The Pope did this week what only the Pope can do, he changed the official position of the Roman Catholic Church through a Papal pronouncement. With the Pope’s call in 2016 for the global abolition of capital punishment, the wheels were set in motion to change the official catechism which now declares capital punishment to be “an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”
Now, before you allow yourself to be lured into a debate about whether or not the Pope is infallible and whether or not the Pope can make pronouncements over nations and people groups who in no way acknowledge God, the Scriptures nor the Church, let us celebrate on three fronts:
The world is asking today, “What does the Bible say about capital punishment?” The 10 commandments are going to be read aloud and those who agree with the Pope are going to make public reference to Matthew 5:17, John 5:39, Luke 24:27 and Romans 12:19. They are going to talk about Jesus. In conversation with those texts, those Christians who believe capital punishment is expressly authorized by God through the Scriptures are going to reference Genesis 9:6 and Romans 13:1-7. Think about that for a moment in terms of the content of our cultural conversations. This is an opportunity for Christians to talk about God – and those made in His image, human beings – as moral beings who are morally accountable. It is an opportunity to talk about justice – eternal and temporal. It is an opportunity to talk about the principles at work in the Kingdom of Heaven and advocate for their implementation here and how in the midst of the kingdoms of the earth. That’s what Ambassadors do and that is who we are.
Second, the language of the updated Catechism of the Church says capital punishment is “an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.” What does that mean? It means that every human life – from conception to natural death and throughout eternity – has intrinsic value, dignity and worth. And that no one person or group of people is in a position to take the life of another, no matter how much better, more significant, or valuable we think we are. This leads us to conversations about how criminals are be treated and it also opens up conversations about the uniqueness of human life and the culture of death.
Third, conversations about punishment are ultimately conversations about justice. What is justice? Who is in a position to condemn? Christians will recognize here the opportunity to talk about God as the giver of life, the giver of the law, and the One who sits in ultimate judgement. This conversation necessarily includes recognition and confession about the systemic injustice in the American system. Christians have real work to do in the real world to see to it that liberty and justice are really for all.
Getting to the crux of the matter
The Pope’s position is built on the Commandment “thou shalt not kill.” If taken as an absolute, what do we do with other commandments in the Mosaic law which outline the circumstances in which people are cut off not only from the community but whose lives are required as a consequence of sin? The crucifixion of Jesus, an exercise of capital punishment by the Roman government, is understood as the working out of God’s eternal redemptive plan. Was it unjust and unjustified? Yes. Was it also God’s will in order that the power of sin in life and the penalty of sin in death might be eternally satisfied? Yes. Justification through that which was the most unjust – even death on a cross – is the very crux of the matter.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Carmen Fowler LaBerge