prison of helping to rehabilitate hundreds of prisoners who will one day get out of jail. Executing them will be a deterrent to rehabilitation.
Thanks Rob. But did you indeed read all 16 articles I have penned on this topic? If you had actually done so, you would have found that I covered most of your objections in quite some detail in those pieces. Thus my reticence to have to once again rehash all this for your sake. But since you regrettably managed to get various things so amiss here in your objections, let me try once more to make the biblical case, as imperfectly as I evidently am doing!
1. It is exactly because God cared so greatly about mankind as made in his image that he instituted the death penalty as Genesis 9:4-6 makes so clear. And it of course is reiterated elsewhere in Scripture. And respectfully, taking a verse out of context and twisting it in a way Paul never would have dreamed of is a classic example of what every Year One theology student is warned against: eisegesis, rather than exegesis. The clear context of the Corinthians text you offered is obviously about meat offered to idols, and how stronger and weaker brothers might deal with this. It has absolutely nothing to do with overturning a universal moral law which God has established.
And of course as any grieving parent or loved one of a drug death victim knows, selling things like heroin kills people. So the basic biblical principle of a life for a life in this context certainly does apply here.
2. Sorry, but you get this one wrong as well. As all pastors should know, there is of course both continuity and discontinuity between the Testaments. And as they also should know, a helpful means of looking at the Mosaic Law is the standard tripartite division. Broadly speaking, while the moral law, as expressed in the Ten Commandments, carries through, the ceremonial law and the civil law for the nation of Israel do not. And as we also all should know, the God-ordained death penalty was of course given prior to the Mosaic legislation. It is a binding and universal moral principle, just as was the command to Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth. And as I already said so often, both Jesus and Paul fully upheld and affirmed the God-given death penalty. How could they do otherwise?
3. Again you are wrong; and I have just dealt with this. Not only did Jesus and Paul directly refer to it, but Paul in Romans 13 makes the exact case for it. So how you can even make this claim is rather odd to be honest. By the way: do you push for tithing in your church? If so, let me paraphrase you: ‘ there is no explicit command in the New Testament scriptures for the use of tithing’. Such selective use of “silence” is hardly helpful here. It is the same faulty strategy of the homosexual revisionists to argue that Jesus said nothing about homosexuality, so it must therefore be just peachy. One might as well argue that rape and environmental pollution are just fine since Jesus did not bother to mention these things either.
And if you actually read my articles, you will know that I nowhere said we cannot challenge governments on various laws, their application, and their penalties. Indeed, I have penned entire articles in which I argue for this very thing! Christians can do that all they like in this particular case. But I would suggest that Australians are better advised to deal with the laws of their own land, instead of trying to correct another nation’s legal system. And given that everyone in the world would have known the clearly pre-announced penalties for drug smuggling there, it rather silly to try to make excuses for their criminal behaviour.
Also you are dead wrong to claim that the NT views slavery and capital punishment in the same way. Of course it doesn’t. Slavery was a long standing condition throughout human history which Scripture ameliorated and softened even in the OT, and worked to bring about its end in the NT. The death penalty on the other hand is the clear command of God, and is fully ordained by Him, along with the institution of the state, as a means to maintain justice and punish wrongdoing in a fallen world. It was never rescinded in the NT and it was never seen as in any way less than ideal.
4. Again, had you actually read this piece, I clearly said that if Aussie Christians want to lobby the Indonesian government they can go right ahead. I certainly am not stopping them. I simply said I would not be taking part. But what does continue to bother me greatly is the ongoing selectivity in terms of moral outrage. No one seems to give a rip about all those killed by this heroin. If I heard as much concern being mouthed about their plight, and that of their remaining families and loved ones, I might take a bit more seriously all the angst being shown over these convicted drug smugglers.
And as I also said, it is terrific if some of these guys have found Christ. They are then ready to meet their Maker at any time. The idea that God’s work will somehow be incomplete or curtailed if they meet an early death (due to the very moral law God has established) is a funny way of looking at things. God is able to use donkeys or stones, so he will certainly accomplish his purposes here, with or without this pair. And as I said in my piece, we of course can keep praying for these guys and their families as well.
But again, I am repeating myself here. Sorry, but obviously on this one we will just have to agree to disagree. But thanks for your thoughts.
Hi Bill. No, I read the 6 articles that you gave the link to in the blog above. I wasn’t aware there were 16. Apologies for giving you reason to repeat yourself. As you say, “but obviously on this one we will just have to agree to disagree.” I agree with you on that 🙂
I’m not sure where you’re going with this statement: “The idea that God’s work will somehow be incomplete or curtailed if they meet an early death (due to the very moral law God has established) is a funny way of looking at things. God is able to use donkeys or stones, so he will certainly accomplish his purposes here, with or without this pair.” I have not suggested for one minute that God’s work would be incomplete or curtailed. He is Sovereign. I’ve merely pointed out that both men would like to continue their work. Sadly, that doesn’t look very likely at this stage. Thank you for the assurance that you – and I trust your readers as well – will be praying for them and their families. They are all part of the Body of Christ and they are suffering. We are commanded to resonate with their pain.
Thanks Rob. And we are to resonate with the pain of all their heroin death victims as well – the real forgotten victims here.
“And of course as any grieving parent or loved one of a drug death victim knows, selling things like heroin kills people. So the basic biblical principle of a life for a life in this context certainly does apply here.”
Yes true, how many people have these two men killed?
