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Churches differ in views on capital punishment

Many local churches have official positions on capital punishment while some do not. Some pastors wonder why conservative churches condemn abortion while giving the go ahead to state sponsored executions.

Many local churches have official positions on capital punishment while some do not. Some pastors wonder why conservative churches condemn abortion while giving the go ahead to state sponsored executions.

ALBANY -- Whether or not you're a believer, the image of a crucified Jesus evokes the world's most famous execution. For some 2000 years, churches dedicated to what many believe are the words and deeds of Jesus continue to be built and to endure.

In contrast to the harsh and bloody message of the old testament, Jesus spoke of love, most say, and so it might be easily assumed all Christian churches might view the death penalty in ways similar to one another. there are, however, some big differences.

While capital punishment may be attacked or defended on a number of fronts, churches which condemn the death penalty tend to do so with concern toward the soul of the convicted, with the admonishment that we should not "play God."

Leigh Ann Raynor, pastor of Porterfield United Methodist Church, says her church's position is to oppose the death penalty in "all cases." Raynor cites The United Methodist Book of Discipline, which is intended as a spiritual and moral guide for all United Methodists.

The Book of Discipline states that while the church is "deeply concerned" about the value of any life taken by a murder or homicide, "when governments implement the death penalty, then the life of the convicted person is devalued and all possibility of change in that person's life ends."

According to the Book of Disciple, Raynor said, ending the life of a convicted person prematurely could therefore deprive the person of a reconciliation with Christ, which through repentance is offered to everyone.

Raynor stressed that the position of the United Methodist Church does not necessarily represent the opinions of all those who attend Porterfield.

Eddie Adams, pastor of Victory Tabernacle Assembly of God, says that neither the Assembies of God as a whole, nor his local church, have a specific guideline for the subject.

According to national church material provided by Adams, AOG members are a mixed group when it comes to the topic of capital punishment, but admits that "most likely" a greater number of members favor execution for certain types of crimes, such as premeditated murder, than those who oppose capital punishment "without reservation."

The AOG material goes on to say that most of their church members tend to form their opinions based on the perceived endorsement of capital punishment in the Old Testament, and find nothing to negate that directive in the Testament of Jesus Christ.

"As a pastor, I don't have a problem with the laws of the land and the way our judicial system is set up," Adams said. "Neither do I have a problem making a decision based on evidence without considering myself judgmental."

Jason Burchfield, pastor of Albany Christian Church, shares his satisfaction with the current governmental position on capital punishment and said that his church has no particular position on the death penalty.

"It's a governmental issue, not an issue for the church," Burchfield said. "Government is there to protect society and scripture tells us we should support our government."

When asked, however, Burchfield said he would vote to abolish the death penalty.

"A life term in prison would be sufficient," he said.

It would be difficult to find a more energetic or vocal critic of the death penalty within the Christian ranks than Garrett Andrew, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Albany. Andrew makes his feelings clear.

"I am personally pro-life in all situations," Andrew said. "and I can't help but find the dichotomy of some individuals -- and churches -- disturbing when they can come out against abortion and not against executions. It's confusing too, that these conservatives seem to be against all aspects of government, and yet when it comes to states killing people, they fall right in line."

According to material supplied by Andrew, the official position of the Presbyterian Church is that "capital punishment cannot be condoned by an interpretation of the Bible based upon the revelation of God's love in Jesus Christ," and that Christians should "seek the redemption of evil doers and not their deaths."

In 1978, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church referred to capital punishment as "an expression of vengeance which contradicts the justice of God on the cross."

Andrew related the New Testament story of the woman who was found in an act of adultery, a capital offense by Old Testament rules.

"The accusers brought her before Jesus and reminded him what the law of Moses called for. They tried to tempt him into saying the wrong thing. But he acted like he hadn't even heard them. He stooped down and wrote something in the dirt with his finger. Nobody knows what he wrote. Now, I like to think that he was writing their sins for them to see, but we don't know. They kept after him to answer and finally he stood up and invited those of them without sin to throw a stone. Of course they all left."

Father Barry Stanton at St. Teresa's Catholic Church said that the current system of capital punishment is based on the Old Testament dictum of "an eye for an eye," and is unnecessary in modern times. In addition, he believes the U.S. legal system favors the wealthy and that the death penalty has little or no impact as a deterrent against crime.

"You don't have to take a life," Stanton said. "Christian scriptures show that His death was for the just and the unjust. You can assure the safety of society without taking a life. In Europe it's very secular now. Almost everywhere the death penalty has been abolished. They've done it for humanitarian reasons."

In June of 2000, The Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution supporting "fair and equitable use of capital punishment." Matthew Nance, said that Byne Memorial Baptist Church, where he is pastor, has no particular position on the subject.

Nance himself supports the death penalty, he said, but states that we need to be as "gracious and cautious as possible." According to Nance, the death penalty does serve as a deterrent to heinous crime.

