A Gospel for Liberals
Considering the historical     Jesus in light of today’s most controversial social Issues

Jesus Was Pro-Life

It’s hard to fathom how anyone professing to follow Jesus can support capital punishment, if for no other reason than because Jesus himself was a victim of the death penalty.  What is surprising, however, is that opinion polls indicate fundamentalist Christians don’t support it anymore than most Americans (about 73 percent, according to a 1998 poll). Race and geography, rather than religion, seem to be the determining factors in how many of us view capital punishment.  According to Unnever and Cullen’s research article, Christian Fundamentalism and Support for Capital Punishment, “individuals who opposed the death penalty were more likely to be African American and born outside the United States and that those who supported capital punishment tended to be politically conservative and native southerners.” This should not be surprising given the fact that a disproportionate number of African Americans are incarcerated and on Death Row.  What seems unexpected, however, is that conservative Christians, in general, aren’t outraged by our penal system’s continued use of capital punishment given their obsessive rhetoric about saving the unborn, and the political and legal extremities to which they’ll go to prevent family members from disconnecting brain-dead relatives from artificial life support systems, all in the name of “sacred life.” 

Jesus’ position about capital punishment was, no doubt, born of his deep compassion for others, but must also have been in direct response to the horrific abuses of power he witnessed by the Roman authorities.  According to the ancient historian, Josephus, the Romans crucified thousands of people near Jerusalem during Jesus’ life, and sometimes conducted mass executions, involving as many as five-hundred crucifixions a day. And, just as today, in which capital punishment is mostly reserved for poor minorities, in Jesus’ day, as you will recall, “crucifixion was not the punishment of citizens and aristocrats, but of slaves and servants, peasants and bandits.” One can only imagine the overwhelming grief experienced by somebody with the compassion of Jesus upon witnessing, firsthand, thousands of crosses holding the remains of legally executed criminals left to rot and be picked apart by birds and dogs, perhaps seeing and hearing the agony of those in the excruciating final throws of death, and the overbearing stench that was all that lingered of those whose only true crime was poverty.   Jesus also experienced the personal loss of his mentor, John the Baptist, who was legally beheaded.  And finally, as we all know, Jesus himself received the death penalty for being a public nuisance.