Pen has been in an interesting debate about the death penalty over at Josh Claybourn's blog, which he continues on his own blog. Pen argues that as a Christian, he simply cannot be complicit in killing someone:
It isn't about me and what I would do -- it is about Jesus' words - turn the other cheek, forgive seventy times seven, walk the second mile, love your enemies.
You can wish it away, call it liberalism, or just renounce the Gospels. But in the end Jesus has more to say about forgiveness/reconciliation than he does about punishment/revenge.
If someone abused/killed my children ... I would first mourn their death, second cry out to God, and third seek Christian Counseling. Notice seeking revenge is not part of the picture.
I have come to the realization that I am not against the death penalty -- rather I have decided that I will never be the one who has to answer for an execution.
There are some jobs a Christian should not do. An executioner would be one of those.
What makes the Christian case tough here, I think, is that not only do Jesus' words not support the death penalty, they don't support any kind of punishment at all. The only punishments I ever remember Jesus referring to were those delivered by God himself. For those on earth, it's forgiveness, forgiveness, forgiveness.
This raises a problem I mentioned a while ago: Jesus laid out a philosophy of individual righteousness, not of structuring a good society. His commands were impractical, even suicidal. Who can structure society around that? It's not surprising that those who later tried to build societies on "Christian" principles kept turning to the Old Testament.
Back in this huge post I described the contrast between All Saints' attempts to turn Christian pacifist beliefs into political action and Telford's "anti-Constantinian" view that such attempts are counterproductive and impossible. As I said, I felt a powerful attraction to Telford's viewpoint, but he did not completely convince me. (That kind of sums up my whole relationship with Telford, actually.) The hands-off attitude could work back when Paul was writing and Christians were living under an emperor, but when you live in a representative democracy, you are implicated in your government's actions. If you're a Christian who, say, voted for George W. Bush, and you knew he supports both the death penalty and military action in certain circumstances, I can't see how you can wash your hands completely of those deaths. You'd have to bifurcate yourself into a citizen half and a Christian half, which really seems un-Christian.
Actually, in the case of the death penalty I don't see a conflict here. We can see by the example of many other countries (and some states in our own) that executions aren't necessary to keep social order. Indeed, the supporters at Josh's blog argue entirely on the level of abstract justice. Conspicuously, however, they fail to cite any scriptural support for this concept of justice; they rely on "what I know is right." I think Pen is right -- there isn't any real reason for a Christian to support the death penalty. The main Biblical justification -- an eye for an eye -- was very explicitly overruled.
But when it comes to larger threats than crime, it gets more troublesome. If your country has been attacked by terrorists, or if you're in a small country threatened with invasion by its neighbors, electing a pacifist government seems, essentially, to be voting to martyr the whole country to the cause of nonviolence. If a lot of your fellow citizens aren't willing to do that, it isn't right to create a government that will. The decision to die rather than kill is a choice that I don't think anybody can make for anybody else.
So I can see why certain Christian sects have left off voting and government entirely and treated themselves as a separate kingdom. Not that that's an ideal solution either.