McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–The perpetrator of the most heinous act of terrorism on American soil was to be punished for his crime May 16. However, due to an FBI glitch, the execution of Timothy McVeigh, who bombed Oklahoma City’s Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, has been stayed until June 11.
The pending execution has breathed new life into the debate over the death penalty. Opponents of capital punishment offer several arguments against executing even the likes of McVeigh. Though his actions resulted in the violent death of 168 people, 19 of whom were children, death penalty adversaries believe society is better served by not putting him to death.
I will not attempt to recite each and every objection offered for abolishing the death penalty; I don’t have the space here to devote adequate attention to each issue, and I doubt that you have sufficient time to endure them all. However, I do want to address a couple of arguments used by those who oppose capital punishment.
“Jesus taught us that we are to forgive our enemies and pray for those who persecute us” is an oft-quoted reason given by death penalty opponents. Since a murderer is in a sense an enemy of the state, it is then reasoned, we should forgive them.
While the nature of forgiveness can be debated, it has nothing to do with the excusing of consequences. The death penalty is the punishment for murder carried out with malice of forethought. It is no secret that in certain states in America, if you commit premeditated murder it is possible you could be sentenced to death. The federal government also allows for the death penalty in certain crimes.
The family of a murder victim is free to forgive the one who took their loved one’s life. They can pray for, visit and even embrace the murderer’s family. If they so desire, they can even name a child after him. Forgiveness can be expressed many ways. However, forgiveness does not exempt the murderer from realizing the consequences of his or her actions.
Another argument offered by those opposing the death penalty is the sanctity of life. “Since all human life is sacred, even the life of the murderer must be spared,” it is asserted.
It is because human life is so special that the death penalty is required. When someone with malice of forethought callously destroys another human being, they forfeit the right to their own life. In more than one Bible passage, God doesn’t merely allow for the execution of murderers; he commands it.
Paradoxically, the reality of the death penalty emphasizes the dignity of human life. If someone chooses to ignore the preciousness of life with an act of murder, the most severe penalty possible is to be administered.
I understand the death penalty is not a punishment to be lightly applied. Our criminal justice system makes distinctions between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter and makes allowances for circumstances with varying degrees of murder. However, when someone takes a life — or in the case of McVeigh, 168 lives, in a cold and calculated manner — justice demands his or her life.
Boggs is pastor of Valley Baptist Church, McMinnville, Ore.