The Capital Punishment Issue


The recent over-delayed execution of Utah murderer Gary Gilmore, coupled with the over zealous coverage of the news media, the noise of the mercenary vultures who are sick enough in the head and heart to see such things as opportunity for profit, and the shrieks of protest from nonobjective do-gooders, has brought to a climax the crescendo of verbalized stupidity surrounding the whole issue of capital punishment.

It seems to me that it is high time for God-fearing American citizens to try to crystallize their thought as to what is right and wrong concerning capital punishment. I would further say that when this has been done the laws ought to be enforced with all deliberate care and at the same time all possible speed, of course, not letting speed override accuracy. I fully realize that the term God-fearing does not describe a majority in this country. However, if that minority will bone up on fact, then speak up, they can easily sway the sentiment of the American public.


It is tragic that fact has so little to do with so many people’s judgment in this area. In other areas of law enforcement many can be objective, but faced with the responsibility of punishment for the most serious crimes, mentality slides out of gear and emotion takes over. During a recent telecast on this subject, California Governor, Edmond Brown, said words to this effect. “If a capital punishment bill comes to my desk, I won’t sign it.” He went on to say, “I just have feelings about this matter and I won’t sign it.” What a tragedy that a man who refuses to govern, is governor. What a tragedy that across our country men who have taken an oath to uphold and enforce the laws of the land refuse to uphold them, much less to enforce them. So distorted has law enforcement become that the law-abiding citizen, who unintentionally, carelessly, or ignorantly violates a small city or state ordinance is far more certain to feel the sting of the law’s lash than the hardened and persistent criminal.

As we consider the issue of the death penalty, we surely realize that no person of sound mind could rejoice in, or take pleasure in, either sentencing anyone to, or carrying out the death penalty. As we listen though, to people across the land speak of the death penalty, we are forced to realize that all too many are allowing feeling to rule them without any real regard to facts, fairness, or right and wrong. Because that in such an issue, of necessity, feelings run very high, we must be objective. We must cease to ask how I feel about taking human life, and ask what is right. If we are to answer this question, we must then ask what does God say.


I would not advocate the death penalty for every case set forth in the Old Testament because some of those were set forth exclusively to the Hebrew economy. Some of the penalties were for the very purpose of showing, by their austerity, the sinfulness of sins that we might have otherwise considered minor. When we look at the penalty for murder though, we are not considering any such case. God carefully lays this truth before mankind many centuries before the law. In Genesis 9:5-6, approximately eight hundred years before the law, God gave these words to Noah, “And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” As we move to the giving of the law, we find that punishment for premeditated murder was placed in a different category from most other crimes. “Moreover ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, which is guilty of death: but he shall be SURELY put to death” (Numbers 35:31). To me it seems not only a tragedy, but a first-class display of stupidity for legislators, judges and newsmen to traipse up and down skid row asking every knot-head they meet what he thinks about the death penalty. Why don’t we ask God and then listen to what He has to say?


There is a great deal of ignorant and inconsistent talk today about whether or not the death penalty is an effective deterrent to murder. I recently saw on television the interview of a warden in a large prison in the east. He opposed the death penalty and gave this as argument for his position. “I’ve asked every man and woman ever to enter death row in my prison if, before their crime, they considered the death penalty, and they all answered no.” What stupidity! Such a man should be in an institution, not over one. Could it not be argued, that if these people had considered the death penalty they might well have not committed the crime? Well, one side of that argument is about as credible as the other. The fact is that the people he was drawing conclusions from are not exactly examples of wisdom, discipline, honesty and logic. Had the judge asked these people their learned opinion, or better yet, the district attorney, they could well have been turned loose immediately.

Such reasoning comes from a basic lack of understanding of the purpose of punishment. The basic purpose is not deterrent, but rather a fair punishment for the crime. If there were a death penalty for littering public property most people would carry a wastebasket with them. No one, however, would argue for such a penalty for the crime is not that great. The basic concept of the law is that the punishment must fit the crime. The principle then is that the person who commits premeditated murder, or who wantonly kills another in the process of taking his property, should pay for the crime with his life. There are other crimes such as rape, kidnapping, etc., that should also carry this penalty. To deny this is not only to argue against the most effective law enforcement we’ve ever known, it is to fly in the face of Scripture and accuse God of injustice.


Beyond the basic of fair and just punishment, capital punishment is definitely a deterrent to crime. Statistics will quickly show us that one who has killed once will kill again. Comparatively few people have ever taken another human life, yet a very large percentage of those who have killed once, have killed more than once. If it could be proven that the threat of the death penalty will not tend to discourage the murderer, and it can’t be, it certainly must be admitted that the carrying out of that sentence will prevent him from doing it again. Hundreds of innocent people have been wantonly slain in the last decade because society has been too sentimental or too stupid to carry out this penalty.


If we allow feelings to rule, justice must suffer. Men who are less than malicious murderers will be killed out of revenge, and malicious murderers who know how to appeal to men’s hearts, or who have a lawyer who can appeal to men’s hearts, will go free to murder again. Let’s purge our laws to protect the accused from injustice, but even more vigorously to prevent the guilty from mocking justice and going free. Let’s then enforce those laws with all determination and objectivity. To neglect this unpleasant task is to, by default, share in the guilt of those who would violently and willfully rob, rape, kidnap and murder the innocent.

Let your voice be heard. The present sentiment of our courts and legislatures is bent in the right direction. Let’s encourage them.