This was not a question raised in this summer’s People’s Choice sermon series but one that a news article I read about the Pope sparked. Pope Francis, a progressive and liberal pope, changed Catholicism’s official teaching on the death penalty to hold that it is now “inadmissible” because it “attacks” the “inherent dignity of all humans.” This has caused praise from some RC’s and criticism from others.
Yet any Pope, who RC’s believe has “papal infallibility” in his pronouncements (1870) should not be our guide to this subject, nor should subjective contemporary feelings about justice, but rather what God has to say about the matter.
Before we turn to that, it is interesting that 2015 was the first year more people in the UK were against capital punishment than for it. Interestingly, when it was officially struck off the books by MP’s in 1998 the popular support for it was much higher than 50% (higher still when MP’s ended the practice in the 1965).
Many Christians have bought into a faulty view of God’s love and justice and divine order for human affairs that would see them heartily agree with the Pope’s decision (forgetting government authorities are appointed by God and “do not bear the sword in vain” [Ro 13:4]). One can interestingly note a corresponding tie between the decline of Christianity and Christian values in the UK and the corresponding decline in support for the death penalty.
Much of our British legal heritage stems from the wisdom of the Law of Moses. Though this was intended for the theocracy of Israel it was applied to national legal systems across the West. It was the bedrock upon which Western civilization was built. Those Christians who oppose capital punishment, however, often cite that Christians are no longer under the Law of Moses, particularly its legal provisions. In this, aside from moral obligations, I would agree as they were fulfilled in Christ. HOWEVER, the biblical mandate FOR the death penalty precedes the Law of Moses, meaning that its application is universal. God instituted the just practice in Genesis 9:6:
Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God has made man in his own image.
There is obviously much more that could be said about the Biblical parametres around and wisdom for the practice of capital punishment, but what is ultimately ‘inadmissible’ and something which attacks the ‘inherent dignity of all humans’ is when governments fail to fulfil their God given mandate of bearing the sword as He instructs and thus be His instruments for justice and for the punishment and curtailing of evil.
The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,