Arnold Schwarzenegger and a ‘just-judicial punishment theory’ . . . toward a biblical standard for capital punishment.
Capital Punishment is a hotly debated issue from state to state, and it has become a national issue (i.e. it has made the news quite a lot) in a few cases. On December 13, 2005, the state of California executed Stanley ‘Tookie’ Williams after he was found guilty of two counts of murder twenty-five years ago–he was also the co-founder of the Crips. Although he would not admit any guilt and he did not show any remorse, many people (and capital punishment foes) argued that Williams’ sentence should be changed to life in prison or even shortened to the time he had already served because he had made amends or repented by writing children’s books about the dangers of gang life. Arnold Schwarzenegger rejected a flurry of last-ditch appeals to pardon ‘Tookie’, saying, “without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings, there can be no redemption.” Schwarzenegger’s decision drew fierce criticism both in California and around the world. Politicians in his native Austria called for his name to be removed from a sports stadium, and Julien Dray, spokesman for the Socialist party in France where the death penalty was abolished in 1981 said, “Schwarzenegger has a lot of muscles, but apparently not much heart.” Were they right? A few high-profile cases like this have continued to stir the national debate about capital punishment and the possibility of correction or redemption.
3 views . . .
- ‘Eye For An Eye’ Or Equal Retribution View says that the punishment of a crime should fit the crime. Equal Retribution (EA) supporters argue that some crimes require capital punishment in order to satisfy justice within society. In the USA, first degree murder is typically the only civilian crime that may be punishable by death, but some EA supporters will suggest that a few other violent crimes may be punishable by death.
- Limited Or Moderation (Retention) View says that there may be some cases where capital punishment may be a fitting punishment for particularly disturbing and monstrous premeditated crimes. They may back off of capital punishment if the offender expresses remorse for what they have done.
- Abolition View says that capital punishment is counter-productive to justice and unnecessary, and that it is always wrong. Typically, Abolition supporters argue that criminals should be moderately punished for their offenses and that the state department of corrections should help all offenders to correct their poor behavior.
I do not have an easy answer for those who ask me whether or not there are times when execution is a necessary punishment for murder. If the death penalty can find a somewhat un-muddled place in our justice system, maybe it can by a reformulation of the just war theory. I am going to call it the ‘just-judicial punishment theory’.
First, are there instances when there is just cause for punishing someone’s crimes with death or any form of punishment at all? Most people would accept that a crime should be punished accordingly, but many will disagree on the meaning of ‘accordingly.’ Second, are such judgments being declared by a proper authority? We have placed responsibility for legal actions in the hands of our judicial system, and it tends to be a pretty good system. It may have many flaws, but to be sure, many countries do not allow trial by jury. Third, punishment may or may not indirectly affect the probability of there being a future like-crime—can a punishment of sorts (death) or clemency have a reasonable chance for success (i.e. lowering the likelihood of such a crime)? Fourth, is the end proportional to the means used? This brings us back to the issue of whether the punishment fits the crime. Simply, this might be easy to answer: if you commit first degree murder (for example), then your own life may be taken by a proper authority if it has just cause.
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:1-4).
“If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses. But no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness” (Num. 35:30).
“Because life is precious, God decreed its preservation and protection by calling for punishment of anyone who murders a bearer of His image . . . The execution of murderers highlights the sanctity of human life and the seriousness of harming those created in God’s image” (John MacArthur, What does the Bible say about War? Is there a Just Reason for It?).
First, are there instances when there is just cause for punishing someone’s crimes with death or any form of punishment at all? Most people would accept that a crime should be punished accordingly, but many will disagree on the meaning of ‘accordingly.’ Second, are such judgments being declared by a proper authority? We have placed responsibility for legal actions in the hands of our judicial system, and it tends to be a pretty good system. It may have many flaws, but to be sure, many countries do not allow trial by jury. Third, punishment may or may not indirectly affect the probability of there being a future like-crime–can a punishment of sorts (e.g. death) or clemency have a reasonable chance for success (i.e. lowering the likelihood of such a crime)? Fourth, is the end proportional to the means used? This brings us back to the issue of whether the punishment fits the crime. Simply, this might be easy to answer: if you commit first degree murder, for example, then your own life may be taken by a proper authority if it has just cause.
Each principle does seem to be subject to broad interpretations and there is a lack of strict ethical framework, but then again, I only say that it may help us. Case-by-case, each principle must be weighed and accepted (yes or no); a lack of agreement will cripple the theory. Also, each principle will draw attention to relevant problems, and because there will likely be varying interpretations, it is the governing body’s responsibility to consider each point without giving added weight to any one principle. I think that a ‘just-judicial punishment theory’ can help us with the issue of capital punishment, but it must be evaluated by Scripture first and everything else second. I think that capital punishment is a necessary punishment for premeditated monstrous crimes, but deciding for capital punishment is a weighty decision–it must not be made lightly.
I do think that people can change, and that we should forgive people even if they are not penitent. But I also think that justice should not be ignored. Think of it this way: we are sinners, and we do not deserve to be forgiven. “God presented [Jesus] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished–he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:25-26). But through Jesus, we are pardoned. God is still just, and so, Jesus had to die for our salvation. If someone receives clemency without price, then what has happened to justice?
If the death penalty is left intact, there appears to be fair ethical and philosophical (and biblical for that matter) reason that it should be accepted according to a ‘just-judicial punishment theory’ (also leaving open the possibility of clemency, which may or may not depend on reform).
People can change and it is tricky (apparently) to know whether a person is truly penitent, but justice should not be dropped and forgotten if a person does express remorse and their behavior is corrected. Charles Hodge suggests that capital punishment is not intended to “gratify revenge but to satisfy justice and for the preservation of society” (Systematic Theology, vol. 3, ch. 29). We should not dish out judgments that are emotionally driven (cf. Matt. 5:21-22); instead we should be humble and pray for wisdom when we interact with both Equal Retribution and Abolition supporters.