Capital Punishment:
Justice or Revenge?

The issue of the death penalty--struck down in 1972 and reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976--never goes away. It has been reinvigorated by several recent events, among them the execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and President Bush's trip to Europe the same week, where protesters and groups like Amnesty International added the death penalty to their list of complaints about U.S. policy. The sentencing of Texas drug trafficker Juan Garza has served as a case in point for politicians and others calling (again) for reassessment of seeming racial disparities among death row criminals.

"If we execute murderers and there is in fact no deterrent effect, we have killed a bunch of murderers. If we fail to execute murderers, and doing so would in fact have deterred other murders, we have allowed the killing of a bunch of innocent victims. I would much rather risk the former. This, to me, is not a tough call."

--John McAdams - Marquette University, Department of Political Science, on deterrence
Quoted at http://www.prodeathpenalty.com

Some general facts on recent U.S. executions, from the *Bureau of Justice Statistics Capital Punishment 1999 Bulletin (preliminary figures for their 2000 report):

Our Special Focus seeks to cut through the circus atmosphere surrounding the execution of McVeigh (e.g., execution tee shirts) and the shallow news-of-the-hour coverage of the European protests to the more transcendent issues: Is the death penalty just or not? Is it biblical or not? If so, in what cases? What is the history of capital punishment? Is it a deterrent to crime? We even briefly look at death, grieving and the afterlife in our Special Focus. Please let us know what you think of it and tell others, too.

—Byron Barlowe, Editor/Webmaster, Leadership University

"Be it resolved that because social science research has demonstrated the death penalty to be racist in application and social science research has found no consistent evidence of crime deterrence through execution, the ASC publicly condemns this form of punishment and urges its members to use their professional skills in legislatures and the courts to seek a speedy abolition of this form of punishment."

--American Society of Criminologists Annual Meeting, Montreal, 1987

*Web address: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/cp99.pdf

Feature Articles:

The Death Penalty: God's Wisdom, or Man's Folly?
Robert Paul Martin
"Where should Christians stand on the issue of the death penalty? Among those who regard themselves as Christians, there is not a consensus as to the proper answer to this question. Some argue vigorously for the death penalty; others argue just as vigorously against it.... The approach usually taken in dealing with the question of the rightness or wrongness of capital punishment, even in many Christian circles, is to treat the subject philosophically and pragmatically. From this perspective, the attitudes and opinions of men are given.... My approach will be to view the question of capital punishment exegetically, that is, my sole concern is what the Bible has to say about the subject."

Catholicism & Capital Punishment
Avery Cardinal Dulles
Cardinal Dulles presents a brief compass which touches on numerous and complex problems. He concludes with ten theses that encapsulate his understanding of the Catholic church's doctrine.

Preserving the Dignity of Man: The Case for Capital Punishment
Chuck Colson
There's no more difficult issue for many Americans than capital punishment. For most of my life, I opposed it. I thought the death penalty was wrong because it was too easy to make a mistake and execute an innocent person. As a lawyer, I knew the system was fallible.

Capital Punishment
Kerby Anderson
Looks at Old Testament Law, New Testament principles regarding capital punishment. Also, answers the question of whether capital punishment is just and whether it is a deterrence.

An Unwonted Uncertainty
James Nuechterlein
Nuechterlein confronts his own ambivalence on the subject of the death penalty and lands on the side of favoring it. See the author's column written two years hence, below.

Forgiveness & the Death Penalty
James Nuechterlein
Exactly two years after he wrote in First Things of his ambivalence on capital punishment, Nuechterlein clarifies some of the issues at stake in the overheated rhetoric surrounding the death penalty.

Capital Punishment
Issues Tearing Our Nation's Fabric
Chapter 4 of "Issues Tearing Our Nation's Fabric", exploring 25 key issues dividing the nation of America.

Related Articles:

What Happens After Death?
Pat Zukeran
Zukeran examines what lies beyond death for both the Christian and the non-Christian, clarifying misconceptions and developing a biblical view of what heaven will be like.

All That Lives Must Die
J. Bottum
If death is inevitable, then grief is unavoidable. In this sweeping essay, the author considers various philosophical bents behind different approaches to consolation for the grieving.

Related Links:

The Death Penalty links page
Compiled by the Clark County, Indiana prosecuting attorney, this compendium of more than 1,000 death penalty links from pro, con and informational perspectives provides a huge array of information.

History of the Death Penalty
Frontline, PBS
Michael H. Reggio

Provides a sweeping history of capital punishment, centering on its history in the United States. Presents a long list of case history on the death penalty handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Death Penalty Information Center
Houston MacIntosh, M.D.
Against Death Penalty
Racial Disparities in Federal Death Penalty Prosecutions 1988-1994 Compelling statistical overview of minority representation of death penalty sentencing and executions.

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Go here to see our past Special Focus features.