Death Penalty: Vengeance or Punishment?
In the past month, terrorists have shot teenagers jumping to the beat of a rock concert in Paris, killed customers in a bar, slaughtered families in Syria...the list goes on. As more violence occurs each day, the world’s immediate reaction is to capture the murderer and punish him. That very act, however, is shrouded in controversy. Is it moral to punish people with death? Does the methods of execution matter? From the time of the Israelites, executions have come in many forms--the Roman crucifixions, the guillotines, Nazi gas chambers, and today’s lethal injections or electric chairs. But no matter the method, people debate about the morality, fairness, and effectiveness of the death penalty.
When questioning morality, some search the Bible for guidance. Some believe that the death penalty does not follow Christ’s teachings, while others believe it models the Old Testament laws. Individuals against the death penalty might repeat Jesus’ words: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (NIV, Matthew 5:38-39). Using this verse, they might argue that Christians should not kill criminals because Jesus commanded all to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (NIV, Matthew 5:44) as well as to “lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (NIV, John 15:13). On the other hand, others might refer to the Old Testament laws on death punishment. For example, with this verse--“An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” (NIV, Exodus 21:24), some might say that the death penalty is simply a necessary act of justice. In addition, they might continue to quote verses that God commanded that the sinner punished with death: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (ESV, Genesis 9:6). Advocators of the death penalty use these verses to show that every action has consequences -- including deadly penalties. But above all, that God demands justice and fairness.
But is the death penalty fair? Some say that it is not. Times published a study that alerted the world “that almost four percent of U.S. capital punishment sentences are wrongful convictions...meaning around 120 of the roughly 3,000 inmates on death row in America are not guilty” (Drehle). Also, due to limited human discernment, judges will not always know for sure if one is guilty or not. Depending on their race or financial situation, the lives of the accused depend on how well their lawyer defends them. Also, when the Yale University School of Law studied death sentences, they found that “African-American defendants receive death penalty at three times the rate of white defendants in cases where the victims are white” (Death Penalty Facts). In contrast, others ask, “What about the other ninety-six percent criminals who truly are guilty?” The death penalty would ensure that criminals could not murder again. Without the death penalty, it would not be fair for the American public’s safety.
Not only is the fairness of the death penalty questioned--many argue if the death penalty deters crime. Statistics support both sides. “FBI data shows that fourteen states without capital punishment in 2008 had homicides at or below the national rate” (Death Penalty Facts). In addition, “a 2009 survey of criminologists revealed that over eighty-eight percent believed that the death penalty was not a deterrent to murder” (Death). In 2012, the National Research Council concluded no research on the effectiveness of the death penalty is reliable. They urged individuals not to judge the effects of the death penalty in order to determine the morality of the death penalty. (Death Penalty Info). But other research completely contradicts these. Before the National Research Council revealed their discovery, in 2003, Washington Post “found that each execution results in five fewer homicides, and commuting a death sentence means five more homicides. [The conductor of the survey said,] "The results are robust, they don't really go away," he said. "I oppose the death penalty. But my results show that the death penalty (deters) what am I going to do, hide them?" (Tannier).
That humble reporter who chose to reveal his discoveries--even though they contradicted his opinions--is a good example to all. In the same way, when debating about the morality, fairness, and effectiveness of the death penalty, I hope I will be humble as well. Both sides have strong arguments, but I believe that the death penalty is not the only answer to punish and deter criminals. Although there must be punishment, sometimes the death penalty can be an act of revenge. Perhaps we should “leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord” (NIV, Romans 12:19). As for fairness, judges may be prejudiced and incorrect in their decision, causing innocent to die. Actually, recently, Washington Post corrected its article that said that the death penalty deters crime, reporting the NRC’s findings (Tannier). It seems as if there will never be a black-and-white answer, but as Victor Hugo wrote, “You say 'society must exact vengeance, and society must punish'. Wrong on both counts. Vengeance comes from the individual and punishment from God” (Quotes).
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