Wheaton College tackles the death penalty with Jesus in mind (COMMENTARY)

Print More
On Thursday (Nov. 6), Wheaton, “the Harvard of Christian colleges,” is hosting a forum on the death penalty. But it’s not just any forum. It has potential to reshape the way evangelicals in America think about the topic. Photo courtesy of Center for Applied Christian Ethics

On Thursday (Nov. 6), Wheaton, “the Harvard of Christian colleges,” is hosting a forum on the death penalty. But it’s not just any forum. It has potential to reshape the way evangelicals in America think about the topic. Photo courtesy of Center for Applied Christian Ethics

Active RNS subscribers and members can view this content by logging-in here.

(RNS) This forum is encouraging because it points beyond itself -- to an evangelicalism that looks more like Jesus than the evangelicalism of the past few decades.

  • Pingback: Liberal commentator Claiborne advocates a Christian worldview minus the letters of Paul…read Romans 13:4 with this commentary | Laodicean Report()

  • Karla

    It’s great you are writing a book about this subject and it’s great that people
    take a stand for many issues including abortion but other sins need to be
    talked about. 1 Corinthians 6:9-12 lists swindlers,thieves,drunkards,idolaters,
    the sexually immoral,greedy coveters,slanderers/gossips/liars,adulterers as
    who will not inheirt the kingdom of heaven right along with the homosexuals.
    The Bible says to flee from sexual immorality yet most still sleep around and
    have premarital sex then get married but never Repent/agree sleepin around
    before marriage/having premarital sex is wrong! Bible says we must Repent!
    Bible says Repent and believe the Gospel to be saved. We all must Repent!

    All sins are wrong and people who continue to practice these sins go to hell
    unless they Repent so these other sins need to be talked about as well as
    being mean/sharp tongues,pride,gambling,jealousy,takin the Lords name in
    vain. Ephesians 5:18 says don’t get drunk and 1 Corinthians 6:10 says that
    all drunkards go to hell yet I meet person after person that still gets drunk.
    The wine Jesus made was made for symbolic reasons not to get drunk plus
    it was new wine/diluted and the Bible says don’t get drunk with wine for it’s
    debauchery so people gettin drunk on strong wine are also wrong/go to hell.
    Bible says for us to Repent or perish! Repent or perish! We all must Repent!

    Two guys were next to Jesus on the Cross and only one guy went to heaven!
    Why is that? Only one guy Repented/had a change of heart about his sin.
    It doesn’t matter how spiritual people are if they aren’t Biblical they are lost.
    If you say you love Jesus and then don’t follow the Bible/religion no Truth is
    in you! It’s not enough to believe in Jesus. We must Repent/follow Him/Jesus!

  • I could have sworn this article was about evangelicals and the death penalty. You seem obsessed with sex and booze, Ms. Karla. The death penalty is barbarism, pure and simple, right out of the Old Testament stories about how children should be killed if they talk back. Or people who blaspheme. Or commit adultery. An eye for an eye is a typical black and white Christian solution to a complex problem that doesn’t just involve crime (or sin, as the lady says). It’s heartening to see that young people realize this better than their elders, as the article says. In my view, capital punishment is not only cruel and unusual punishment, it’s a violation of the establishment clause: only Christians would execute a person without blinking an eye, e.g. witch burnings, the Inquisition, the Crusades; further, to base a governmental action on a biblical principle so overtly is a clear violation of the separation of church and state. Crime and punishment originated in the Garden of Eden, as did sin, shame, guilt, misogyny, fear of knowledge and wisdom, the subjugation of the individual versus free will. Unless you believe all that crap there’s no such thing as sin.

  • Larry M

    “Over the next few years, I believe we will see even more Christians lead the charge to abolish the death penalty.”

    Christians have been leading this fight for decades…just not evangelical Christians. As usual they are latecomers to the table of justice but welcome latecomers still.

  • Dudley Sharp


    Reality and fact checking matter.

    I sent these to Mohler with the hope he would reconsider his “facts”.

    The Death Penalty: Mercy, Expiation, Redemption & Salvation

    Jesus and the Death Penalty

    Saving Costs with The Death Penalty


    “There is no race of the offender / victim effect at either the decision to advance a case to penalty hearing or the decision to sentence a defendant to death given a penalty hearing.”

