Justice of Capital Punishment

I participated in a discussion a while back with a handful of people on a discussion forum I frequent. The topic was capital punishment in general and rape crimes in particular. Specifically, the question was whether or not rapists should be put to death, imprisoned for life, or ‘reformed’ by a certain amount of time behind bars. Personally, I’ve always believed that rapists should have a certain part of their anatomy removed as painfully as possible and _then_ be executed, and I stated this in the discussion. Now, whether or not that is ethical is beside the point – that’s just how my emotions play out when I hear of scum like this. Surgery or no, I _do_ think that rapists deserve the death penalty because of what they have taken away from their victims. Someone challenged me on this point, and my response was a question – “Then why would every single woman I know rather put up a fight and be killed than to be raped?” My understanding is that being raped is a fate worse than death. Then the next challenge – “How does taking a life, whether it be for rape or taking another life, make the situation any better?”

And for the longest time I had no answer to that question. Sometimes, I just have to back away and leave a question alone for a while before I can think through it enough to arrive at a satisfactory answer. A fair amount of thought was devoted to this question. I knew that there is a place for capital punishment, despite the point of the challenge. It just felt wrong to me that someone should go unpunished for heinous crimes against society. And it has always bugged me to know that a portion of my tax money goes to support killers and rapists. The point, however, was to put aside my personal biases as best as possible to sort through the morality and the ethics of the topic.

It’s true that taking the life of the murderer or the rapist doesn’t make the situation any better for the victims or their families, except maybe to provide a sense of closure. Execution doesn’t undo what happened, doesn’t restore the innocence of the rape victim, doesn’t bring back the one who was killed. It doesn’t repair the pain and loss that all feel. But then again, it’s not about ‘fixing’ anything. It’s about consequences, and it’s about making society a little bit safer. And in that sense, it _does_ make the situation better.

You see, I believe that actions carry with them inherent consequences. I also believe that the punishment should fit the crime. If you rape or kill someone, you have to expect that you will have to face the jury, quite literally, to answer for your crimes. And if the punishment should fit, then what is more fitting than your life be forfeit if you take a life (or subject your victim to a fate worse than death)? Somehow, it has always seemed unfair and _unjust_ to put a murderer or rapist in a place where his every need is met, where he gets three squares a day, a TV, exercise equipment, public education, and medical benefits, all at the taxpayers expense. And the concept of a speedy trial is lost today in our justice system, with appeals dragging the process out even longer.

As a Christian I believe that everyone will face God one day and answer for their life. The unrepentant, unbelieving criminal will face an eternity of punishment, the degree of which is reflective of his life’s crimes and sins. So, ultimately, justice _will_ be meted out. But by the same token, something has to be done with these criminals in the here and now in order to protect our citizens. Prisons are already very overcrowded, and so criminals who have no business being back out on the street are released early for ‘good behavior’, only to go right back to their old ways, repeating a vicious cycle. Statistics show that the vast majority of criminals do not, in fact, learn their lesson and do repeat their crimes over and over again. If the punishment were to fit the crime, we would have fewer problems, I believe, both with overcrowding and with repeat offenders.

Capital punishment cannot repair people’s lives; they still have to go about the daily business of coping with their pain and letting time (and hopefully God) heal their wounds. But capital punishment _can_ remove dangerous criminals from our society so that there is no fear of their repeating their offenses. They answer for their crimes, and their victims are given the reassurance that these individuals will not be able to hurt them ever again.

Mistakes are made, of course, and it is up to our authorities to shore up weaknesses in the system to prevent such mistakes from being made. But it is, I believe, a God-ordained responsibility of government to protect its people from those who harm its citizens, and as such, I believe that capital punishment has an appropriate place within our legal and justice systems.

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