Can Pro Life Christians Support the Death Penalty?

If you oppose abortion then you have to oppose capital punishment too. That is an argument that we as pro-lifers often hear, but is it true? I had taken my teenage daughter and several of her teenage friends to Washington D.C. a number of years ago for their first ever March for Life. Of course people descend by the hundreds of thousands on the national Capitol every January for the March for Life, and most of the time people are carrying signs to kind of articulate their pro-life viewpoint.

My little entourage of teenage girls all had their signs as we were walking through D.C. and we stopped for a quick takeout bite to eat when a man in the restaurant saw our signs. Knowing what was going on the National Mall that day, he said, “If you oppose abortion, you have to oppose capital punishment too.” I respectfully asked that man if he believed that the court issues were the same in both circumstances. And he replied that yes, in fact, he believed that the court issue was the same in both circumstances. If you oppose killing, you must consistently oppose killing for all reasons, not just when it is convenient for your opinion.

I responded that he had very well articulated the traditional pacifist viewpoint that violence and killing is always unjustifiable and always wrong. But if this is incumbent on Christians to believe, how can capital punishment be endorsed by the God of the Bible? Which it undeniably is, and if this is true, how can our legal system allow such things as self-defense, which it undeniably does.

I was able to speak with this man about the fact that, from the Christian moralistic viewpoint, the core issue is not the same when it comes to abortion and capital punishment because the core issue is not killing. The court issue is murder. Is there a difference between killing a person and murdering a person?

Well, from both a biblical worldview and from an American legal perspective, the answer is yes. There is a difference between killing and murder. Let’s begin with a working definition, if you will, of murder. Murder is the intentional taking of an innocent human life. There are three essential ingredients in that definition, and those three essential ingredients are intentional, innocent and human.

Again, let me restate the definition. Murder is the intentional taking of an innocent human life. Let’s start with the human element. If it is not human, it does not really meet the definition of murder from a legal perspective or from a biblical perspective. You cannot murder a plant. Now, if you saw how not green my thumb is, you might facetiously accuse me of being a plant murderer, and you would have good reason for accusing me of that. But as many house plants as I have killed in my life, I have never been in danger of being convicted of murder because killing plants is not really murder. Nor is killing a chicken murder. This is why it is permissible and allowable for us to kill a chicken in order to feed our children, whereas it is not permissible for us to kill our children in order to feed a chicken. I mean, there is a difference between human life and chicken life. We all know that instinctively to be convicted of murder, you must intentionally kill an innocent human, so that’s number one.

Let’s move on to the second ingredient in that definition, and that is intentional. Is it possible to murder someone unintentionally from a legal perspective? The answer is no. That is why we distinguish between manslaughter and murder, the difference between the two being intentionality. Is it a serious thing to inadvertently kill a human being? Absolutely. Anytime human beings are killed for any reason, it is always very, very serious. You can even be punished extremely severely for accidentally taking human life, but you will not receive the same severity of punishment for negligent killing, as you will for intentional murder. So that’s number two, intentionality.

And finally, and most relevant to our conversation here today is the element of innocence. Again, murder is the intentional taking of an innocent human life. Is it truly the same thing to intentionally kill an innocent baby in the womb as it is to put a convicted killer to death by capital punishment? Both from a legal perspective and from a biblical perspective, the answer is no. The Bible and our penal system in America make room for the fact that a murderer can be deemed as being such a menace and a danger to society that capital punishment is justifiable.

Capital punishment is not murder because the person in question is not innocent. They have been found guilty of a crime that is worthy of death. That is exactly why non-innocence has been established, the jailers, the doctors, the law enforcement officers who carry out the prescribed death sentence will never be regarded by the law as murderers. In this regard, it is possible to kill a human without murdering a human.

The bottom line issue in discussing the permissibility of abortion and capital punishment is not killing as the man that I encountered in the DC restaurant was implying. The bottom line issue between the two is murder. When I say that I am opposed to abortion, I mean that I am opposed to murder. I am opposed to the intentional taking of an innocent human life.

For this reason, it is possible for us as Christians to distinguish between killing innocent babies in the womb and imposing the death penalty on non-innocent convicted murderers. Abortion is the intentional taking of an innocent human life. Capital punishment is the intentional taking of a non innocent human life.

Before closing, let me say that I do not believe that it is incumbent upon all Christians to support the death penalty. In order for the death penalty to be morally justifiable, non-innocence has to be clearly, justifiably,demonstrably, provably and reliably established by the criminal justice system. For that to work properly, the justice system has to be free of corruption and for most governments around the world, including our own here in America, it is a matter of opinion whether or not you trust the penal system to be free of corruption and bias.

If you are a Christian and you do not feel that our penal system is free of corruption and bias, and therefore you do not support the death penalty in our society, I believe you are totally within your unconscionable rights not to support the death penalty. So it is possible for Christians to oppose both abortion and the death penalty just as I have argued, with conviction, that it is okay to be Christian and support the death penalty. I will unequivocally hear my corollary opinion, which is not a popular one in all circles, and I understand that. I do not believe that it is possible for Christians to support abortion. I am aware that that is a controversial thing for me to say, but let me defend that.

Abortion fits our definition of murder. Murder is the intentional taking of an innocent human life. Abortion is the intentional taking of an innocent human life, and for that reason, abortion is murder. Abortion is the violation of the sixth commandment. That’s Exodus 20:13, and it is an abomination to God.

Passion Life is dedicated to helping Christians and Christian leaders thoroughly examine the biblical implications of abortion so that they can compassionately help their congregants join in cheerful obedience to God in joining in this rescue movement for the most vulnerable among us. And for that reason, we at Passion Life oppose abortion and we teach people how to join in the Rescue movement.

For more information about Passion Life, who we are, what we believe, what we do, please visit our website at www.passionlife.org. In Spanish, that’s passionvida.org. We have both website up where you can sign up for our free newsletters to help keep you in touch with what we are doing, and we look forward to joining the discussion with you.