    “As blacks represent 47% of murderers and whites 37%, we see that whites are twice as likely to be executed for committing murder as are their black counterparts.”

    Is There Class Disparity with Executions?

    “99.8% of poor murderers have avoided execution.

    It may be, solely, dependent upon the definition of “wealthy”, as to whether wealthy murderers are any more or less likely to be executed, based upon the very small number and percentage of capital murders that are committed by the wealthy, as compared to the poor”

  • Chuckes. Now let’s get on the reality train.

    1. There is no ‘Harvard of Christian colleges”. Harvard is a research university with a student body more than 5x the size of Wheaton’s. Wheaton’s a private college which offers baccalaureate degrees. At one time, Harvard was the Harvard of Christian colleges. Been a while since then. The closest analogue to Harvard as it is today among arguably Christian institutions would be Baylor. DePaul, Loyola of Chicago, Marquette, Notre Dame, Duquesne, Villanova, Georgetown, Seton Hall, St. John’s, and BC are all largely secularized (and only Georgetown was ever somewhere approaching Harvard’s level of selectivity).

    2. You likely could not get 95% of the public to affirm that Elvis Presley is actually deceased, but somehow that share has identical opinions of what Jesus Christ would have thought concerning a controversial policy option and do so in the teeth of scholarly opinion about what Sacred Scripture has to say about state-society relations (http://www.firstthings.com/article/2001/04/catholicism-amp-capital-punishment). Let go of our leg, kid.

    3. And the cliches. College administrators cave in on disciplinary rules and we’re told “These outward signs point to a deeper inner commitment to stay faithful to Jesus”.

    4. And the repellant proof-texting.

    5. And the presence of Vichy evangelicals.

    6. All amounting to sucking up to the bien pensants by striking attitudes on a policy question of secondary or tertiary importance (while saying little intelligent about the subject, natch).

  • Shane Claiborne is an activist and best-selling author,

    Why not get a normal job?

  • Pingback: Political demons * Megachurch megaproblems * Godly guilt : Thursday’s Roundup | Political demons * Megachurch megaproblems * Godly guilt : Thursday’s Roundup | Social Dashboard()

  • Frank

    If only we would deal with the most incidious death penalty, abortion. Which kills over 27k innocent unborn children each week in the US mostly for reasons of convenience and comfort.

  • Edward

    The Republicans had the political power to pass a constitutional admendment outlawing abortion during the George W Bush administration and they would not even touch it. That in itself is ample proof that those Republicans that call themselves Evangelicals are liars. From my observations, I would say that less than 20% of the people that claim to be Evangelical are even Christian.

  • Diogenes

    I have long been of two minds regarding the death penalty. On the one hand, I believe the apostolic writings of Paul and Peter in the New Testament both support the the State’s authority to administer the death penalty…that is to say the texts support it without savoring it. Otherwise, Jesus Himself, while neither condemning/favoring the policy would be pleased by a policy of mercy and charity. My wife and I are both conservative evangelicals; her take on the death penalty is that she would not want to deprive anyone of the opportunity to repent while life lasts..so let life last.

  • Diogenes

    Jack Mathys’ comment about only Christians executing someone without blinking an eye is laughable. Certainly Christians are not guiltless in this area, his list has some merit: But he completely ignores other religionists and antitheists who have executed people without end. His arguments, though I reject them, would serve him better if he would avoid excessive hyperbole.

  • Joseph Styles

    Over the years, I’ve often wondered why so many self-proclaimed Christians turn away from discussions of capital punishment. For a church founded by a man who was unjustly put to death, I would have thought Christians–of all people who approach this issue–would do so with both compassion and skepticism.

    An alternative explanation, of course, is that these self-professed Christians who refuse to deal with the injustice of Jesus’s death focus their religious activity on nasty and self-aggrandizing attempts to get others to toe the line–that they are the hypocrites the New testament called Pharisees. Most discussion of the death penalty in the United States, I’m afraid, starts from such hypocrisy. The fundamental question is thus distorted, to something like: How can we justify the death penalty in order to keep it going?

    When was the last time you heard anyone talk about the death of Jesus as the necessary beginning for discerning the rightness or wrongness of capital punishment?

