Retire the Death Penalty: Restore Humanity

After two botched executions in Ohio and Oklahoma in the last few months and a failed bill in the New Hampshire State Senate to abolish the death penalty, capital punishment is making its way back into the political limelight.

Due to limited availability of the drugs normally used in the lethal injection recently, states have been experimenting with alternative lethal cocktails. Baze v. Rees (2008) affirms that the use of lethal cocktails as a form of execution is constitutional.  However, Clayton Lockett, 38 year-old convict of kidnapping, rape, and first-degree murder, suffered for 43 minutes on April 29, 2014 due to a new lethal cocktail created by the state of Oklahoma.  In my eyes, Oklahoma’s government failed to safeguard his right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment.  In late May, the Supreme Court halted another execution in Missouri due to the two previous executions that failed, but after a seven week stay, three executions were carried out in the span of 24 hours. 

Christians are seemingly split on this issue, with 65% of regular churchgoers supporting the death penalty (DPIC).This majority is most definitely entitled to their beliefs; however, I would consider myself to be a strong opponent of the death penalty. While humanitarian and financial reasons are important, my faith in Jesus and His grace have solidified my views on this policy. I have come to these opinions on the death penalty through my interpretation of what the Bible has to say on the issue, though I acknowledge that other Christians interpret the text differently than me. 

Jesus, all man and all God, came to earth in order to save us from our sins.  His grace abounded while He was on earth—associating with prostitutes, tax collectors, and others on the fringes of society.  He bestowed healing on lepers, grace on sinners, and eternal salvation for all of humanity. We have this example to follow as we go through our lives here on earth and as we navigate the injustices of society.  Jesus offered us an unattainable example of forgiveness, but it’s one that we should strive for anyway.  He offered us a deal, so radical, so unfair, that to proclaim that we accept this forgiveness yet choose not to bestow it upon others seems hypocritical. 

This doesn’t mean that criminals should escape punishment. God calls for us to seek justice here on earth, but we need to understand that the justice administered by us will only be proximate. We live in a fallen world where we can only achieve a certain level of justice amidst the brokenness. Jesus Christ himself can only achieve full and complete justice, in full rightness, in the new creation.  But until then we can administer justice to the best of our ability while embodying the love that Jesus has for us.

My understanding of the Gospel of Jesus is to try and right these crimes as best as we can by placing those convicted of heinous crimes in prison for life without parole.  We are not shying away from our responsibility to seek justice for the victims and families of these crimes, but at the same time we are recognizing the humanity of the convicts.  We recognize that they bear the image of the same God whose image we bear as well. 

This is a complex and loaded topic.  Clayton Lockett, who suffered for 43 minutes in the botched execution in Oklahoma in May, committed a horrific crime against a teenage girl.  I can’t begin to comprehend the pain that the victim and her family have endured and I pray that their faith in the Lord can continue to help them through this tragedy as the years continue to go by.

Despite the horrifying crimes that Lockett committed, he bore the image of God, and our Father loved Clayton Lockett just as much as He loves all of us.  A restorative justice lens, which would enable healing to begin between the offender and the victim’s family, may be a more helpful way of looking at the crime. Restorative justice models often involve victim-offender mediation, which involves both parties coming together for healing.  I reiterate that this does not bring the victim back, but it will hopefully lessen the pain of the victims and increase accountability for the offender.

-Analise Nuxoll is a junior political science major at Westmont College who enjoys reading, bike riding, and finding humor in daily life.