Can I be Pro-Life and Pro-Death Penalty?
It is quite common, within Evangelicalism, to be Pro-Life in regards to abortion, but also in favor of the Death Penalty. This strikes many unbelievers (and a good number of Christians, too) as inconsistent. If one is Pro-Life, shouldn’t they be Pro-Life across the board? Shouldn’t they fight for the life of the person on death row just as passionately as they fight for the unborn child? Is it really possible to be Pro-Life AND Pro-Death-Penalty?
Let me start by answering NO (but hear me out, because there’s another sense in which I think the answer is YES). When we think of being Pro-Life, we normally think of being passionate advocates for unborn babies. But should we be passionate advocates for the death penalty? I personally don’t think so. It doesn’t seem fitting for a Christian, at all, to be enthusiastic about the death of another human being. When a serious criminal is put to death, this is a terrible tragedy (even if it, hypothetically, is the right course of action). We might, in one sense, celebrate that justice has been done… but we should never celebrate the death of one made in the Image of God.
So it would be inappropriate, I think, for a Christian to think of the death penalty as a positive thing. Saving babies is positive. Killing criminals is negative. But is it possible that some negatives are necessary (or at least allowable) in this fallen world? I think a fairly strong case can be made for use of the death penalty by world governments.
Governments themselves are necessitated only because the world went mad. God established the concept of human government as a way to keep some degree of order in the world until all is made right again. God gives governments the task of rewarding good and punishing bad. In regards to the latter, rulers do not bear the sword in vain. They are agents of wrath against evil. Capital punishment is one way that governments may choose to perform their role against the most serious offenders of the law of the land. Is it the most effective way to deal with such criminals? Are too many mistakes made in the judicial system to condone it? These are questions worth asking.
Hypothetically, one could ask those questions and determine that the death penalty is an effective way to deal with serious criminals and may be carried out in an extremely judicious manner. Would a Christian’s support for such a policy be inconsistent with the Pro-Life position? Not necessarily. When we defend the life of an unborn baby we are defending the life of the most innocent and defenseless of all human beings. When we demand (or allow for the demand of) the life of a murderer, we are demanding the life of someone who disregarded the value of life. The execution of a murderer is, quite arguably, a way to SHOW we believe that value exists. It is a show of support for the life that was so wrongfully taken.
This is a highly debatable topic. While, in my opinion, a case can be made for supporting the governments right to utilize the death penalty, there will always be Christians (and others) who find it inconsistent to show people murder is wrong by killing them. One thing I hope and pray we can all agree on is that we, as Christians, should never hope for the death of one who has seriously wronged us. Instead, we should love and pray for them… offering them forgiveness… and hoping they find the forgiveness available to them in Jesus Christ before it is too late.