On Friday March 13th, the senate of New Mexico voted to abolish the death penalty in that state. The house had voted to banish it previously. If the governor signs the legislation, New Mexico will become the fifteenth state to do away with this barbaric practice.
When I was 18 years old, I asked my priest in our religious ed class about capital punishment. I had read the story of the woman taken in adultery(I had also noticed that they didn't drag out the blighter she was with). I knew that Jesus said forgive seventy times seven, and forgive them for they know not what they do, love your enemies, and it seemed to me that the business about "let the one who is without sin cast the first stone" pretty much put the cork in the state sanctioned killing bottle. Our supposedly Christ-following priest told us that it is too expensive for the state to feed and house convicted murderers for the rest of their lives. I was stunned! I expected him to point out some scriptural argument if he was going to support the death penalty, something from canon law perhaps, but to put human life into terms of dollars and sense?
As it turns out, not only was he a cheap jerk lacking in compassion, but he was wrong. While comparisons are fairly complex, all studies agree that the cost of prosecuting a crime which may result in the death penalty is many times more expensive than non-capital offenses. The cost of housing people on death row is also far more costly than a standard maximum security lock up. One example is Texas where it was found that it costs three times as much to impose the death penalty as it does to imprison a person in a single cell for forty years.
Of course this doesn't address my original question to Father Merciful; how can we support the death penalty in light of the teachings of Jesus? Virtually all Christian theological arguments in favor of the death penalty go back to the Torah or Hebrew Testament, 'eye for an eye' lex talionis and all that. They don't usually mention that the first person executed under Mosaic law was stoned to death for picking up firewood(quite the offense then, it would seem) that you are supposed to have your kids put to death for dissin' you. True believers then zip over to Paul who says, "For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. the state has the power of the sword." Romans 13:3-4 Uh, yeah, the Roman authorities cut Paul's head off with the sword. Sort of waters down this passage as a strong argument for the death penalty, I should think. The people I have debated this with, at least the Bible believing bunch, tend to neglect the gospels when it comes to this issue, the very source of Jesus' teaching, nec'st pas?
It would be wrong to neglect the other truths about the death penalty, it is racist, only poor people go to death row, and it is utterly ineffective as a deterrent, but my time and space here are limited, so see http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/FactSheet.pdf for some telling facts and graphs.
So the point of state sponsored killing is?? Revenge, pure and simple. Somehow, I don't think Jesus would approve.