Michael Brendan Dougherty Has Said It Well

Regarding Mike Huckabee’s have-it-both-ways answer to the question of whether Jesus would support the death penalty, MBD says, “Basically, he’d kill them but he’d cry about it afterwards.” When asked tonight — and earlier when asked at the Morgan State University debate in Baltimore — Huck said that he supports the death penalty but feel really bad about it, since he’s actually had to execute prisoners (not personally, of course) as governor of Arkansas. The particular question he was asked tonight, however, and which Anderson Cooper reiterated and pressed Huck upon, was whether Jesus would support capital punishment. For all that Huck put on his “serious face” and wrung his hands about his decisions as Arkansas governor, when pressed he evaded the question by cracking a joke: Jesus was smart enough not to get into politics, he said. Funny, but why not answer the question? Presumably because an honest answer wouldn’t have served Huck’s political interests.

I’ve come around on capital punishment. I used to be for it, and in my gut I still am. But the gut is not the place for careful consideration of life-and-death matters. I changed my mind after thinking about the criticisms of capital punishment that John Paul II and Benedict XVI have made and asking myself whether it could ever be right to take the life of a man who is not in a position to pose a threat to anyone. The deterrent effects of capital punishment are debatable, and other countries have been able to control their crime problems without resort to the death penalty. There are other, I think better, cases to be made for capital punishment on moral grounds — that it’s the proportionate punishment for the crime, for example. But confronted with a choice between the principle of proportionality on the one hand and the principles of mercy and of precedence on the other (by precedence I mean that God has a higher claim to a man’s life, even a criminal’s life, than the State can ever have) I think the Christian should side with mercy and precedence.

Of course, there’s a overwhelmingly compelling secular reason to oppose capital punishment as well. If Mike Huckabee, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and the great mass of the American people all support a policy, it must be very bad indeed.