Response to Why I Oppose Capital Punishment by Matthew Arbo

Arbo’s philosophical opposition to the death penalty are emotional not biblical.

Prompted by the publicity surrounding Roof’s sentencing, The Gospel Coalition recently published a thoughtful piece by Matthew Arbo in opposition to Christian support for capital punishment. While Arbo has an obvious heart for Christ his arguments against the death penalty are unconvincing. His philosophical objections are a various and sundry collection not of biblical truths but of conventional wisdom truisms.

 

On June 15th 2015 in Charleston South Carolina, avowed White Supremacist, Dylann Roof, murdered nine people in cold blood. He walked into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church with a handgun and, while the penitents were worshiping, opened fire with indiscriminate violence.

In December of last year he was tried and convicted. This January he was sentenced to death on the unanimous recommendation of a jury of his peers.

Prompted by the publicity surrounding Roof’s sentencing, The Gospel Coalition recently published a thoughtful piece by Matthew Arbo in opposition to Christian support for capital punishment. While Arbo has an obvious heart for Christ his arguments against the death penalty are unconvincing.

His philosophical objections are a various and sundry collection not of biblical truths but of conventional wisdom truisms.

He says, for instance, “Killing the wrongdoer doesn’t reestablish the state of affairs that existed before the murder took place”.

That’s true as-far-as-it goes, but Christians who advocate for capital punishment never claimed that executing the killer could bring back the killed.

He asserts, “[the death penalty in Roof’s case] punishes symbolically, bringing the accused to trial and in turn notifying the public of what’s happened and what’s being done to correct it”.

Maybe so, but for all its purported symbolism it punishes the murderer (who is, after-all, the one being punished) in an undeniably material manner.

The problem with Arbo’s list of anti death penalty platitudes is that even if we accept them they don’t preclude Christians from supporting capital punishment for capital criminals.

For the retributivist,” Arbo states. “the purpose of punishment is simply to punish.”

I can’t speak for the retributivist (whoever he is) but I wonder, is he necessarily wrong? Is punishment for its own sake disqualifying? Is simple Justice somehow verboten?

After helpfully defining retribution and admitting that the practice has, “a rightful place in our penal code” he qualifies the claim by saying, “Retribution can at best form only part of punishment’s purpose”.

 Fair enough, but if retribution has it’s place and can be part of punishment, why can’t its place be death row and it’s part be the part where the murderer gets a lethal injection?

Arbo laments the supposed lack of a pedagogical (teaching) purpose in punishing by execution writing, “The dead do not learn from their mistakes or from the discipline imposed”.

 He goes on to make the demonstrably false claim that, “The death penalty is unique among punishments in that it is incapable of exactly this pedagogical purpose”.

The purpose of the death penalty is not to teach life lessons to dead people; the lesson inherent in capital punishment is for the living.

No more vivid illustration of the pedagogical power of being condemned to death exists than the story of the repentant thief who was executed next to Jesus.

Read More