"Judge not lest ye be judged".

The Christian Right
Capital Punishment

A person's "Right to Life" does not depend on his innocence.

"If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." (John 8:7)
In January of the year 2000 a Republican contender for the presidential nomination declared that he was the "pro-life candidate". This same man had already, as governor, presided over 119 executions, with more on the way. Those executed included the mentally ill, the mentally retarded, and people who had been minors at the time of their crimes.

Which leads us naturally to the question: Does "pro-life" mean "pro-life"?

If I understand the arguments of the right-to-life groups correctly, abortion is wrong not because it is the taking of a life, but because it results in the taking of an innocent life. "Pro-life" means "pro-innocent-life".

Let us admit that from zygotehood to the "age of reason" (whatever that age may be), Man is "innocent" in the sense that he is incapable of making responsible, moral choices. But from the moment he begins exercising - however tentatively - his liberty (his ability to choose, his free will, call it what you may), he risks making wrong choices. He leaves the state of innocence for that of experience.

But this cannot be the meaning given to the word "innocent" by the Christian right in the abortion debate, surely. For if it were, then they would be denying that any healthy, mentally "normal" individual above the age of, say, 7 even has a right to life; that when he left innocence behind, he lost forever his right to life.

Perhaps Man is innocent when he is "free from sin". Not only are we born in a state of original sin, we learn from Christian teaching that we "...all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). None of us is innocent; none of us can claim a right to life.

"Free from guilt"? But of which crime? If it is guilt of murder that the innocent are free from, then that notion of innocence is convenient indeed. And who can determine innocence infallibly? The State? The congregation? Who determines whether a human has the right to live or not?

The governor of Illinois has recently declared a moratorium on executions in his state - a decision President Clinton called "courageous". The reason for the moratorium is that too many innocent people are being sentenced to death. The reason the moratorium took "courage" is that popular (voter) opinion in the US is in favour of executions - regardless of the guilt or innocence of the condemned, apparently. And in the formation of this opinion, the religious right has played a significant role.

By supporting capital punishment, the religious right in the United States has taken a straightforward phrase - "the right to life" - and made it something unintelligible. "Pro-life" doesn't mean "pro-life", and "innocence" is gibberish.

By supporting capital punishment, the religious right - through its logical inconsistency - undermines its position on abortion.

By supporting capital punishment, the religious right would make us believe that Christ's teachings are impracticable.


The Church - the whole Christian Church - must clearly teach that the death penalty is intrinsically evil because it is a violation of the right to life.


Some final thoughts...

1 John 4:16

God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.

1 John 4:20

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?