Editor’s note: Marvin Olasky’s cover story in the current issue of WORLD magazine focuses on what the Bible says about the death penalty and what life is like on death row. In a series of 10 columns here on wng.org (posted Oct. 7–18), Marvin addresses public policy issues involving deterrence, discrimination, and arbitrariness in capital punishment.
Wayne Slater, a reliable reporter for The Dallas Morning News, asked a variety of Texas religious leaders back in 2009 to give their views of capital punishment. Here are responses from five.
Darrell Bock, executive director of cultural engagement and senior research professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary: “Capital punishment? Only in extremely clear cases for very grievous crimes. If there is any doubt at all about the evidence, it should not be instituted. Judges should be given latitude here as legal experts. The dignity of human life is precious, which is why its application should be limited. But disregard for human life should result in risk of losing one’s life as one who does not respect the community that requires respect for life to function. The fact that Scripture has the category means it is not immoral. Mass murders and other intentional violent crimes designed to take several lives should be on that list. This is not revenge, but a form of corporate justice. Taking multiple lives intentionally reflects a lack of respect for human life.”
Deal W. Hudson, formerly of Texas and now president of Pennsylvania Catholics Network: “Although it is legitimate for a murderer to pay the ‘price’ of his or her crime, the main consideration should be protecting others from potential harm. It seems to me that a life sentence, without parole, fits both criteria. All states should have a true life-without-parole sentence for first-degree murder. Otherwise, states are encouraging the use of the death penalty by prosecutors and jurors who don’t trust parole boards.”
Geoffrey Dennis, rabbi, Congregation Kol Ami in Flower Mound, Texas: “The tension between sages on this issue is evident in a reported discussion where Rabbi Akiva declares a court with but one execution on its record in seventy years should be considered a ‘bloodthirsty court.’ Another sage laments this attitude, claiming it encourages the proliferation of murderers among the people. … Given the now-well-documented record of false convictions in Texas, it seems to me the moral response is to suspend all executions until a fairer, bettered safeguarded, radically reformed system can created. Which, the way things go, means an end to the death penalty for the foreseeable future.
Nityananda Chandra Das, minister at ISKCON (International Society of Krishna Consciousness) Hare Krishna Temple in Dallas: “In the Vedic scriptures it is supported that a murderer should be condemned to death so that in his next life he will not have to suffer for the great sin he has committed. Therefore, the government’s punishment of hanging a murderer is actually beneficial. Such a sinful person who has murdered is better suffering in this life rather than greater sufferings in his next lives.”
Gerald Britt, vice president of public policy and workforce development at CitySquare in Dallas: “It is extremely difficult for me to support the death penalty. My opportunity to meet with and do some work with Dallas County’s exonerees has shown me that it is indeed possible for citizens to be wrongfully convicted and incarcerated. Whether it was through shoddy police work, mistaken eyewitness identification, predatory prosecution, and misconduct, a significant portion of these men’s lives were taken away. They had a trial and were ‘lawfully’ convicted. Yet they were innocent. Whether it is 10, 50 or even one—we are not carefully reviewing the circumstances under which we are imposing, let along applying, the death penalty.”
Listen to Marvin Olasky discuss the death penalty on The World and Everything in It: