The Death Penalty and a Christian Nation

We all hear talk about how America is a Christian nation. Let’s get one thing straight, Christian government looks like Jesus. Thus, it does not kill. It is never right to support the death penalty as a Christian. America was not built on Christian principles but Enlightenment Deism. Deism is the hijacking of Christianity to serve the ends of humanity’s progress, not the kingdom of God. There never was a Christian America. Ever.

It doesn’t matter how many buildings have or do not have the ten commandments out in front or how hallowed the texts of this nation are and how much they borrow from the bible. This country never took those commandments seriously. They’re more like pats on the back to ourselves and a glorification of our own innocence than an actual symbol of what this country stands for. Having the decalogue in front of an american building is like having a cross outside a burlesque house. It’s pointless, and in many cases not only misleading, but downright demonic.

The state is a terror to everyone, especially Christians seeking to properly honor the lordship of Jesus Christ. Many critics might ask about honoring the emperor and all that jazz, well the only honor the emperor deserves is the call to repentance. This is the honor due to our kings, we respect the government by calling it into line with the lordship of Jesus Christ as Christians. This does not mean forcibly Christianizing government as much as showing the nation that the Church is the only way society can function rightly, and providing the prophetic voice that should guide our public life, but we offer that voice primarily as the Church. We don’t really care about the legislation as much because governments change, and ideas too, but we must offer the ever-present witness that is the loving rule of Jesus Christ in His Churches. Scripture may run throughout the works of the American Founders, but not for the sake of revelation and Christian Truth, as in Jesus. The scriptures are quoted removing all the main Characters from the Christian story, and made to serve the unholy triumvirate that is Global Capitalism, Universal Reason (a failed project), and Private individual piety.

Scripture can guide the way government works, but largely it doesn’t. So the point is moot. If scripture guided the way this country works, there would not be an indefinite war on terror going on. It would not be an issue. George Bush would not cry out for the blood of Osama Bin Laden and his cohorts, but lead the nation to seek diplomatic talks and a further sheltering of Bin Laden from those who would seek his life. This is what it means to love your enemies.

It’s funny that the conservatives are so gung-ho about scripture supporting their claims, until the scriptures disagree with their interpretation of sensible Christian responsibility, and ask them to become uncomfortable for the sake of the poor, or their enemies. Then they fall back on arguments about idealism against reality and government vs. church. They fall back on the picture of an angry judgmental God, so that they can legitimate their lack of compassion. Many Americans are theists, but they are not Christians.

If you want a Christian government, this bloodsucking monster we call America will not do. I still hold that our nation is the largest conglomerate of terrorists in the world. Naming an enemy arbitrarily and destroying their morale as well as civilian common life is what we know as terrorism. Hello America, you terrorist nation you.

The war on terror is an endless war, it has no defined end or enemy, and we’re now hearing talks about invading Yemen. America gets to decide who the terrorists are, while not recognizing itself as a terrorist:

As for the ‘clash of civilizations’, let us recall the letter form the seven-year-old American girl whose father was a pilot fighting in Afghanistan: she wrote that — although she loved her father very much, she was ready to let him die, to sacrifice him for her country. When President Bush quoted these lines, they were perceived as a ‘normal’ outburst of American patriotism; let us conduct a simple mental experiment and imagine an Arab Muslim girl pathetically reciting into the camera the same words about her father fighting for the Taliban — we do not have to think for long about what our reaction would have been: morbid Muslim fundamentalism which does not stop even at the cruel manipulation and exploitation of children . . . . Every feature attributed to the Other is already present at the very heart of the USA. Murderous fanaticism? There are in the USA today more than two million Rightist populist ‘fundamentalists’ who also practise a terror of their own, legitimized by (their understanding of) Christianity. Since America is, in a way, ‘harbouring’ them, should the US Army have punished Americans themselves after the Oklahoma bombing?

–Slavoj Žižek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real (London: Verso Press, 2002), 43-4.

There is no correct government, that’s the whole point. All government is corrupt, and all national powers are an affront to the Lordship of Jesus. Reducing Christianity to principles is the heart of atheism, “we appreciate the Christian story, but we just want the principles. We don’t want any of those miracles or the specifics about this God, just his ideas, more or less. So that we can put those ideas under a new god, global capitalism.” That’s not Christian government, that’s called plagiarism.

