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A single viewpoint doesn’t define us

Can you be a Christian and support the death penalty? That question was asked this week after the Justice Department announced the federal government will resume executing inmates.

Attorney General William Barr instructed the Bureau of Prisons to schedule executions starting in December for five men, all accused of murdering children.

“The Justice Department upholds the rule of law — and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system,” Barr said.

The reverse of that question was also asked: Can you be a Christian and not support the death penalty?

The obvious answer to both is “yes.” But after watching Christians call each other hypocrites over the issue, you would think the death penalty was the litmus test for faith in Jesus.

The same could be said for immigration, healthcare and just about any other contentious issue today. Everything is first framed politically (only liberals care about immigrants) and then it’s framed religiously (why don’t Christians care about immigrants?).

On the death penalty, it goes something like this: Democrats are against it, Republicans are for it. Christians are for it, non-Christians are against it. But we know that’s garbage. There are plenty of Christians against the death penalty. Likewise, there are plenty of Democrats who support it.

We shouldn’t doubt the faith of someone just because they don’t agree with us on every issue. And we shouldn’t assume the viewpoint of someone just because they share our faith.

On the death penalty, I don’t think the government should be in the business of executing people. Not because a guilty inmate doesn’t deserve it, but because government is inept and prone to mistakes. Our justice system sometimes gets it wrong. Innocent people are convicted; guilty people are set free.

Supporters often cite the Bible when justifying the death penalty. Yes, Old Testament law prescribes death for murder. But it also prescribes death for other crimes, some that we no longer even consider to be criminal today.

But it’s clear that when death is prescribed for a murderer, the Bible requires a high bar when it comes to evidence: eyewitness testimony.

The Bible is also clear that not all murderers should be put to death — David wasn’t.

So it would appear there are some gray areas when it comes to the death penalty, even in the texts that we derive our judicial fundamentals from. 

Our government — full of flawed people — does not operate well in gray areas. Decisions made in gray areas are judgments made by people like you and me. And if you’re anything like me, you make poor judgments all the time. Imagine making a poor judgment when someone’s life hangs in the balance.

I have seen too many court cases up close to trust our judicial system with life or death decisions. That’s not a criticism of any individual, but rather an observation of everyone’s propensity to make mistakes.

Law enforcement officers make mistakes. Defense attorneys make mistakes. Prosecutors make mistakes. Judges make mistakes. Jurors make mistakes.

If we could ensure that no mistakes were made throughout the process of finding someone guilty of murder and sentencing them to death, then I could support the idea of the government carrying out an execution. But we can’t.

That position doesn’t make me more or less Christian, or more or less conservative. Your views on the death penalty don’t either. We are capable of holding a variety of viewpoints without one of them defining who or what we are. Our political conversations would be much friendlier — and more productive — if we recognized that.

Email publisher Luke Horton at luke.horton@dailyleader.com