Death Penalty

Death Penalty

I’ve never taught about capital punishment. 

I’ve never written about capital punishment.

There’s a reason.

I tend to stay away from topics that personally conflict me.  And the death penalty in our country personally conflicts me.

It’s not that I am against it.  I’m not.  I believe that the Bible offers it, and that civic authority has the authority to exercise it.  My concern is that if I were ever put on a jury and asked if I could administer it, I would have to say “no.” 

I, personally, could never pull the switch or administer the dose.  Or be the vote that makes it happen.  The reason is deeply personal.  I know only too well that I deserve the death penalty, and it is only Christ’s work on the cross – and my acceptance of that unbelievable gift of grace and love – that enables me to avoid my own death sentence.

So I could never initiate it for another.

But I understand its role in government; I understand its importance in terms of the sanctity of life.  And I support the government’s role in administering it.

Which brings me to what prompted this blog.

The news has been filled of late with the bungled execution of a man in Oklahoma who had been convicted of rape and murder.  The “cocktail” of drugs didn’t work as planned (seemingly a vein in his arm collapsed), and he struggled a bit before dying of a heart attack.

The concern was that this was “cruel and unusual” punishment in terms of the wording of our constitution.  Many wondered if it would quicken the dissolution of the death penalty altogether.

But even with my personal qualms, I thought…

If we are going to have certain acts deserve death, then why are we so hesitant to have the necessary suffering that might go with that death?

If we are going to say that someone did something so heinous that we must remove them from society, not just through imprisonment, but in terms of life, why would we be jolted if that death involves even one one-hundredth of the fear, terror, pain and suffering they inflicted on their victims?

It is, after all, designed to be...punishment.

It makes me wonder if the older days of beheading or hanging was more…authentic.  Death for death, pain for pain.

I could never do the deed.  But I understand that the deed may need to be done, and that God has given the state the right and authority to command it.

I also understand that death can never be sanitized or made “painless.”  Death itself is the cosmic scream throughout creation that something is terribly wrong. 

And it should never be contrived to be anything else.

James Emery White


Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon.  To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.  Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.