To sanctify means to set apart as belonging to God alone, and that is just what scripture says about human life: it is not ours to take. Man has been given dominion over all things, but the execution of human life is forbidden him. The human soul belongs to God.
When Jesus himself was asked to rule on an offense that by the laws of the time called for the death penalty, his answer was clearly such as to abolish it; indirectly by demanding that the judges and executioners must first be sinless (John 8). This is in line with everything he taught about the worth of every life before God (Matt. 6) and our responsibility to see Christ himself in the needy neighbor (Matt. 25). The reason for this respect for life is not a literal interpretation of the sixth commandment, but a deep spiritual principle: the life (the soul or the personality) of the neighbor is sacred because humans are made “in the image of God” (Gen. 9). If we love God, it must show in our love for fellow humans, and this love always includes a concern for their bodily welfare. In this sense, the Christian faith knows of no way to love others without also caring for their bodily life. If there were no Ten Commandments and no Sermon on the Mount, what we know about Christ, how he lived and why he died, would still suffice to sanctify human life.
What does it mean that humans are made in the image of God? Why is human life sacred? To be made in God’s image means to be capable of fellowship. A person’s destiny beyond death is dependent on the deeds and choices “done in the body” (2 Cor. 5:10). In the Old Testament, life was sacred—except for that of the murderer and the enemy. By trading places with the guilty and with his enemies, by dying in a murderer’s stead (Barabbas), and by teaching us that there is no moral difference between friend and enemy as far as their claim on our love is concerned, Jesus closed the loophole of legal punishment. No more exception can be made for man to punish each other for an offense. It is and always has been sin. The lifeblood of every man belongs to God alone. Life is sacred not only because Christ made us see him in every needy human (Matt. 25:40, 45); life is also, in the fallen world, a chance for repentance. The Son of Man says, “Learn of me, I have given you an example; Follow me, I am not come to destroy souls but to save them.” The Christian concern is redemptive; redemption means Christ giving himself for his enemies. Concern only for those who are socially desirable lacks virtue; a redemptive view of man comes into play only if God’s own attitude to the unworthy is taken as a guide.
If lives may be taken, even by the state, this must be proved in the face of what the gospel of Jesus Christ says to the contrary. The advocates, not the opponents, have the burden of proof.
Burden of Proof
One set of arguments in favor of capital punishment is of the kind that holds it to be God’s will or the demand of the moral order that life should be paid for with life. This problem is best approached by referring to the origins of the death penalty in human society. The Genesis story, especially chapter 9, will serve as an excellent case in point (if we were to study the secular science of anthropology it would actually tell us about the same thing). “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed” (Gen. 9:6) seems to be speaking of some kind of death penalty. What is meant?
A closer look of these earlier chapters of the Bible is that the death penalty is clearly not so much a requirement as a limitation. It is spoken against the background of a story of corruption (Gen. 4-6) in which vengeance was the general pattern. In the line of Cain, who slew his brother, Abel, for a paltry offense, soon we read of Lamech’s vicious boast, “I have slain a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech is seventy-seven-fold” (Gen. 4:23). Vengeance was all out of proportion for the offense. Beginning realistically as the Bible does, vengeance does not need to be commanded; it happens. It is the normal response of fallen humanity to any situation that calls forth hostility. Normally such vengeance is unlimited.
It is the normal thing for vengeance and counter-vengeance to raise the toll of suffering brought about by any one offense far beyond any proportion to the original damage done. If we ask what end was served by the Law, it is an error to think that the emphasis is on the necessity of vengeance. Vengeance is happening. It does not have to be commanded. The necessity is that it be restrained. The significance of Law is that it limits vengeance to a level of equivalent offense. In this sense, it is one way in which God’s grace works against sin. The first murder recorded in Genesis was followed by an act of God protecting the murderer’s life against those who could be expected to threaten him (Gen. 4:15). This same purpose issues in the setting up of rules for precisely how such equivalents are to be measured: “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (Exo. 21:24, 25). These rules are supplemented by rules defining acceptable substitutions, which continued to be elaborated down through Jewish history so that by the time of Jesus most of these penalties could be absolved through payments of money.
