The quality of mercy is not strained, it droppeth like a gentle rain from heaven. W. Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
On 15 December the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay called for a universal abolition of the Death Penalty.
As I stated in my new manifesto, ALL life is sacred. That means that punishment for any crime must never stoop to end the life of the accused even in cases of murder or genocide. Just because someone takes the life of an individual is not justification for taking theirs.
I can already hear many of my friends clearing their throats and getting ready to site all kinds of Judeo-Christian justification for the death penalty, eye for eye and all the hoo-ha.
Just think for one second and ask yourself why the United States is the only so called Christian Democracy still employing this barbaric form of punishment? Out of the most recent list of 26 countries still practicing the death penalty the United States ranks 5th behind China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and North Korea and well ahead of such human rights pariahs as Libya, Sudan and Syria. Other than the United States the only other so called developed societies on the list are Japan and Singapore which together still executed fewer than half the number of criminals.
How do Christians justify this position? There are two Old Testament laws that are most often referenced.
Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. Deuteronomy 19:21
Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a man must be put to death. Leviticus 24:21
At first glance it seems reasonable enough, equal punishment for an equal crime. But why then do we in the west recoil at reports of thieves who are sentenced to have their hands cut off while routinely sentencing people to death? We stopped maiming one another long ago but for some reason the death penalty persists.
In her statement High Commissioner Pillay said “I hold this position for a number of reasons: these include the fundamental nature of the right to life; the unacceptable risk of executing innocent people by mistake; the absence of proof that the death penalty serves as a deterrent; and what is, to my mind, the inappropriately vengeful character of the sentence.”
For me it’s that last part that really rings true. Revenge never solved anything. Where is the grace and mercy in all of this?
Jesus held mercy in high esteem, saying in effect that those who were merciful would get as good as they give. (Blessed are the Merciful for they will receive Mercy, Matthew 5:7) It is the highest form of mercy and grace to say to the man who murdered your family, “I am within my rights to kill you, as stated in Leviticus above, but instead I will restrain myself and let you live out your natural life.”
If God is a God of mercy and if we are to be his followers we too must be people of mercy. There is no mercy in the death penalty and I agree with High Commission Pillay that it must be abolished.