Recently I worked through Romans 13 in preparation for teaching. Romans 12 calls for Christians to live by the pattern of the cross, conformed no longer to this age, but transformed with renewed minds. They are to live out of humility, a realistic self-perception based on their gifts. They are to allow others to do the same. They are to be marked by love rejecting evil, living lives full of goodness and purity. They are to love each other as family, Paul using two philos terms in 12:10 philadelphia ('brotherly love') and philastorgos ('family love') to define the Christian community as family. They are show respect to each other, be fervent in life and spirit, prayerful, servant hearted, characterised by joy, empathy, patience generosity and caring for foreigners. They are to live in unity no matter what their social status, characterised by a mindset of humility. This is utterly unRoman and revolutionary! When it comes to being on the receiving end of persecution they are not to respond in kind. They are to live at peace with everyone and not take revenge. This is to be left to God. It is clear that Paul does not envisage Christians killing anyone!
As I pondered Rom 13 though, I flirted with the idea of the state and capital punishment, something I personally have alwlays found abhorent. I wondered about Rom 13:4. Does Paul's theology of the state holding the sword include this? Does Paul have a theology of church and state which allows the state to put to death evil people, while the people of God refuse to resort to such things? This is a very separatist theology. I had a huge long discussion on my facebook page which opened this up, it was fun (see
http://www.facebook.com/mark.keown1/posts/106462789423310#!/mark.keown1/posts/168008683224641). I pondered, did I have this right?
Then today I saw this article: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10687172. It tells how a DNA test on a single hair which suggests that a man was wrongly put to death 10 years ago in Texas for the murder in a liquor store. Apparently the staff of George W. Bush, the then governor, would not allow him to have a genetic test on the strand at the time. It has now been tested, and it did not belong to the supposed killed Claude Jones! It came from the murder victim and not the killer. While not conclusive, it throws doubt on the conviction and execution. Claude was killed on Dec 7, 2000 by lethal injection. He may have been innocent, as he had always claimed!
Whatever the details of this, it shows one of the real problems with the death penalty. The wrong person may be killed. Arthur Allan Thomas for example, may well have been executed for the Crewe murders.
So, my brief flirtation of thought is over. I will live by the ethics Jesus proclaimed even if there are complexities about the relationship of church and state in Scripture. I will use my democratic power as one voice to do all I can to ensure it doesn't happen here. The truth is, I just can't see Jesus putting to death someone in this way! And if that is the case, so be it. So, like 72% of Kiwis in a 2004 Colman Brunton Poll of 1,000 Kiwis, I will continue to vehemently oppose the death penalty. As Phil Goff said at the time, to "take the life of an innocent person is the worst thing that a state can do to its citizens," and as such the justice system could not always guarantee that it had convicted the right person (Otago Daily Times, New Zealand, July 15, 2004).