Just as the Law of Moses in Deuteronomy 24 does not mean to approve of divorce, but only as an exception for the hardness of men’s hearts (Matt. 19:8), to regulate the separations which were already taking place, so the law of talion does not command, but rather limits vengeance as an exception. The provision for cities of refuge even added a further limitation of vengeance, so that for certain kinds of killing (erg., unintentional manslaughter) there should be a chance of escaping the avenger. Divine Law, therefore, has a limiting or liberating character, whereas human law, in the name of deterrence, has an enslaving and magnifying character. Thus, when the Sermon on the Mount or in Romans 12 all vengeance is declared illegitimate for the Christian, or when Jesus’ own death is seen in the New Testament as a proclamation of forgiveness, this is another step in the direction already taken by Genesis 9 and Exodus 21. Vengeance was never God’s highest intent for men’s and women’s relations one with another; permitting it within the limits of justice (i.e., of equivalent injury) was never really his purpose. What God always wanted to do with evil and what he wants us today to do with it is to swallow it up and down in the bottomless sea of his crucified love.
There is no thing as a divine moral order demanding that one evil be somehow paid for by another evil. In a sinful world this does happen; the sinner brings down vengeance upon his own head, but from the beginning it was not so (Matt. 19:8). This is a construction of the gentiles, the wicked, the pagan, the heathen, the statist after the order of Cain, Lamech, Nimrod and others. In attempting to describe how the Law of Moses is to be understood since Christ, often Christians divide them into carnal, ceremonial and moral laws. One can then explain that the moral law (Ten Commandments) continues to apply to Christians, the ceremonial law is partially done away and other ceremonies like baptism are instituted (Law of the Gospel), and the carnal laws (i.e. civil law) ceased with the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets by Christ’s Atonement. This division is helpful for the purpose of classification, but a careful look at Genesis 9 and similar passages makes clear that in the earliest parts of the Bible the distinction does not fit.
Just as Christ is prophet, priest and king all at once, so the covenant established by God with Noah is moral, ceremonial, and carnal all at once. It speaks of the blood of man and beast belonging to God, certainly a sacrificial concept. Likewise, the provision that an animal guilty of murder shall pay with its life (Gen. 9:5; Exo. 21:28-32) is hardly what we would call a moral provision. The passage is sacrificial. Not killing humans thus comes under the same heading as not consuming the blood of sacrificed animals. This means that we can never make the question of the death penalty a purely legal, nonreligious matter; physical punishments, instituted by the Israelites, are limited after the fact by the carnal commandments in the Law of Moses and assigned a religious or ceremonial meaning distinctly different from those held by the heathen for their own disproportionate “sacrifices.” It was Lamech who held that his personal retaliation was not only authorized by the Lord, but was the vengeance of the Lord.
The blood, i.e. the life of every man, belongs to God. To respect this divine ownership means there shall be no killing. Killing is not simply a carnal offense. It is a religious evil and demands ceremonial compensation. If we must make a distinction at all between ceremonial and other considerations, it is not so much a legal or an ethical consideration as a ceremonial requirement that blood must be paid for with blood. If we would understand Genesis 9, we must think not of a moral order decreeing that one injury can be righted by another—there is nothing moral about that—but a deeply religious reverence for life as sacred, belonging to God alone, so that he who robs God by shedding blood forfeits his own blood in expiation. It is the witness of the New Testament (Hebrews) that the ceremonial requirements of the Law of Moses could not save and that the carnal commandments find their fulfillment and end instead in the high-priestly sacrifice of Christ. “Once and for all” is the triumphant proclamation of the epistle (Heb. 10:10). The sacrifice for sin is no longer punishment of criminals, rather repentance by criminals. Spencer W. Kimball puts it this way, “All that has been said about a waiver of penalties makes nonsense of any idea that forced restitution, [extorted] confession, or punishment will bring forgiveness.”
