You may have heard about the awful botched execution in Oklahoma the other day. Many people took it as yet another reason for America to reconsider whether or not putting our neighbors to death actually has a place in civilized society.
But not Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler.
Al doesn’t want the death penalty to end. Far from it. He wants us to start executing more people sitting on death row.
We have also robbed the death penalty of its deterrent power by allowing death penalty cases to languish for years in the legal system, often based on irrational and irrelevant appeals.
While that call for more death from a follower of Jesus is shocking enough by itself, Mohler wasn’t done.
I believe that Christians should hope, pray and strive for a society in which the death penalty, rightly and rarely applied, would make moral sense.
Baffling. Shocking. Unbelievable. I don’t know that there is a word in the English language that fully captures how utterly inconceivable it is – or at least should be – to hear a follower of Jesus calling on other followers of Jesus to pray for death. To pray that the execution of people made in the image of God continues to have a place in society.
After reading Mohler’s Christian call for death, it took a while for my head to stop spinning. But once it did, I realized something.
Albert Mohler has no use for Jesus.
At least not when it comes to the death penalty.
For all his talk about what Christians should do, Mohler doesn’t reference Jesus or anything Jesus said or anything Jesus did even once in the entire article.
That should speak volumes to all of us about just how Christian Mohler’s argument actually is – or isn’t.
You see, Albert Mohler has no use for Jesus in case for the death penalty because Jesus just gets in the way. All that talk about turning the other cheek and loving our enemies and putting an end to “eye for an eye,” oh, and the fact that Jesus himself was executed, those things just make it too hard and awkward to argue that Christians should support the death penalty.
So Mohler ignores Jesus altogether.
It’s just easier that way.
Now, let me be clear. This isn’t about simply mentioning the name Jesus in an argument once or twice as if dropping that name is all it take to sanctify our beliefs.
The problem with Mohler’s argument is that you can’t make a case for a Christian position without building the foundation explicitly and specifically around Christ.
Mohler can talk about God and Noah and Paul till he’s blue in the face, but if Jesus isn’t in the mix somewhere and somewhere prominently, then there is nothing particularly Christian about his position – even if he himself is a Christian.
Moreover, if he is going to lean so heavily on the Old Testament to plead for the death penalty, then he needs to explain why his standard for the death penalty is different than the Old Testament’s standard for the death penalty. Because according to Deuteronomy 21, bratty children should be put to death. And according to Numbers 1, we should also start executing people for going to church at the wrong time.
If Mohler isn’t going to support the execution of children and church folks – and I assume he doesn’t – then he’s just cherry picking verses from an old covenant to support a position that sounds a lot more right-wing American politics than authentically Christian discipleship.
In other words, by basing his case on Noah and the covenant he made with God, Jesus is rendered irrelevant because nothing he did or said about how treat our enemies matters. There is no new covenant because there is no need for one because according to Mohler’s argument, the old one worked just fine.
But the lack of Jesus to make a supposedly Christian argument doesn’t just speak volumes about Mohler. It speaks volumes about all of us in the church today.
The death penalty. Evolution. War. Homosexuality. Gun control. A million other issues. How many times do we claim to be taking a Christian position without even mentioning or referencing what Jesus actually said and did?
You see, the challenge all of us face along with Mohler is straightforward: If we talk about Jesus all the time, but when we claim we’re taking a Christian position Christ is nowhere to be found, then there’s nothing actually particularly Christian about our position.
Now, obviously there are some things Jesus didn’t talk about…but the death penalty isn’t one. You remember the story of the woman caught in adultery, right? She was surrounded by her accusers, sentenced to death according to the law, and the stones were in hand ready to carry out justice.
And what did Jesus do?
He denounced the death penalty in no uncertain terms, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Which means we if we are going to claim to be his followers, we can’t support the very things he denounced. Otherwise, we’re just a bunch of hypocrites.
Look, I get it. I really do. There are unspeakable crimes that occur and if they happened to my daughter I’m sure there’s part of me that would want to pull the switch on the person that hurt her. But as a Christian I can’t escape the call of the gospel or the fact that I worship a God who was crucified.
I can’t escape the call give up my desire for an eye for an eye. I can’t escape the command to turn the other cheek and love my enemies rather than putting them to death. And I can’t escape the fact that the Jesus I love was executed to put an end to death, not to be a model for doing the same others.
To put it simply, as Christians we can’t talk about the radical nature of grace in one breath and sentence people to death in the next.
If we join Albert Mohler in his prayer for the death penalty, then we pray against the prayer the Lord taught us to pray that imagines the kingdom of Life coming to a world of death.
If we join Albert Mohler in his prayer for the death penalty, we pray against the hope of Revelation that the old order of things will pass away and death will be no more.
If we join Albert Mohler in his prayer for the death penalty, we pray against the very grace that has saved us from death.
Look, Albert Mohler can take whatever position he wants to take on the death penalty, but claiming his call for death is a Christian position renders the gospel completely irrelevant because it denies the simple truth that fundamentally Christianity is a faith that worships a God who was executed so that all might live.