Rape, robbery, kidnapping, idolatry, fornication, etc, were also capital offences ordained by God. There were many others as well. Any violent crime that involved a death as well as murder and high treason are heinous. High Treason is the worst crime of the all as it involved the danger of all citizens. There are Canadians that are committing treason just by radicalizing to Islam and supporting ISIS.
What of the ten commandments?
Thou shalt not kill…..
Thanks Mary, but if you read the articles I linked to, you would see that I have answered that often. The Sixth Commandment of course does not forbid killing. it forbids murder, which is an entirely different matter. God commands the morally licit killing of the guilty, but prohibits the immoral murder of the innocent. But read this to get some more understanding on this:
There’s also thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt covet thy neighbor’s wife. Thou shalt bear no false witness against thy neighbor, basically included telling lies in court. In a case of a capital crime, the perjurer was executed especially in the old days. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors ‘possessions.’
Likewise there were many capital offences including MSM, and sex with animals. Adultery may have been a capital offence, depending on the circumstances and for whom as well. Even speaking badly to parents and working on the Sabbath were capital offences.
Of course in the USA CP was reserved for Treason, Espionage, Murder, Felony murder(Violent crime with manslaughter), Rape, Armed Robbery, and Kidnapping. Also Perjury could also count. There were others as well, like some war crimes.
I at first believed the death penalty for Chan was too harsh but not after reading this today http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2869230/Bali-Nine-ringleader-Andrew-Chan-mastermind-international-drug-deal-went-horribly-wrong-threatened-17-year-old-mule-Hong-Kong-jail-mouth-shut.html
Thanks for that Jo.
Like Linda, I see the decision of Indonesia’s President as completely unjust. It is well known that his own people are given lighter sentences for similar crimes, and it is mainly foreigners who receive the death penalty. Add to that the fact that going ahead with the executions when they did was not lawful: That is, carrying out the death penalty while an appeal is still in progress and is not due to be heard until May 12! Several of us were outraged by that alone.
Moreover, one would think from what you have said, Bill, that drug traffickers force feed drugs to those who buy them. Now I am not minimizing the guilt of those who take part in this illegal activity. However, there is still a clear choice on the part of the individual who buys, and uses these drugs. If there was no market for them, there would be no traffickers. It’s really a bit like prostitution in that regard.
In other words, while not exonerating the Bali 9 (which turned out to be the Bali 8), I believe Joko Widodo was way out of line, and was guided not so much by the law of the land, but by internal politics. Here is the considered opinion of Asmin Fransiska, Lecturer in Human Rights at Atma Jaya Catholic University in Jakarta:
The Indonesian government is wrong for arguing that upholding the death penalty is a matter of “law enforcement”. The death penalty actually derails efforts to reform the country’s legal system. Law enforcement institutions in Indonesia are tainted by a corrupt bureaucracy and dirty legal apparatus. Cases of torture are not hard to find. Under these circumstances, it is possible that the death penalty is imposed as a result of a mistaken legal process. Death penalty sentencing is also laden with discrimination. It is used disproportionately for certain groups of people. The death penalty never touches perpetrators from the elite, rich and powerful. The use of the death penalty derails legal reform objectives. One of the goals in criminal law reform is to change perspectives on punishment. The purpose of punishment is not only deterrence or condemnation, but also restorative justice. – See more at: http://australiaplus.com/international/2015-04-29/bali-nine-duo-executed-the-view-from-indonesia/1441466#sthash.jKSEf1qR.dpuf
Thanks Ann. But where exactly have I ever said I fully support all things done by the Indonesian government in this case? What I have said over and over again is that God has ordained the death penalty. That has been my main point all along. If you bother to read all my articles on this, I carefully state that how we specifically enact this in various nations today and for what crimes is obviously a matter of debate and careful thought.
And respectfully, those grieving parents who have lost sons and daughters to the drug peddlers may be much less cavalier about such matters than some of us can be as we discuss this in our comfortable arm chairs.
Fair enough, Bill. But I’d have to agree with Rob Buckingham on the death penalty issue: I don’t see it actively supported anywhere in the New Testament. In fact, you are the first person I’ve heard say that this is the case. Romans 13:4 touches on it to the degree that we are to obey the law of the land or else fear the consequences, but I fail to see that this is saying that God has ordained the death penalty. Sin certainly has its consequences, but grace abounds.
Thanks Ann. But I have of course dealt with these objections over and over again, so it becomes a bit tedious to keep having to repeat myself here! As I keep saying, if folks are really interested in the biblical case for this – and are not just asking rhetorical questions – then they should read some of my articles where I already cover all this in great detail.
I of course already have dealt with the furphy about no NT support for this. It is nowhere renounced in the NT, but affirmed repeatedly, eg, Luke 23:40-41; John 19:10-11; Acts 25:11; etc. Look it up. And sorry, but it is rather clear what Romans 13 is referring to (about bearing the sword). I have penned a whole piece showing that this is the normal reading of the text, supported by the majority of NT scholars. See here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2015/02/13/the-sword-of-romans-13/
And respectfully, if you have never heard these sorts of things before, that may tell us more about your particular reading or learning habits than it does about the current state of play of biblical studies and NT ethics.
And sorry, but the bumper sticker clichés about grace which are thrown around far too much need to be reeled in a bit and replaced with a full, biblical understanding of grace. That I also discuss plenty of times. See here eg: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2015/02/21/difficult-bible-passages-james-213/
But thanks for your thoughts.