Hot Potato – Capital Punishment

The following scenario was discussed by those attending the evening meeting on Discipleship Sunday, 30 January 2011:

An elderly couple live in a relatively rural area where there has been a spate of violent robberies. The old man owns a shot gun as he used to go hunting rabbits until a few years ago. He and his wife have become quite nervous and the old man has taken to sleeping with the gun by his bed.

He was woken at midnight on Saturday by sounds coming from downstairs. His wife was terrified that they would be attacked. Her husband already has his gun loaded so released the safety catch. He went to the top of the stairs with the intention of scaring the intruders away. However when he shouted to warn them off, the intruders came to the bottom of the stairs and instead of going away started to come up the stairs towards him, despite being warned he had a gun. From their taunts it was obvious they didn’t believe he had a gun or would use it. He was unable to see well in the dark but pulled the trigger, aiming to scare rather than cause harm.

Unfortunately, he caused multiple injuries to one of the intruders who later died in hospital. He stands accused of murder.

What are the issues?

What are the ethical principles involved?

If you were on a jury would you convict?

If you had a pastoral responsibility for the couple how would you support them?

Do you think there was anything you could have done to prevent what has occurred?

The Salvation Army’s Positional Statement on Capital Punishment (dated 1988)

The Salvation Army recognises that the opinions of Salvationists are divided on the moral acceptability of capital punishment and its effectiveness as a deterrent.

However, to advocate in any way the continuance or restoration of capital punishment in any part of the world would be inconsistent with the Army’s purposes and contrary to its belief that all human life is sacred and that each human being, however wretched, can become a new person in Christ

Arguments based on Scripture have been used both to support and oppose capital punishment, the former drawing primarily on the Old Testament and the latter on the New Testament. The Army recognises that those laws of the Old Testament dealing with ritual and procedure have been superseded in Christ and that a literal adherence to them today would require the death penalty for relatively minor transgressions. Equally, the Army acknowledges that the New Testament does not attempt to provide a systematic treatment of criminal justice, nor does it offer conclusive comment on how society should deal with crime and those who commit it.

Salvationists seek to understand more fully the implications of the fact that the God they worship identified himself with sinners through the life of Jesus, who was unjustly executed as a criminal in degrading circumstances. It was and is the mission of Jesus to bear the pain and penalty of sin within his own nature and person and thereby to make possible the transformation of the character of the offender, who is precious in God’s eyes and worthy of redemption.

Long experience in rendering service within the criminal justice systems of many lands and in ministering to both offenders and victims, and to their respective families, has confirmed the Army’s belief in the possibility of forgiveness and redemption for all through repentance toward God, faith in Jesus Christ and regeneration by the Holy Spirit.

The Salvation Army acknowledges the need of society to be protected from wrongdoers, especially those willing to use violence, but recognises also the responsibility placed upon society so to regulate itself that the dignity and worth of all persons are made paramount and that the lowest instincts of men and women are not incited or inflamed. Special responsibilities in this regard fall upon publishers, broadcasters, legislators and educators. There is equally a role for the church, the judiciary, the medical profession, and penologists to co ­operate in advising government on both crime prevention and the development of just and humane penal systems.

(Source: Major (Dr) Eirwen Pallant – 30 January 2011)

EirwenPallant (Medium) Major (Dr) Eirwen Pallant