There are a great many issues that Christians can reasonably disagree on, but the death penalty isn’t one of them. A way of life focused on the grace and love of Jesus Christ leaves no room whatsoever for support of capital punishment. Not only that, but the Christian calling demands that we vehemently oppose the cycles of violence and injustice perpetuated by the continued practice of state sanctioned execution.
Don’t agree with me? Then I challenge you to read Shane Claiborne’s new book (released tomorrow), Executing Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It’s Killing Us (HarperOne, $17.99).
And that’s not an empty challenge. If you’re a Christian who supports the death penalty and you’re willing to read Executing Grace with an open mind, email me at email@example.com and I’ll send a copy to you.* I’m confident that Claiborne’s passionate, comprehensive, and heart-wrenching examination of capital punishment provides what is, to my mind, an irrefutable case as to why Christians simply cannot support the death penalty.
In Executing Grace, Claiborne explores the theological, historical, and cultural factors that inform the modern practice of capital punishment, giving voice to the victims of unspeakable crimes, and telling the sobering stories of those who have perpetrated those crimes. He also carefully examines what the Bible has to say on the matter, and decisively concludes that “neither the Bible, nor God, nor Jesus can be used to support the death penalty” (276). He goes on to show how early Christians opposed the death penalty and then traces the evolution of the death penalty in the United States, including the disturbing role that race has played–and continues to play–in our alarmingly dysfunctional “justice” system.
But though the facts and statistics surrounding the practice of capital punishment are bleak, Claiborne also has a more positive goal: “I am not interested in talking about ‘capital punishment’ as much as I am in talking about the ramifications of grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love” (3). To that end, Claiborne shares stories of beautiful, radical grace and powerful accounts of restorative justice. The death penalty is not an abstract issue up for theological debate, it is about real people and real lives. Claiborne says that “It was the people I met and their stories that changed my mind. The faces. The names. The people behind the numbers” (206). The stories of these people are often devastating: botched executions, innocent people put to death, horrendous crimes, and equally horrendous miscarriages of justice. But Claiborne also tells stories of redemption, forgiveness, love, and of truly Christ-like grace–stories that show there is hope for a way past the violence.
Executing Grace isn’t just a polemic against the death penalty, it’s also a call to engage with an issue that too many Christians are content to ignore. Clairborne’s arguments against death and violence serve as a resounding call for all Christians to speak out and take action in order to finally put an end to the death penalty and to embrace a plan of true justice.
Find out more about Executing Grace at executinggrace.com.
* I’ve stopped sending out copies of Executing Grace because I don’t have unlimited resources and I had quite a few takers on my offer. I hope to do a follow-up post with some of their thoughts after they’ve read the book.
Dan is the Executive Editor of the Unfundamentalist blog. He is a writer, graphic designer and IT specialist. He lives in Montana, is married and has two cats.