With the election of Davao City Mayor Duterte as President of the Philippines, discussion has turned to the restoration of death penalty. Rev. Dr. Ron Gleason, pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Yorba Linda, California (PCA), has written a book, Death Penalty on Trial (Ventura, CA: Nordskog, 2012), advocating the restoration of the death penalty. He wrote this book to convince Christians that the death penalty in the Old Testament for murder was not abrogated by Jesus. Although this article was written for an American audience, all of it is application to the Filipino culture.
Because of the lax treatment of criminals and a myriad of unsolved crimes, the Philippines has become a haven for lawlessness. Gleason writes, “When members of a community give sympathy to evil, evil doers gain power in that community… If God’s people don’t preserve justice, God won’t preserve them in the land.”
• robbery resulting in death of the victim
• kidnapping resulting in death of the victim
• plunder of government treasury
• drug trafficking and possession. In Singapore, death penalty is mandatory for possessing 30 grams or more of cocaine. For shabu or methampethamine, mandatory death penalty for 250 grams or more.
• terrorist attack
• inciting rebellion and armed rebellion
Trials should be finished within 180 days of arrest, and convicted criminals should be publicly executed by hanging or electric chair within 90 days of conviction. This is not new. Singapore has a very low crime rate because of swift justice by death penalty.
Lee Duigon, a Christian freelance writer, editor and reporter, wrote a review of Gleason’s book. Here’s an excerpt of his review:
The thrust of the book is to equip Christians to defend the death penalty as the right response to murder. Gleason’s argument is Biblical. Where necessary, he provides arguments from criminology and the Constitution. But the real business at hand is God’s business.
Purging the Evil from Our Midst
Why does God find murder so abhorrent? “The time of murder is heinous precisely because every human being bears the image of God,” Gleason answers. “Someone who strikes down the image-bearer strikes at the holy, almighty Image-Giver, God Himself” (p. 6).
Why does God want murderers punished with death? One would think the answer would be obvious to any Christian who has a nodding acquaintance with Scripture, but apparently it isn’t. The title of Gleason’s subhead on page 33 says it all: “The Divine Reason for the Death Penalty: To Purge the Evil from Our Midst.”
No one can prove that the death penalty actually deters this or that it deters potential killers from committing a murder—although, as Thomas Sowell observes, “We know that the death penalty certainly deters those who are executed” (p. 83). But certainly “When members of a community give sympathy to evil, evil doers gain power in that community,” Gleason explains (p. 44).
More to the point, “If God’s people don’t preserve justice, God won’t preserve them in the land,” writes Gleason (p. 36), alluding to Deuteronomy 16:20. Swift punishment of certain crimes especially abominable to God is necessary to turn away God’s wrath from the community (p. 46). Earthly punishment is also a reminder of eternal punishment, and a statement that sin has consequences (p. 48).
“The command to purge evil from the community of God’s people by judicially executing evildoers is found in nine Old Testament passages” (p. 33): for instance, “So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee” (Deut. 13:5).
Does the death penalty “put the evil away from the midst of thee”? We might best answer by considering the moral and spiritual decay of a society that has abandoned the death penalty because people have grown queasy about applying it.
We have not purged out the evil, and it has grown among us. This is self-evident to anyone who’s old enough and honest enough to remember a better America—before rap “music,” violent video games, a 40% out-of-wedlock birthrate, mass shootings, and all the rest. “Horror hath taken hold upon me because of the wicked that forsake thy law,” says the psalmist (Ps. 119:53). Our nation’s lawlessness is proclaimed in every daily newscast. Horrors abound.
As Dr. Gleason demonstrates throughout his book, the Bible is perfectly clear in its teaching: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed” (Gen. 9:6). Given that the great majority of Americans at least profess to be Christians, how is it that the death penalty for murder was virtually abolished in America? Although many states have reinstated it since the early 1970s, only a small percentage of convicted murderers are executed.
