“Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”
Today James Holmes the infamous Aurora Theatre shooter was sentenced to life without the possibility of parol. He killed 12 people and wounded 70. There is no doubt he is guilty of murdering those people and wounding the others. The evidence isn't just based on one or two eye witnesses, but a whole theatre full of them, not to mention the piles of physical evidence. There is no doubt it was premeditated, in fact Holmes has recently converted to Islam and is using Islamic teachings as justification for what he did. If this case is not deserving of the death penalty, what is?
Since the case is air tight, what could possibly be keeping a jury from determining that the death sentence is the right sentence? There is really only one answer, ideology. There was apparently at least one person on the jury that would not vote for a death penalty no matter what, and a death penalty requires a unanimous decision by the jury. While I applaud people who stick to their convictions, I can't help but think there is a misunderstanding of what justice is.
Some would argue that being against the death penalty and against abortion is what is called a consistent pro-life position. To be for the death penalty and against abortion is inconsistent. On the the surface, this seems to make sense, but when a person digs a little deeper, being pro death penalty has at least the potential of being a pro-life position depending on what the motivations for that position are.
Punishment ought to fit the crime. It is some times argued that life in prison is a more significant punishment than the death penalty. In some cases, this may be true, however, in American prisons I have a hard time believing this is the case. When a person does harm, especially intentionally, the consequences ought to be equal to the harm done. When a person destroys property, they ought to pay for it, when a person harms a person physically the consequence, even if not identical, ought to be equal to the harm done. Many examples could be provided where the consequences and the crime do not appear to be equal, nevertheless, that ought to be the goal. In the James Holmes case, he does not have enough deaths to die to equal the damage done, but the one he does have is as close as we can get.
One might ask, "Shouldn't Christians desire long life for the sake of salvation and repentance?" The problem with this question is that it confuses the role of the justice system with what a Christian ought to desire. Of course a Christian ought to desire that James Holmes repents and comes to saving faith in Jesus Christ. However, Paul recognizes that the role of government is not to bring salvation, but justice (Romans 13). This isn't his own observation in his day, but it is an observation of how God structured things. Exodus 21:12-14 addresses the exact situation that we see in the James Holmes case, and it requires the death penalty. Even in a theocracy, there was a governmental role that did not bring salvation, but kept peace and provided justice.
Perhaps the most compelling biblical argument can be based on Genesis 9:6. This verse recognizes the value of human life because humans are created in the image of God. Furthermore, it uses that as the reason why the death penalty ought to be practiced. This is a pro-life position because it understands the value of life. A lower consequence for taking life places a lower value on life, not a higher one. By making the consequence for taking human life so high, this verse shows that life is extremely valuable and that the only sufficient response to taking innocent human life is for that person who took innocent life to give up their own life.
James Holmes didn't just take one life, he took 12, and he did it with premeditation and intent. It seems likely that of the 12 people he killed, one or more of them will not make it to the new heavens and the new earth. Keeping James Holmes alive in the hopes that he will repent and be saved is noble on one level, but he may have removed the possibility of repentance and salvation from one or more people in that movie theatre. I hope Holmes repents. I might even pray to that end, but that does not mean that the death penalty would not have brought justice and possibly even repentance on his part.
John Byrne is a pastor who has been spouting off his opinions his entire life (just ask his mom). This little blog is his venue for continuing in this tradition.