Death Penalty and Universalism

The Supreme Court ruled 7 to 2 that capital punishment via lethal injection is not unusual or cruel punishment.  All of the justices left the door open for more litigation to prove that capital punishment is unconstitutional.  So this was not a case regarding the death penalty per se but only regarding this method of implementation.  

Can a person who has a Universalist theology be a proponent of the death penalty?  Does Universalism contradict such a stance? 

The orthodox view of universalism states all experience salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  There are no exceptions.  All will be reconciled with their creator, God through the redemptive actions of Jesus on the cross.  All are saved. All are going to Heaven.  Period.  

This orthodox stance is as controversial today as it was in John Murray’s day.  The notion of an elect who are saved is therefore disputed and rejected.  Bishop Carlton Pearson, a pentecostal minister, had a conversion experience where he embraced this universal stance.  He was expelled from his church as a heretic for preaching that God would embrace and redeem everyone including ‘murderers and fornicators.’  He calls it the gospel of inclusion but it is identical as far as I can tell to John Murray’s notion of universalism.   His opponents have built up a wide array of arguments stating how he has erred from the one true path.   He certainly is no longer advocating what is considered to be orthodox Christianity of the Nicene Creed

So given the fact that this notion of universal salvation remains a controversial one even today.  The question remains for me.  Can someone be a universalist and support the death penalty?  What does this say about us if the answer is yes.   Does it say, we have the right to judge a person’s worthiness of living life based on their actions against the current laws of society and we then let God to sort it out after we put the person to death?  To me, that seems a bit arrogant on our part to think we have the ability to judge the worthiness of a life to continue or to be halted; regardless if the method is done in what the supreme court deems to be a humane methodology.  

Orthodox Christianity or at least those proposing a Christianity that requires a confession of the mouth and of the heart to proclaim Jesus as personal savior, maintains the possibility of what I remember being called deathbed salvation.  The notion goes like this, a person who has committed the most heinous of sins [I will let your imagination come up with what those might be.] can at the moment of death ask Jesus for forgiveness for those sins, and salvation and entry into heaven is then assured.  All their sins are at that moment are wiped clean.  I think this is the reason [I could be wrong]  why a minister / chaplain is present to the person on their last walk to the execution chamber in prison for the hope of a last minute repentance. Of course, we rarely hear of death row conversions as that would be against the hope that this person is now burning in hell.  [Another notion that Universalists and Unitarian Universalists do not believe in.]   But this notion of deathbed salvation seems equally crazy to me as the arrogance of judging a person no longer worthy of having life, believing in universal salvation and sending them on to Heaven by killing them.

Now many, but not all,  Unitarian Universalists with a Universalist theology no longer believe in the doctrine of a here after in heaven but still believe that all of humanity has the potential for reconciliation.  They still believe that all of life has a worth to have life that goes beyond the actions that life may have committed. There is still the belief that redemption is available to all even if they humanly find it hard to grasp it. 

I’d like to hear some comments on this as I find it a curious position to take: To believe in universalism and to believe that the death penalty is an appropriate judgment for a crime. 

In case you have not surmised… I am opposed to the death penalty.  I believe that if someone is convicted of a crime that is heinous [again, I leave the definition of heinous to your imaginations] that the best punishment is life imprisonment perhaps with solitary confinement.

Blessings, Rev. Fred L Hammond               

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Published in: on April 17, 2008 at 4:18 am  Comments Off on Death Penalty and Universalism  
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