  • Marilyn

    What did Jesus Christ say about the law? Matt. 5:17-19 “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. Vs. 18 “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” Vs. 19 ‘Whosoever shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven”.
    In Jesus time there were 1) Commandments, 2) Statutes, 3) Judgments, (Deut. 5:31-32) . The Commandments were written in stone by God and given to Moses, they do not change. The Statutes are the rituals of animal/blood sacrifice for atonement and repentance, these are the laws which Jesus nailed to the cross during His crucifixion. The Judgments are personal, civil law which can be either reward or punishment.
    The 10 Commandments were NOT destroyed/abolished by Jesus, and He outright says so.
    Those judgments pertaining to the 10 Commandments were NOT changed by Jesus. The law “Thou shalt not kill” means “Thou shalt not murder” that is: “intentional, planned criminal homicide”. It does not apply to the death penalty of a proven murderer, especially of a defiant, and unrepentant murderer. A murderer must be sent up to God, so the victim can receive justice. Num. 35:31
    Also when people constantly ask “Why would a loving God allow…” this/that calamity or evil; or punish with terrors. What makes you think that it’s always GOD that’s doing all this stuff!!?? Everybody seems to forget that there is another person at work in this world, and he loves to lie about and distort peoples perceptions of the personality of our loving GOD!! (Luke 13:4-5) His name is Satan, Anti-Christ (Greek = Instead of – Christ) And he just loves to work through the Seminaries, and the pulpits of the church, that just makes his day!! What did Satan tempt Christ with? Scripture, the word of God! He has lots of helpers, too, i.e. the fallen angels (Rev. 12:7 and Jude Vs. 6). Satan loves to wreak havoc down here, and then point the finger at God. 2 Cor. 10:3-5 we are all caught in a spiritual war between God, and Satan. Satan accuses God to us, and when we sin Satan accuses us to God. This war started long before the Garden of Eden, Ez. 28:14-15; Isa. 14:12-14). But, the good news is that Jesus Christ defeated death (another name for Satan) Heb. 2: 14 Jesus came to destroy the devil. (And don’t feel sorry for Satan, he’s not going to repent, and he’s already been condemned, judged, and sentenced by God (Ez. 28:18-19) Jesus has won this war for us (that does not negate our part in it though) Rev. 1:18 I am He that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.” and Rev. 21:6 “And He said unto me, “It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. I Will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. Vs. 7 He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be His God, and he shall be My son. (no gender implied in “son”, applies just as importantly to women also; think “child”) Jesus Christ has disarmed Satans power over us, but in order to receive this liberty we must repent and accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, He is our sanctuary now. Jesus Christ has won this war for us, and through Him we win!

  • Joseph Styles

    In what sense is abortion a “death penalty”? Are you presuming the unborn did something wrong that merits a penalty?

  • Frank

    That’s exactly right. They did nothing, they are innocent. They don’t deserve to die because adults are selfish. And yet people choose to kill their own children because they are inconvenient. I can’t think of anything worse ethically or morally.

  • Jack

    Reasonable people can and do disagree on capital punishment generally and what Jesus would say about it specifically.

    But what’s objectionable is the author’s premise that people who oppose it are the only ones taking the moral and ethical high ground. If it were that simple, there wouldn’t be two sets of views, each highly principled, making opposite arguments on the matter.

  • Jack

    We shouldn’t be so sure that Christ’s unjust death on the Cross proves that God is against capital punishment. One could just as easily make the opposite argument….that God’s sending His only Son to take on the punishment that we, not He, deserve, presumes that capital punishment is inherently a just punishment. If it weren’t, it would appear that the meaning of the whole story unravels.

  • Jack

    Both sides of the issue need to answer some tough questions.

    Supporters of the death penalty need to deal with the chilling possibility of people executed who are innocent. No justice system is perfect….such a thing can happen.

    Opponents of the death penalty need to deal with issues of consistency. Three examples are these:

    (1) Are you for or against abortion on demand, particularly in the final trimester?

    (2) Would you oppose the death penalty for people like Adolf Hitler or ISIS terrorists?

    (3) Are you against all war, even if a nation falls victim to an unprovoked attack and risks being annihilated if it doesn’t fight back?

  • Jack

    Jack Mathys, your citing “an eye for an eye” as a call to vengeance is a common misinterpretation.

    Actually, it is the opposite — a call to exact no more than an eye for an eye — a call to minimize vengeance, not maximize it.

    There are two sources which support this contention.

    First, the writers of the Jewish Talmud made it clear that it was a vengeance-limiting commandment.