Call it what it is. It’s plagiarism, with only half the intent if not less of acknowledging the rightful rule of Jesus Christ. Thus, it’s demoralizing, not facilitating. You have no scriptural basis for supporting the death penalty, because there isn’t one. No amount of eisegesis can make right the taking of a life as a Christian. Soothing your conscience by explaining away the rigors of the Christian calling is never justifiable.

America built itself on certain ideals that the founding fathers thought were self-evident, but Christians do not believe in self-evident truth, we believe in Jesus as Truth. It’s revealed truth. And the Truth of Jesus reveals a community that does not kill, and in turn never desires the death of another human being, ever. No matter what. If you want a government to do that, so be it, but the first place this has to happen is in the Church. The Church cannot be a body that ever support’s the state’s arbitrary use of power in killing a human life, no matter what. So Christians that are pro death penalty is an oxymoron.

I don’t care how the legislation goes I think the church needs to be fighting to free people from the death penalty and take responsibility for them as the church and create some mediated life for those who want to reform and the government should make provisions for churches wanting to do this. If that makes me a liberal. So be it. I think the Church could do more against the death penalty, but that takes time, imagination and creativity, a sacrifice we should all be willing to make.

I think conservatives are largely missing the point when they promote an anti-abortion agenda, and then support a pro-death penalty agenda. Either we care about the sanctity of all life, or we do not care for life at all.

I think that the command to love my enemies encumbers me to be anti-death penalty. No matter the crime, no matter if it affects me, no matter if this person slay my entire family, being a disciple of Jesus encumbers me to pray for that person and their redemption is the justice that I can do to them.

The redemption of my enemy to life is the Justice that God demands, and any idea of justice apart from conceptions of redemption, reconciliation and reestablishing life together are going to be failures because only Christian theology can properly conceive of justice in theological terms as it should be thought of. We don’t conceive of justice apart from the life of Christ. To do so is to acknowledge we don’t care about Jesus and what He means for all of life. To support the death penalty is ultimately atheism.


15 thoughts on “The Death Penalty and a Christian Nation

  1. Jesus submitted to the death penalty… I want to know what it was like, in that time period, for someone who was so loved and so hated, to be humiliated and tortured and killed. Via submission to the earthly system of authorities. God is beyond what our own minds can contain. And we were taught how to live by Jesus. What do you say about submission to authorities?

    • Good Question.

      I think that after Jesus, we should try to put an end to the death penalty as Christians. Submission to authority means compliance if requested, but that doesn’t mean we do so uncritically.

      Jesus death differs from ours in that He is always in charge of what He Himself is doing with His life. We have the same power with our own lives, but never with the lives of our neighbors.

      Jesus submits to authority, but not without undermining all the powers that be. I Peter tells us that if we suffer for doing good, so be it. And that’s all I’m really pushing for, either we care about all of life, or we do not care at all.

      When we submit we do willingly, but we do it knowing our true allegiance.

      Good questions Anna.

  2. This is one discussion I have failed to understand ever since my country Zambia in Central Africa was declared a Christian Nation in 1992.

    To many of us Zambians, declaration has always meant submitting ourselves as a people to our creator… even in our corrupt state. The rest is left in Him who looks not only at our outside but our inside as well.

    However I would like to thank you for opening my eyes to the other side of this argument.

    • Mukuka, thank you for your respose, and a very different perspective on the matter.

      I hope that what I’ve said might make some sense, because I think the intent is right, but the failures of government shouldn’t allow us to conceive of a nation as Christian. At least for Westerners, the problem becomes that if something is called Christian it is assumed to be flawless on some level, and ceases to take account of imperfection.

  3. I am not exactly for the death penalty, I wouldn’t mind if we got rid of it. We definitely should pray for everyone who does anything to us.

    I think that the issue is not whether America is a christian nation, but whether it strives to be better in the midst of a world so troubled. I do not think I could say in honesty that America has not stood for good in the world. We may all wish the world was different, but it isn’t and all we can do is our best. There are so many trade offs for every decision, and if we submitted ourselves to them at all times it would cause more problems than I think we know. We cannot pretend to be God in the midst of a world we have so little understanding of. Every decision should be made in prayer and praying for
    God’s support, but if I make myself submit to an ideal that I cannot possibly keep in a world different from our wealth oriented society that wants to escape every moment into it instead of going out into all the world and transorming it. I do not think you are wealth oriented. Point is America and Europe are not the only places in the world, and we cannot allow people in our country and in many others to die on behalf of our hope that the world will be permanently better because here in America things get along so well. Bin Laden wants chaos in the whole world so that his form of government can be put in place that wants war with everyone, even muslims. I think he has made his intentions perfectly clear, and if we wanted to reach out to him we couldn’t. It’s a good thought to want to reach out to everyone and we should pray for him, but he sends people to be killed in Muslim countries too, not just Iraq and Afghanistan. If we let a man like that do what he wants we can only hope for more war, especially in a middle east that does not hold our values.