The death penalty goes back thousands of years in human history. Controversy over applying it did not arise until after the ascendancy of Christianity as the religion of the Western world; but it has been a long time with us. John Calvin, for example, warned magistrates to avoid any “superstitious affectation of clemency” (p. 17).
Yes—we are constantly told that we are exceedingly immoral when we oppose abortion, homosexual “marriage,” or Big Government, or when we execute a murderer: lectured on morality by persons who otherwise claim that all morality is relative. There is no way to have a logical discussion with such people.
In refuting their arguments, Gleason appeals to Christian readers who may have been misled by them. To examine just two of many:
- The death penalty is “cruel and unusual punishment,” and hence forbidden by the U.S. Constitution, Amendment VIII. But the Fifth Amendment assumes a death penalty: no one “shall be … deprived of life … without due process of law.” You’d think this alone would be enough to refute the constitutional objection…” (p. 63).
Alas, too true—having chosen to disregard God’s commandments, we can hardly expect much respect to be shown for a man-made constitution.
- The death penalty is “arbitrary and irrevocable,” and only “the poor” and “the black” are executed—and some of them were wrongly convicted in the first place.
“This is part of the process,” Gleason grants, “but it does not make the case that it is far better to allow thousands of convicted murderers to live simply because of the outside chance that one innocent man might be put to death” (p. 74).
Gleason pleads with his audience to trust in God and not demand infallibility from any human institution. Additionally, American law contains more safeguards for the accused than any other legal system ever devised by man. It’s amazing that the same people who will trust the state to micromanage the economy, or even the environment, won’t trust it to reach a reasonably accurate finding in a murder case.
Gleason also addresses “Objections from Christians Who Oppose the Death Penalty” (chap. 7). We cannot help suspecting that those objections, too, come down to personal squeamishness and moral cowardice—with scriptural trappings as mere window dressing.
Among those objections:
- “Jesus’ ethics and teaching eliminates the need for capital punishment” (p. 89)—which, says, Gleason, is no more than a familiar pattern of “identifying Jesus with myriad left-wing political agendas” (p. 92).
- Death row inmates who convert are forgiven by Christ, “so we should forgive them, too” (p. 93). But such conversion, answers Gleason, does not win for the convert a pass for crimes committed in this world, although it does release him from eternal punishment. The convicted killer, when executed, will go to heaven if he has been converted, “like the thief of the cross” (p. 93)—who was guilty, and who himself admitted that his punishment was just (Luke 23:41).
- “I feel so sorry” for murderers who must be executed (p. 94). Feelings, feelings … “Sorry” would be better spent on the victims and their families. But, says Gleason, “People who have a defective view of sin have an optimistic view of sinful men” (p. 95).
Based as they are on feelings, and on a shallow or even willfully misunderstood reading of Scripture, none of the “Christian objections” to the death penalty stand up to scrutiny.
Reclaiming the World for Christ
So many books on controversial issues amount to preaching to the choir. Ron Gleason is trying to recruit a choir.
Christians must be convinced to honor God’s wishes when it comes to putting murderers to death. These are commandments, not suggestions; and the morally slothful nations of the West, once known as Christendom, have largely disobeyed them.
For it is not only the death penalty for murder that Christendom has forsaken, but the whole counsel of God, in every sphere of life. Why should we care what the Bible says about the death penalty, when we don’t care what it says about marriage, education, business, personal morality, the role of the church, limitations on the scope of civil government, or any other subject? All of these areas must be reclaimed for Christ—whose right it is to be obeyed.
Still, murder is a matter of life and death, immediately obvious to even the most limited intellect, the most atrophied religious sensibility—so maybe it’s a good place to start. Maybe if we can start taking murder seriously, we can persuade Christians to honor some more of God’s commandments.
The Death Penalty on Trial ought to be read, its arguments learned and mastered, and promoted by word-of-mouth recommendation from one Christian to another.