How should we, as Christians, view capital punishment?

Hello! @Alycia_Wood I am so excited that you have sacrifice and spent a time with us. As I read your biography I saw that you have a degree on justice and crime. I am excited to ask away that one of my question that trouble me a lot and I believe I will release my doubtness from your reply.
My question is on capital punishment that we have I am from India and in my country the capital punishment is hang. If I think on the Christian viev before we order to hang if the criminal want to repent for his crime. Would the hang will be justice with the Christian idea? Or could we not keep in prison unless repent. Is it right to take one life by capita punishment.

Atai singlai

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Wow. Thank you for your boldness in asking this question. This is not just a hot topic in India, but also here in the US as well. You will have Christians on all sides of this question, but since you asked me my thoughts, I am glad to share. I will warn you that my answer might be tough to read at times as we are dealing with crimes and there isn’t anything pretty when describing them.

When you are a Criminal Justice major as I was, there are several things you learn about society, people, the broken nature of humanity and even yourself. I remember watching a video in one of my classes one day. The video was of Jeffrey Dahmer who was a well-known serial killer. What made Jeffrey Dahmer unique was that not only did he kill people, but he was also a cannibal. Pretty gruesome stuff. Anyways, we were watching the video and I remember learning that Jeffrey killed his first person as a teenager, but then stopped. He tried to fix himself over the years following, but wasn’t able to and eventually gave in to his desires and started going on a killing spree in his 20’s. Jeffrey also was gay, and one time he attempted to kill his young gay partner. The problem was that unknown to Jeffrey, the young man didn’t die. He escaped the apartment and made it onto the street where he encountered police officers, telling them what had happened to him. Unfortunately, Jeffrey walks into the scene and explains that it is just a lovers quarrel. Sadly, the response of the police was terrible. They basically said that it was just a bunch of homosexuals arguing and laughingly walked away. Jeffrey took the boy back to his apartment and killed him. Had the police intervened then, they could have saved the life of that young man plus the lives of the men after this that Jeffrey killed.

Why do I share with you this horrific story? Because of the 2 things it taught me.

When I entered college, I had a very selfish view of capital punishment and crime. I am ashamed to say that my attitude towards criminals in general was, “'fry em” implying that they should all just go to the electric chair. They messed up, they deserve death. What a disgusting and ungodly attitude to have. Why do I say that now? Well, because thankfully, Jesus loved me enough to step in and teach me through the life of Jeffrey Dahmer. When I was watching that video and it got to the part where it talked about how Jeffrey fought himself to not give in to the desires that he had for killing, I suddenly saw the humanness of this man. This was not a man who was unlike any other human who wrestles against sin. OF COURSE, Jeffrey’s sins that he wrestled against were horrific, but on a basic level, it was still a human fighting the desires of the flesh (insert any of a thousand sermons on Romans 7:15-25 here)!! And it was in that moment that God spoke to me. On a basic level, Jeffrey was just like me. I too wrestle against doing things I should not do, and not doing things I should. What in the world made me think I was any different, no any BETTER, than him? Because I had never murdered? Because I wasn’t in prison? And it was here that I began to understand sin differently because I realized that Jesus had to die on the cross for Jeffrey’s sins, just like He had to die on the cross for my sins. If Jeffrey had never committed any murders, Jesus still would have had to die for his other sins as well as mine. We both put Him there. And in that way, we both needed God’s forgiveness. We both needed God’s extension of Mercy and Grace to us as undeserving sinners who found hope in God. And in that way, although before the eyes of culture I was better than Jeffrey Dahmer, I then realized that before the eyes of God we were both sinners. This was a great equalizer for me. The comparison for righteousness wasn’t me vs. other humans, but humans vs. a perfect God.