    I know you disagree, i guess we have to agree to do so.

    • Well, thanks for your thoughts, and your response.

      I think America strives to be good, but belies its own failures by renaming them with idealism.

      I’m not saying America should stop warring, although that’s desired. I’m saying that it should acknowledge its own brand of terrorism and recognize the fascism it creates through negligence.

      America’s brand of “good” is sometimes good, but at other times it’s just rampant capitalism imposed via violent force.

      The real issue was the death penalty, but in speaking of the war on terror, i’d just like to say that such a thing is not possible. I respect President Obama for backing away from that language, and I deride President Bush for the audacity to declare such a stupid war and congress’s approach for allowing such a thing.

      It would be comical if it weren’t such a real violation of democracy.

      I’m saying America needs to back off the Christian nation stuff, and that we as Christians need to do the same because the atrocities committed in the name of peace, love and justice are sometimes farcical. It’s like 1984, but true.

      If we’re picking on the war on terror, which seems to be your predominant response, I’m just saying that with the way foreign policy is mediated by this country it’s not Christian. Nor should we be about Christianizing or legitimating warfare in the church, or else we’re engaged in a clash of fundamentalisms, not a real war of countries. Ad as Christians we shouldn’t be caught up in patriotic fundamentalism, but let the lordship of Jesus shape what patriotism we should have, if any.

      I’m just saying that President Bush was presented with a clear opportunity to Christianize this nation, but didn’t. because there’s no such thing as a Christian nation and there shouldn’t be. Christians engaged supporting war makes as much sense as Christians supporting spousal abuse as a legitimate way of handling domestic conflict. Yet, surprisingly, when we call murder war, it seems to change everything. I say nay.

      and yes, I suppose we will have to disagree. I will always be a Christian first, anything else, second.

  4. Hey man I don’t want war, I would actually agree with your comment that we should be in mourning when we go to war. I don’t think that we will ever remake this world or anything. I’m just saying that it does not mean that a war is evil just because the democrats tell you it is. I don’t know exactly what you think about these things, but all this stuff started after vietnam. Many more people died in two years after we left vietnam than in the entire war. It had already been won, and because the democrats are so sancitmonious for their good wars 3 million people might have died in those two years. All we had to do was support their military with money, in fact that is all we were doing, but they saw an opportunity for political power just like now. They cut off funds and now declare it the best accomplishment of the left in all history which in my opinion is very demonic.

    Don’t get me wrong though I thought God would punish us for a while after we went into Iraq. I was not for the war at all at first, but seeing the death there I decided we needed to do something to put a stop to it. I then was much more for the war then I had been before. I still didn’t know if I agreed so I thought about it for a long time and decided it was a good idea. This was because al-quaeda would have used Iraq as a base, Iraq obviously goes along with terrorists when it is in their interests even though their government might be secular and Saddam killed millions of his own people, which would have made him that much more dangerous with any type of terrorism in the region. He might retalliate on someone, somone might retaliate on him. Most of that people have said is true, and I did not come to that conclusion by copying other people’s thoughts, but using my own mind. I was saying that to other people before tenet said anything about kurdistan being a base.

    Everything’s not so cut and dry as it looks like in politics. It’s not like I come to this easily. I don’t think you’re demonic by the way, but I do think that what the democrats do and put off as right is very wrong. You should read about the tet offensive, even the national geographic which is very liberal says we won tet, and we won the war until the democrats cut off funding. People say vietnam vets hated the war, but I have read that 76% of them would do it all over again even knowing the outcome. I don’t know if that poll is right, but it’s pretty likely. National geographic’s documentary has the soldiers saying they will never forgive people for calling them baby killers after they gave their lives to protect the people in vietnam and their own country. American atrocities were very rare in the war, yet the communists killed thousands of innocents as a way to try to win the war. No one says this because it is all political. In other words, I do not trust a single word the democrats say, and until someone comes out and gives a real reason that we are imperialists when we are defending the world’s weakest I will not believe them.