    And second, in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, in which He cites examples of commands in the Law and then extends them, when He cites an eye for an eye, He goes on to say that no vengeance should be taken…..In other words, He is saying, “Don’t just limit your vengeance — don’t take vengeance, period.” If the commandment in question was a call instead to maximize vengeance, it wouldn’t fit with the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, where, again, in each case, Jesus is extending commandments, not abrogating them.

  • Jack

    Shane, what does an “activist” mean? Just curious.

  • Jack

    Well, I guess if he’s a best-selling author, that helps pay the bills. More power to him if the royalties are robust.

    I’m just not sure I know what an “activist” means.

  • Jack

    Why does it always seem that in the evangelical establishment world, it’s always “me, too! Me, too!” when it comes to cultural issues?

    Are these people the world’s most slavish conformists or what?

    At least the secular liberals have some creativity and blaze their share of trails. I disagree wholeheartedly with them, but at least they’re original and at times courageous.

    But to watch evangelicals jump on every liberal trend and fad a decade or two after it has become a trend or fad is actually pretty pathetic.

  • Jack

    I guess we can sum this up by saying that the trend-chasing evangelical establishment is taking up a right issue, but for mostly the wrong reasons. Some of them are political correctness, craving acceptance from America’s secular elite by proving to them that they’re cool and hip, rebelling against their ultra-fundamentalist parents or grandparents, etc.

  • Pingback: My Brother's Keeper? Evangelicals & the Death Penalty - JasonKircher.com()

  • Dudley Sharp

    “The medicinal reason for inflicting punishment, goes beyond preventing the criminal from repeating his crime and protecting society, to encouraging the guilty to repent and die in a state of grace. The vindictive reasoning also has this interest in mind: for by expiating the disorder caused by the crime, the moral debt of the guilty is lessened. In the early years of the nineteenth century, St. Vincent Pallotti frequently assisted the condemned to the scaffold, as St. Catherine had done in Siena. He was edified by the many holy deaths he saw, while helping the Archfraternity of San Giovanni, under the patronage of his friend the English Cardinal Acton. Headquartered in the Church of San Giovanni Decollato (St. John the Beheaded), their rule was to urge the condemned to a good confession, followed by an exhortation and Holy Communion followed by the grant of a plenary indulgence. The whole population of Rome was instructed to fast and pray for the intention of the criminal’s soul.” “Hanging Concentrates the Mind”, by Rev. George W. Rutler, Crisis Magazine, 2/13/13,

  • Dudley Sharp

    You misunderstand the Passion.

    It was a voluntary sacrifice by Jesus and God, to pay for the since of man and pave the way for all to gain eternal salvation by the sacrifice of a perfect innocent.

    Jesus had to be an innocent sacrificed, of His own free will. That was the point and the entire foundation for Christianity.

    A very different thing than the secular execution of criminals for breaking the law.

    This obvious example:

    A more obvious example of expiation may not exist.

    Jesus: Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Jesus) replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23: 39-43.

    It is not the nature of our deaths, but the state of our salvation at the time of our death which is most important.

  • Dudley Sharp

    Tell your wife: The promise is that we all have the opportunity for salvation, no matter what our deaths may be.

  • Dudley Sharp

    So true.

    The Death Penalty: Mercy, Expiation, Redemption & Salvation

    Jesus and the Death Penalty

  • Dudley Sharp

    No credible case of an innocent executed, in the US, since the 1930’s, as detailed.

    Since 1973, there have been 14,000 – 28,000 actual innocents murdered by those known murderers that we allowed to murder, again – recidivist murderers (two different recidivism studies from different years).

    The Death Penalty: Do Innocents Matter? A Review of All Innocence Issues

    The Innocent Frauds: Standard Anti Death Penalty Strategy

    OF COURSE THE DEATH PENALTY DETERS: A review of the debate
    99.7% of murderers tell us “Give me life, not execution”

  • I usually do not leave a response, but after reading a few of the responses here
    Wheaton College tackles the death penalty with Jesus
    in mind (COMMENTARY) – Religion News Service. I actually do have some questions for you if it’s okay.
    Could it be only me or does it look as if like a few
    of the remarks look like they are left by brain dead visitors?
    😛 And, if you are posting at other places, I would like to keep
    up with anything new you have to post. Would you post a list of the complete
    urls of your social pages like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?