Scot McKnight has commented on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s sentencing to death by the American civil justice system. He has equated this response to “lex talionis”. For those who don’t know their medieval history, this was the “eye for eye” and “tooth for tooth” law that was enacted by common folks who believed it was okay to do when someone within their community performed it. This was getting out of hand though so the inquisition was actually set up in order to provide fair trials for the commoners accused of unsettling the community with whatever heresies or witchcraft nonsense was going on (according to some historians, specifically Thomas Madden of whom the RationalWiki has ironically sited as a source for their own studies on the inquisition–wait, RationalWiki is less anti-Catholic than modern Protestants?!? Hell is freezing over!).
Any way, I state this because the inquisition didn’t do away with the death penalty. Recent works have completely destroyed Voltaire’s “Grand Inquisitor” (which Dostoyevsky was influenced by). What the inquisition did do away with though was “lex talionis” (eye for eye and tooth for tooth). While I agree with McKnight that Jesus would have been against retributive “justice” arguments for the death penalty, I’m afraid that McKnight is a little bit “out of the loop” with his classification that the death penalty is entirely based on this “lex talionis” principle. McKnight declares that “Christians should oppose the death penalty is because they believe that (1) humans are Eikons of God who, because of the redemptive work of the trinitarian God in the Cross, Resurrection, and Pentecost, (2) can be restored to union with God and communion with others”. This is true, however there are some complexities that need to be taken account. First off, one argument in support of the death penalty is that when a human has transposed the divine laws, they need to be restored back into the redemptive grace (what the inquisition first attempted to do). After this, if they shall continue in their transposition of the divine order, they have surrendered their humanity and the image of God that they once had. In other words, one sentenced to death needs to be in a situation where humanity has been surrendered. Hence, the execution of obstinate heretics by the inquisition. They were disrupting the peace and unity that the Church was attempting to maintain. Further, while McKnight asserts that Jesus would have opposed the death penalty because of his views on “lex talionis” (which I think is a fair assessment), he does not address Jesus’s statement that those who cause the little ones in him to stumble would be better off having a millstone around their neck and thrown to the bottom of the sea (Matt. 18:6).
As such, I see no reason why Christians need to take a specific stand on the death penalty. I see a man who is simply just trying to turn the Bible into a political textbook when it is not. I know Catholics who support and oppose the death penalty and I know Orthodox who support and oppose the death penalty. Why there needs to be a specific stand taken up in terms of politics seems to be tying Christianity into a politrickal system. Christianity is not politricks. It is mystery. Whatever one’s view on the death penalty is, we should not attempt to convert them but make certain they have based their views on an overall sense of mystery instead. If someone attempts to steal away the mystery of the Christian faith, then I see no reason to oppose the inquisition giving them a trial and excommunicating them from the Church if necessary. Christianity is about the body of Christ and how all are part of this mystical body of Christ. Christianity does not mean I believe whatever the hell I want to believe. It means surrendering to the teachings of the Church whether we like them or not. If we don’t like them and don’t want to surrender to the teachings of the Church or the means of salvation it provides for us, then why should we call ourselves Christians?