February 2016 Bloom’s Blog
On May 20th, Nebraska lawmakers passed a bill to abolish the death penalty by a big enough margin to override a threatened veto by Governor Pete Ricketts. The bill would replace the State’s current death penalty by lethal injection with a sentence of life in prison. Immediately following the 32-15 vote a petition drive by Nebraskans for the Death Penalty garnered 166,692 signatures enough to block the repeal of the death penalty from becoming law until voters decide the issue at the November 2016 general election.
In the run up to the General Election the question will inevitably arise regarding the position of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod when it comes to the death penalty. In 1967, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod stated its position “that capital punishment is in accord with the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions.” Resolution 2-38 of the New York convention of the Synod reads as follows:
“Whereas, Various church bodies have condemned capital punishment in recent years; and
“Whereas, God’s Word supports capital punishment (Gen. 9:6; Lev. 24:17; Ex. 21:12; Num. 35:21; Deut. 19:11; Rom. 13:4; Acts 25:11; and “Whereas, The Lutheran Confessions support capital punishment:
“Therefore neither God nor the government is included in this commandment, yet their right to take human life is not abrogated. God has delegated His authority of punishing evil-doers to civil magistrates in place of parents; in early times, as we read in Moses, parents had to bring their own children to judgment and sentence them to death. Therefore what is forbidden here applies to private individuals, not to governments. (Large Catechism I, 180 to 181 [Tappert, p. 389])
“Therefore be it Resolved, That The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod declare that capital punishment is in accord with the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions.”
This does not mean that everyone who belongs to the LCMS or is a member of an LCMS congregation is conscience-bound to support the death penalty. Individuals within the LCMS may, for various valid reasons, object to the usefulness and fairness of the death penalty as it is being used or considered within a particular governmental system. Although it is clear from Scripture that the government has the God-given right to use the death penalty, the LCMS has not taken the position that the government must use this right if it determines that some other form of punishment would better serve society at large at a particular time and place.
Nebraska is one of 32 states where the death penalty is legal. However growing research reveals that when asked if they agreed that “the government should have the option to execute the worst criminals,” 42% of Christian boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) said “yes.” While only 32% of Christian millennials (born between 1980 and 2000) said the same thing. Heather Beaudoin, national organizer for Equal Justice USA, a national organization working to reform the criminal justice system, said the Barna research confirms what she sees: a growing desire among younger Christians to abolish the death penalty. “The question for them is no longer ‘Is it right or wrong?’” said Beaudoin. “They are seeing how it is actually functioning in our country — the race issues, the risk of executing the innocent, the fact that if you can afford an attorney you’ll probably not end up on death row — and they are changing their minds.”
The purpose of this short blog is not to sway your vote either for or against the death penalty. I confess that I am one of the 166,692 Nebraskans who signed the petition drive to place it on the November ballot because I believe that it is an issue that all Nebraskans should have a vote. The question is not whether the government has the right to take life because God’s Word is crystal clear that it does. The question is should we as a state exercise that right. In November you will have the responsibility to vote yes or no. Together in Christ, Pastor Bloom
1. LCMS.org, Frequently Asked Questions
2. Jonathan Merritt © 2014 Religion News Service