Kelly Levi, who is studying to be a Rabbi, divides her time between her studies in New York and Temple B'nai Israel in Albany. According to Levi, Reform Jews, such as those attending B'nai Israel, are encouraged to reject the death penalty.

Although not Christian, those of the Jewish faith worship from the Torah, essentially the Old Testament of the Christian Church.

"Torah commands us 'Thou shalt not murder," Levi said. "When a person is put to death in such a way as during a state execution, we consider it murder."

Comments

Gabrielblows 2 years, 12 months ago

How should a Christian view the death penalty? First, we must remember that God has instituted capital punishment in His Word; therefore, it would be presumptuous of us to think that we could institute a higher standard. God has the highest standard of any being; He is perfect. This standard applies not only to us but to Himself. Therefore, He loves to an infinite degree, and He has mercy to an infinite degree. We also see that He has wrath to an infinite degree, and it is all maintained in a perfect balance.

Second, we must recognize that God has given government the authority to determine when capital punishment is due (Genesis 9:6; "6 Whoever sheds man's blood, his blood will be shed by man, for God made man in His image." Romans 13:1-7) 1 "Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. 2 So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God's command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do good and you will have its approval. 4 For government is God's servant to you for good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God's servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. 5 Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of your conscience. 6 And for this reason you pay taxes, since the [authorities] are God's public servants, continually attending to these tasks. [a]7 Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor. ." It is unbiblical to claim that God opposes the death penalty in all instances. Christians should never rejoice when the death penalty is employed, but at the same time, Christians should not fight against the government’s right to execute the perpetrators of the most evil of crimes.

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billybob 2 years, 12 months ago

Well Gabriel, the bible advocates the death penalty for a whole bunch of things: homosexuality (Leviticus 20:13), Adultery (Leviticus 20:10), Working on the Sabbath (Exodus 31:12-13), Unruly kids (2 Kings 2:23-24). The list goes on and on. Secondly, you quoted Romans 13:1 "Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God." So does this verse apply to just Americans concerning their government? Or did god give the Taliban government authority? What about Castro in Cuba? Did god give Hitler his authority? The bible is a book written by primitive men in the bronze age. Its content reflects that. Do you really want people put to death for working on the sabbath? For adultery? After all, it's in the bible.

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Moe 2 years, 12 months ago

Does the Rabbi feel the state of Israel erred when it executed Adolf Eichmann in 1962?

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tommybeall 2 years, 12 months ago

haha.. well said billybob... it's that first comment that proves how messed up organized religion really is..

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Gabrielblows 2 years, 12 months ago

Billybob, my comments were not intended to start a debate on whether the state has a right to utilize capitol punishment or not but whether the Bible supports that State's right to do so. Most of the New Testament writing on this subject comes from the Apostle Paul, who was not a primitive man but lived during the 1st century under Roman rule. He was a Roman citizen. The exegesis you used to justify your position based on the authority of God in justifying evil governments is not what is meant by the Biblical writers. This might give some cIn the New Testament, the book of Acts records the civil disobedience of Peter and John towards the authorities that were in power at the time. After Peter healed a man born lame, they were arrested for preaching about Jesus and put in jail. The religious authorities were determined to stop them from teaching about Jesus; however, Peter said: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19–20). Later, the rulers confronted the apostles again and reminded them of their command to not teach about Jesus, but Peter responded, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

One last example of civil disobedience is found in the book of Revelation where the Antichrist commands all those who are alive during the end times to worship an image of himself. But the apostle John who wrote Revelation states that those who become Christians at the time will disobey the Antichrist and his government and refuse to worship the image (Reveleation 13:15) just as Daniel’s companions violated Nebuchadnezzar’s decree to worship his idol.

Civil Disobedience - Conclusion What conclusions can be drawn from the above biblical examples? The guidelines for a Christian’s civil disobedience can be summed as follows: larity of understanding. • Christians should resist a government that commands or compels evil, and should work nonviolently within the laws of the land to change a government that permits evil. • Civil disobedience is permitted when the government’s laws or commands are in direct violation of God’s laws and commands. • If a Christian disobeys an evil government, unless they can flee from the government, they should accept that government’s punishment for their actions. • Christians are certainly permitted to work to install new government leaders within the laws that have been established.

Lastly, Christians are commanded to pray for their leaders and for God to intervene in His time to change any ungodly path that they are pursuing: “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:1–2).

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billybob 2 years, 12 months ago

Here's the problem, Gabriel. (BTW, if you admire Gabriel, which I think you do, I would change my screen name.) The Muslims who are strapping on explosive vests and walking into a supermarket or flying planes into skyscrapers think they are obeying god. Parents who forego modern medical treatment for their kids who consequently die think they are obeying god. The Westboro Baptists and their "god hates fags" protests think they are obeying god. And all of these people justify their action by their various holy books. God commanded Israel to kill all of the inhabitants of Canaan -- men, women, children. The bible advocates slavery (Leviticus 25:44-46 and many other places). Finally, Paul was primitive man. He lived in the 1st century, believed that the sun revolved around the earth and that the world was flat.

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