Secondly, I remember my professor being visibly upset about the response of the police officers when they encountered the young boy. I remember him sternly telling us all that no matter who we encounter, we must treat all people with respect. Once again, the Christian idea of valuing all people was emphasized to me. I need to always remember that God loves people, sees them, and cares for them. And if He is doing that, I also must treat them the same way. For me, those moments were the beginning of a mental shift on how I viewed humanity that I have carried with me throughout my life. Being a Criminal Justice Major changed the way I viewed people, ALL people. I began to see people through the eyes of God.

All of that background is important when we address the idea of capital punishment. Remember, I was for it when I entered college, but it was through learning that we all are in need of Jesus’ death on the cross and that all people should be treated as valuable, as creatures created in the Image of God, that my mindset on many things began to change. Capital punishment being one of them. So at that young age, if I was going to still support capital punishment, I would have to find other reasons.

One reason for me to consider supporting capital punishment could be its monetary value. I mean, wasn’t it better for our society financially if people died instead of housing them in prisons their whole lives? Well, surprising for many, no. It actually costs much more, in the American judicial system, to house someone on death row because they have to have their own cell while they are in death row. Generally speaking, prisoners in the rest of the prison will share a cell with another person. This significantly lowers costs. Death Row inmates also go through years of appeals in court before they actually reach the time for execution, if that even happens, and lawyer and court fees are extremely expensive. By the way, all those fees are paid by taxpayers. So I had to realize that there was no financial argument for capital punishment. By the way, for further information on this, here is a great website that expounds on that further:

So if it is not financially beneficial for them to be executed, then we at least should be able to say that capital punishment helps to deter crime, right? Well, that has not been proven either. The reality is that people commit crimes for a variety of reasons, and fear of punishment really doesn’t do a great job of stopping them. How many people do illegal drugs even though they know they could get prison time if caught? That is just a minor example.

Additionally, DNA testing has shown us that we have killed innocent people in the past. Who wants to be guilty of that? Check out this website for more information on this. The Innocence Project has done wonderful things in freeing the innocent using DNA: Now I realize that you are in India, and so the statistics are going to be a bit different where you are, but the other important reason that I am now against Capital punishment is because of something you mentioned already. It eliminates the possibility of redemption.

Redemption makes no sense if there is not an understanding of direct punishment for sins. I think you see God teaching about redemption in the story of Hosea and Gomer. A woman who was sexually promiscuous and thus un-marriable in her society, who God asks the prophet Hosea to marry. He does so and then she has the nerve to cheat on him! After everything he has done for her! Giving her a home, children, financial security. But once again, God asks him to go get her and this time he has to buy her back. What you see here, is God saying, “I see what she has done, but I don’t want her to suffer the punishment for it. Let’s give her another chance. Let her feel love even though she is undeserving. Let’s give her another opportunity to change by extending mercy”. I think when we get to the New Testament, this continues even more where Jesus’ death redeems humanity by bringing them back into the Father’s family. In other words, by Jesus taking the penalty, people are given the opportunity to experience forgiveness, and live in a way that He desires. IF he offers that to us, shouldn’t we be offering that to others? Including those on death row?

So, in summary, I am against capital punishment as I have yet to find a solid reason FOR it. It doesn’t make sense in a variety of ways. Please don’t misunderstand me as I do not believe we should just let people out of prison, but I do think life in prison is the alternative. There are many inmates that have become Christians and whole new people while in prison. I think that should be offered to those who sit on death row as well.

With all this said, I am sure that since you live in India, you are familiar with the horrible gang rape and death of Jyoti Singh who was a young medical student. I remember being completely horrified by her story. Some of the men who raped her were sentenced to death, and to be honest, a part of me was glad. Why? Because I was angry. I was disgusted. I didn’t think they should be given the pleasure of life. They weren’t even remorseful for what they did. But listen to what I am saying. I am allowing my emotions of anger to determine someone’s fate, as if how I feel should matter. What matters the most is how does God view them? How does God ask me to love my enemies? What if one day 10 years from now in prison they had become Christians? I would have rejoiced at the goodness of God to change someone’s heart of stone, and at the end of the day, that was worth them living.

Thank you for your question,