Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Roger Olson's morally warped penology

I’m going to comment on Arminian Roger Olson’s case against capital punishment:

A controversy is raging over capital punishment in Texas–a state that executes upwards of 30 to 35 people (almost all men and disproportionately African-American and poor) annually.

i) To my knowledge, some demographic groups are disproportionately punished because they disproportionately offend. If so, how is that unjust?

If, say, skinheads commit murder at higher rates than Amish, is it unjust to execute skinheads at higher rates than the Amish?

ii) Why does Olson think he should guilt-trip one racial group for the crimes of another racial group? Why should one racial group feel responsible or culpable for the crimes of another racial group?

Should Asian-Americans feel guilty if some other racial or ethnic groups commit crime at higher rates, resulting in higher rates of conviction?

iii) From one I’ve read regarding the racial demographics in TX, whites comprise 47% of the population, Latinos 37%, and blacks are 12%.

So it’s not as if you have white-only police, prosecutors, judges, and juries arresting, indicting, and/or convicting black defendants.  And keep in mind that it only takes one vote to acquit.

iv) To my knowledge, most black crime is black-on-black crime. So the black community is the primary target of black crime.

v) It’s probably true that the poor are more likely to be executed than the rich. One reason is that the poor are more likely to commit a capital offense, whereas the rich are more likely to commit a white-collar crime.

Of course, the rich are also in a better position to game the system, but that’s not limited to capital crimes.

There are several theological and ethical problems with capital punishment.
First, it ends a person’s opportunity to exonerate himself or herself.

i) That’s also true in the case of all those capital crimes in the OT. Yet God enjoined the death penalty for a wide variety of crimes. Was God commanding evil?

ii) It’s tragic and unjust when an innocent man is executed. But by the same token, it’s tragic and unjust when a murderer is paroled, only to kill again. Likewise, Ted Bundy was an escape artist. Either way, innocents die.

Second, it ends a person’s opportunity to accept Christ and live a God-honoring life in prison ministering to other inmates and guards.

The duty of the justice system is to mete out justice, not charity. Same the charity of the victim and the victim’s family. 

Third, it usurps God’s place and assume’s a God-like right and power to take the life of a person created in God’s image and likeness.

i) Actually, the rationale for capital punishment is grounded in the imago (Gen 9:5-6). Because the offender is made in God’s image, the offender is a morally responsible agent.

ii) It hardly usurps a divine prerogative when God commands the death penalty. God delegates that authority to human magistrates.

Fourth, it has no social benefit.  It only serves a blood thirst for vengeance.

The desire to see justice prevail is hardly equivalent to “blood thirst.” The victim and the victim’s family are entitled to justice. Olson betrays his own morally twisted outlook.

Fifth, no modern, Western country still has capital punishment.

Yes, modern, secularized nations which despise OT ethics and NT ethics alike.

Sixth, capital punishment is barbaric and cruel–if not to the person being executed (and who can know for sure?), to his or her family.

i) Whether it’s barbaric and cruel begs the question.

ii) Some OT penalties were painful. Does that make God barbaric and cruel?

iii) The human administration of justice is always flawed to some degree. That is why we have the Final Judgment–to right the scales of justice.

Seventh, innocent people are executed.  A few years ago Ethel Rosenberg’s brother came forward and admitted publicly that he knew she was not complicit in the plot to steal American nuclear secrets and deliver them to the Soviet Union.  He fingered her to help himself.  She was electrocuted in 1953 leaving behind two small, traumatized boys.

i) Because the Rosenbergs were Marxists, they’ve always had Marxist defenders in the liberal media.

ii) In Olson’s moral myopia, he consistently disregards the rights of the victim and the victim’s family.

iii) Punishing parents is often hard on the kids. So should we never punish parents?

Most Christians who support capital punishment rely entirely on Old Testament material which was transcended by Jesus.

i) Even if (arguendo) we grant his Anabaptist view of OT ethics, Olson is dodging the question of whether OT penology was just or unjust. Does he think God commanded evil?

ii) Jesus had a very high view of the OT. He often cited the OT to validate his Messianic credentials.

iii) Does Olson deny the inerrancy of Scripture? But in that event, why appeal to Jesus? If the Bible is errant, why believe Jesus said the things attributed to Jesus in the Gospels? Why believe Jesus is who he says he is? 


  1. Excellent argument for death penalty.
    It is clear that sometimes it is appropriate for "a life for a life".
    Peter said: "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority,
    or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right."

    And Paul says: "he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer."
    A sword certainly could be compared to the electric chair I would think.

  2. "Most Christians who support capital punishment rely entirely on Old Testament material which was transcended by Jesus."

    Olson also overlooks the fact that Paul finds basis for the death penalty outside of the Mosaic Law:

    "Although [the Gentiles] know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things ***deserve death***, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them." (Romans 1:32)

  3. Jesus clearly affirmed the equity of the OT laws. Including one that even some Christians cringe at. Namely, the capital punishment of persistently disobedient children.

    Matthew 15:3 Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’

  4. Deut. 21:18 "If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and who, when they have chastened him, will not heed them,
    19 then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city, to the gate of his city.
    20 And they shall say to the elders of his city, 'This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.'
    21 Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall put away the evil from among you, and all Israel shall hear and fear.

    Exo. 21:15 15 "And he who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.

    Exo. 21:17 "And he who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.