I am vehemently against the death penalty, and my reasons for being so strongly against it have everything to do with my faith. Not everyone who is a Christian is against the death penalty for the same reasons that I am, and there are many Christians who are not against the death penalty at all.
While I have no interest in detailing all of my academic reasons for feeling this way and for feeling it so emphatically, I will say that the instincts of my heart found clearest articulation and affirmation in the writings of Yoder, who argues convincingly that Christ’s Sermon on the Mount transcends the lex talionis just as his bloodshed on the cross fulfills any expiatory system that was previously in place. To demand a blood sacrifice is erroneous because it has already been paid.
More to the heart of the matter is this, an excerpt from a letter that Pope Nicholas I wrote to the Bulgars in 866 A.D.
You must act like the apostle Paul, who, having been a persecutor, was converted… You must give up your former habits and not merely avoid every occasion of taking life, but also, without hesitation, and in every possible circumstance, save the life of the body and of the soul of each individual. You should save from death not only the innocent but also criminals, because Christ has saved you from the death of your souls.
The life of the body and the soul of everyone, then — not only the innocent but also the guilty (and who among us can claim to be among the former?) because we were once alive but not living. I don’t know how it could be made more plain or more urgent.
It is not just the life of Troy Davis, Duane Buck or any of those on death row that are truly at stake. If you are untroubled by this as a pending possibility for anyone, I cannot help but wonder has the death of your own soul not occurred to some degree?
By all of these things I am somewhat very troubled, and I pray in earnest.