I’ll just come out and statement my position up front: I oppose abortion but support, at least in principle, the death penalty. For some, this may seem like a conflicting position. I hope to convince you it is not.
I can think of a few good reasons to oppose the death penalty. You may believe that there are too many innocent people wrongly convicted. You may believe that too many are convicted on too little evidence, or because of bias within the courts. You may not trust the State to carry out such weighty matters of justice. In fact, all the “good” reasons I can think of to oppose the death penalty are because I don’t trust the State (I might be showing a bit of political bias here) to carry out justice. These might all be perfectly good reasons to oppose the death penalty in a lot of different situations but, for me, based on how I read Romans 13, they don’t warrant opposing the death penalty in principle.
I understand the above arguments, and variations thereof, but there is one argument I sometimes hear which I think entirely erroneous. The argument goes like this: “You can’t be ‘pro-life’ before birth and ‘pro-death’ after birth.” In other words, the argument states that if you oppose abortion you must also oppose the death penalty.
I think this is a bad argument. In fact, I think this is a downright offensive argument. No offense to those who hold it (I love you Joel!) but this argument drives me crazy.
The problem with this argument is that it frames the question entirely as a life/death issue, as if that is all it was: “Pro-life” before birth means opposing abortion and “pro-life” after birth means opposing abortion. There’s a certain attractive simplicity to this argument but it ignores the other fundamental principle in both issues: Justice!
Abortion is wrong not just because it takes the life of a precious baby, but because it takes the life of an innocent baby! It takes away the life of someone who has done nothing to deserve it. Abortion is murder, not just killing. Abortion is unjust. I’m pro-life because I believe that every life is precious and because I believe it is an affront to justice.
When the death penalty is enforced it is done so for the sake of justice. A man who slaughters innocent people in cold blood and is then executed by the states gets justice. We may still find his death tragic (I do) and we may still hope that he finds forgiveness from the family of the victim and from God but we cannot say he did not deserve the punishment he received from the State as it wields the sword as a servant of God’s wrath.
In both cases a life is lost. In an abortion it as an innocent life. In the death penalty it is a guilty one. That makes all the difference.
I believe there is biblical precedence for this position. In the Old Testament there is a clear command – “You shall not murder.” And yet, the following detailed law code allows for the death penalty for numerous infractions, including in the case of murder. The Old Testament sees murdering someone as wrong but receiving the penalty for that murder as right. What makes the difference? In the first case, the life was taken unjustly. In the second case, the life was taken as an extension of justice.
While many of the details of the Old Testament law code no longer apply, the underlying principles still do. There is a fundamental difference between a life taken unjustly and one taken as an extension of justice.
So I believe the argument that compares abortion to the death penalty to be wrong.
But I also believe it to be offensive.
Do we really want to compare the execution of a baby to that of a murderer or a rapist? Do we really want to compare the innocent to the guilty? Do we really believe that the two are one and the same thing? I’m offended for the sake of the aborted! I’m offended on their behalf.
I understand wanting to be consistently pro-life. After all, every life is precious to God, even the lives of those who are worthy of receiving the death penalty. But don’t ignore the other half of the equation. Don’t ignore the driving force between the arguments here. Don’t ignore justice. Both life and justice matter to God. In fact, justice matters to God because life matters to God (see Genesis 9:5-6). Those who shed innocent blood are worthy of judgment. Those whose innocent blood is shed are not.