These are the words of Dale Cox, a prosecutor and Caddo Parish Louisiana. As to the death penalty he insists "we need it more now than ever." He has personally been the prosecutor in half of the death sentences in Louisiana since 2010. In a case where he convicted a father of wrongfully killing his child he told the jury that when it comes to a person who harms a child, "Jesus demands his disciples kill the abuser by placing a millstone around his neck and throwing them into the sea."
Cox is referring to Matthew 18:6 (King James Bible) "but who so shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it would better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea." Or Mark 9:4 to (New International Version) "If anyone causes one of these little ones – those who believe in me – to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea." Like much of Scripture which uses parables and metaphors this is hardly a clear cut expression of Jesus demanding death for child abusers. Millstone drownings were a form of execution at that time and a more logical interpretation is that Jesus was saying it would be better for such a person to suffer the event than have practiced teaching a child to sin rather than saying He approved of execution. Didn't Jesus also say of Judas "But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born." (Mark 14:21) He is illustrating the seriousness of the sin & not proclaiming approval of a punishment.
Only 5% of Americans believe Jesus endorses executing criminals. This includes 2% of Catholics, 8% of Protestants and 10% of all practicing Christians. Christian leaders, including the US conference of Catholic Bishops have also been some of the most outspoken opponents of capital punishment. But overall, a majority of Americans back the death penalty.
Christians who support the death penalty cite passages from the Old Testament and passages like the one cited by Cox in the New Testament. They argue that it is actually "unbiblical" to claim that God opposes the death penalty. These Christians argue that while Christians should not rejoice when the death penalty is employed, they should not fight against the government's right to execute perpetrators of the most evil crimes.
On the other hand, Christians who oppose capital punishment cite Biblical arguments including these:
- Jesus said: "you have heard it was said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you… whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also." Matthew 5:38
- Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery against those who were arguing she should be put to death under the law of Moses. John 8:7
- Jesus taught believers to forgive: "But, if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your father forgive your trespasses." Matthew 6:15
- The New Testament teaches Christians not to judge: "judge not, that you be not judged." Matthew 7:1
- Paul taught believers to forgive and not repay evil. with evil. "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse repay no one evil for evil… do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." Romans 12:14
- The 10 Commandments include the sixth Commandment which clearly says: "thou shalt not kill" Exodus 20:13
What it comes down to is that one can use a microscope to find passages of the Bible to support in some fashion your position on capital punishment, but the real issue is it fundamentally consistent with the life and teaching of Jesus? Is it appropriate for a civilized country like America? Does it work, i.e. is there provable benefit which justifies doing it?
The USA is the only country in the Americas to have carried out executions in 2013, with 41% taking place in Texas alone. According to Amnesty International, 140 countries have abolished the death penalty. China executed more people than the rest of the world put together. Of the 638 confirmed executions in the region, three countries- Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia- accounted for 95% of them.
Aside from debating the meaning of Scripture about capital punishment there are very good reasons why capital punishment should be barred in this country. Some of these include the following:
- Executions carry a staggering cost to taxpayers. It costs far more to execute a person than to keep them in prison for life. Death penalty trials are 20 times more expensive than trials seeking life sentences. California spends $184 million on the death penalty each year.
- There is no credible evidence that capital punishment in fact deters crime. States without the death penalty have lower murder rates then states with it. The South has the highest regional murder rate and yet accounts for more than 80% of US executions.
- It has been clearly demonstrated that innocent people have been convicted and executed. The error rate is unacceptable when the consequence is death.
- The race of the person executed plays a significant role. Jurors impose the death penalty on far more blacks and minorities than whites.
Whatever your view, mine is that we should abolish capital punishment in this country. We need to re-evaluate our entire criminal justice system including our "drug war" philosophy and our treatment of the mentally ill in the criminal system.
I do know that I am appalled by a lawyer empowered to protect the public as a prosecutor who advocates the goal that "we should kill more people."