    • “I don’t think that we will ever remake this world or anything. I’m just saying that it does not mean that a war is evil just because the democrats tell you it is.”

      not sure what you mean by the first sentence, if by it you mean, we will never perfect anything, I concur, but that doesn’t excuse us of the responsibility to build causeways and paths for the final consummation to flourish.

      This war is evil, not because the democrats say so, not because liberalism says so, but because sound logic, temperate reasoning and firm theological convictions of both myself and the Christian tradition say so.

      As far as Vietnam and other wars, it’s about the militarism that grips the nation, and how Christians must resist that temptation. When the war on terror broke out, I was against it for liberal reasons, and I remember the phrase “War on Terror” making no sense to me. Had I the academic skills I would have been able to pen an essay on the impossibility of such a feat. We might as well declare a war on religion.

      The fear coddling language used only serves to create more panic in the general civic audience, not less. Terror threats and the “measures” to protect against them
      take center stage, but in an almost casually domineering fashion. 10 years ago flying was a hassle, everyone complained and thought it should be easier. Now such a complaint is generally unheard of, and allows us to militarize airports and transportation all the more.

      I don’t think God will “punish us” for going into Iraq as much as we’ve punished ourselves, we ignored the global public, the UN, and other sources of accountability to fight a war against weapons of mass destruction that were never found. I’d say that’s a big failure, and it would be laughable if it had not cost this country billions and maybe trillions of dollars.

      But that’s only the beginning, far more important are the lives that were spent under the insane militaristic idealism of George W. Bush and his war mongering. Special forces could have dealt with Bin Laden, immediately even. I feel as though for all the intelligence we have as a military power, we had to choose not to use it.

      I’m not saying things are cut and dry, but they’re certainly less ambiguous for Christians. Jesus says, drop your swords, pick up crosses. That’s how we restore the world.

      We can either work with the grain of the universe God has established by living and thinking in and with new creation, or we can make war. New creation tells us there is no war, no tears, we can believe this or not. But if we do not believe it we fail miserably and must acknowledge failure where it happens.

      thanks for such a challenging response Sam.

  5. forgot to put that two thirds of the soldiers that fought in vietnam were volunteers. many of the draftees signed up for the draft.

  6. Eli, how is it that you so often warm the cockles of my non-Christian, liberal heart? In my mind, being a follower of Jesus means making, day after day, all day long, one decision after another on the basis of love, forgiveness, and uncompromising mercy–a basis upon which the death penalty, careless and needless abortion, war, torture, and intolerance would never win out.

    What the hell is a “cockle”, anyway? 🙂

    Thank you once again, and try to stay warm down yonder–


    • I don’t know, maybe our Yeshua has seen fit to draw us together that we might warm one another’s hearts.

      I love liberals, and I love conservatives. If I had my way I’d be a flaming die-hard liberal, but I think that there are some things conservatives have right.

      Of course, I think that I am most definitely wrong about wanting things my way, and if anyone’s intentions and desires are suspect, they’re mine. But , neither liberal nor conservative, i’ll push buttons where they need to be pushed, delighting some, frustrating others. as is my usual.

      I dunno what a cockle is, but it might be a shell. (mary mary, quite contrary.)

      thank you for listening, and as always I’m trying to keep warm.

      I got a puppy, and he helps keep me warm, which is nice.

    • Cool! What kind of puppy?

      I’ve actually become very apolitical in the sense of “rooting for the team”, or following elections, or paying much attention to “issues” as they’re played out in the public eye, in favor of just trying to live well and make all of those decisions based on love as described above (which by no means implies that I’m always successful!), and trying to be a good example (especially for my son, who usually ends up being an example for me). Yes, I referred to myself as a “liberal”, but–as I do with religion–I tend now to shy away from labels, which can be so needlessly divisive. It seems that in your heart you do too, in a really interesting and intelligent way.

      I’m pretty sure that I have no shells in my heart, but I have been known to be contrary from time to time…



  7. If you read your Bible, God himself, on several occassions, Commands the children of Israel to wipe out entire nations, men, women, children, animals, innocent or guilty.
    Truth is, they were WICKED people( sacrificing their own children and committing heinous crimes against all humanity on a daily basis). If we are to be like God (i.e. Jesus, hello Trinity), then let us dutifully punish the wicked as we are commanded to do so.

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