Evangelicals Show More Openness in Death Penalty Debate
Evangelicals and political conservatives are increasingly shifting to more neutral positions on the death penalty. In early Oct., the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) revised its 1973 statement that favored the death penalty as a punishment for heinous murders.
The NAE noted many evangelical leaders “have made a biblical and theological case either against the death penalty or against its continued use in a society where biblical standards of justice are difficult to reach.” Rather than turning about-face and opposing the death penalty, the NAE statement said the group affirms “both streams of Christian ethical thought.” In other words, there’s room for debate.
The NAE serves as a resource and advocacy group for more than 45,000 churches in the United States. Its policy shift on the death penalty comes at a time when all aspects of capital punishment in the United States are under scrutiny.
The U.S. Supreme Court is considering two death penalty cases questioning whether juries and judges in Kansas and Florida were fair to defendants during the sentencing phase. At least five states have put executions on hold at some point this year due to problems with the supply of lethal injection drugs and questions about their humaneness.
The legislature of Nebraska, a traditionally red state, surprised the country in May when it banned capital punishment. Eighteen of the 32 votes in favor of abolishing Nebraska’s death penalty came from Republican senators, and more than one senator said their pro-life views influenced their votes against the death penalty.
“This is not a conservative/liberal issue,” state Sen. Tommy Garrett said, according to the Lincoln Journal-Star. Garrett, a Republican, called the issue “a matter of conscience.” Another Republican, state Sen. Bob Krist, said his vote showed his pro-life commitment “from conception to natural death.”
Even though support for the death penalty appears to be decreasing, a majority of Americans—61 percent—still support its use, according to a Gallup poll released this month. That number has declined from a high of 80 percent in 1994. Today, 53 percent of Americans believe capital punishment is applied fairly.
For the NAE, the problem with the death penalty is not necessarily its existence, but the manner in which it is applied. Today’s criminal justice proceedings typically do not measure up to the biblical standards for sentencing a criminal to death, a fact WORLD’s Marvin Olasky noted in a series of editorials two years ago. Mosaic law required the evidence of two eyewitnesses willing to stake their lives on their testimonies.
“The contemporary American system is unlikely to reach such standards of evidence,” the NAE stated. “Given the utter seriousness of capital crimes, the alarming frequency of post-conviction exonerations leads to calls for radical reform.”
Courtesy: WORLD News Service
Publication date: November 4, 2015