Henceforth, no more blood to testify to the sacredness of life and no more sacrifices are called for to expiate for humanity’s usurping the power to kill. To punish or put to death one’s offenders is to reject the Atonement of Christ. Even if the use of coercion and force secures compliance, to compel righteousness condemns nonetheless. Men must be justified by faith, not by the fear laws inspire. Often such biblical texts as Genesis 9:6, Exodus 21:12 and Deuteronomy 19:19-21 are understood as teaching a view of justice that is primarily legal and which dictates that one offense can be righted by another. Once this idea has been argued or taken for granted, it is possible to understand the work of Christ who “bore our sins” and took upon himself “the chastisement of our peace” (Isa. 53:5) as his being legally, no longer sacrificially, punished in the place of guilty men. It has even been argued by some that to challenge capital punishment undermines the orthodoxy of one’s view of the atonement. Although persons of unimpeachably evangelical convictions sometimes hold this view, it is a serious modernization of the Bible. The church was a thousand years old before it occurred to Christian theologians that, in order to communicate and illustrate the gospel to persons of legal mind, Christ’s suffering could be spoken of in terms of legal punishment. This is not a bad idea, since every generation must find new ways to testify to its faith, but at the time it was a new idea and not orthodox. The “orthodox” view continues to be that punishment was sacrificial, not legal, and, in Christ, the nature of the sacrifice required for “expiation” changes. The offering must be one of repentance, not punishment. Therefore, victims must forgive else to punish is an overthrow of the divine order by rejecting the Atonement of Christ. Legalistic reasoning changes the character of Law, from liberating to enslaving, from permitting retaliation with limitation to condoning retaliation without restraint for the effect of deterrence.
The large place such penal conceptions have had in western civilization does not change the fact that the Bible does not see the killing of murderers as dictated by the demand of an impersonal moral order for justice. We see that permissible killing in the Old Testament has a sacral, not a legal character. Even the holy wars of early Israel were more like sacrifices than like political campaigns. It cannot be said of a law that called for the death penalty for oxen (Gen 9:5; Exo 21:29), discussed murder in the same breath with the eating of blood (Gen 9:4-6), and explained the treatment of offenders as “putting the evil away from your midst” (Num 35:33), that its major concern is for objective, retributive legal justice. Its concern is sacrificial, not legal nor social; the order it seeks to institute is sacral, not moral. The well known passage discussing proportionate retaliation (Deut 19:19-21) is referring to only one offense, namely, the bearing of false witness. The punishment of the perjured person depends on that which would have been meted out to the accused if the testimony against him had been true. “Life for life” in this passage prescribes death, not for murder, but for testifying falsely on a matter worthy of the death penalty. Since the death penalty under the Law of Moses is expiation rather than penalty, in the New Testament, it is an antitype, not of the sword of the magistrate, but of the Atonement (facilitating a sinner’s repentance by a victim’s forgiveness; sin not being in the initial offense, which was paid for by Christ, but in a refusal to either repent or forgive, respectively; sin is a refusal to reconcile for an offense).
The Civil Authority
If Christ is not only prophet and priest but also king, the border between the church and the world cannot be impermeable to moral truth. Something of the cross-bearing, forgiving ethics of the kingdom must be made relevant to the civil order. One frequently hears the charge that to challenge capital punishment is essentially to advocate anarchy, especially if this is done in the name of Christ and with reference to his action as reported in John 8. If we claim that the state should forgive or that only the innocent may “throw the first stone,” where will we stop? Does this not destroy all government? Although its intention is often only rhetorical, this question deserves further serious attention because it illustrates a basic problem in the relation of Christian ethics to non-Christian society. One error involved in this question is its assumption that in the application of a Christian social critique it is possible to “carry things to their logical conclusion.” This assumption distorts everything. Christian social criticism speaks to a fallen world. Since the critique finds its standards in the kingdom of God—for there are no other standards with ultimate theological validity—the logical consequence of the consistent application of those standards would be the full realization of God’s kingdom; but to apply these standards consistently lies beyond the capacities and the intentions of the fallen world and is not what the Christian asks or expects of unregenerate society who are not covenanted to live as Christians should. Therefore, it is not a Christian’s goal to secure an ascendancy over society through political action, rather through missionary effort. As the church grows, the state dwindles to nothing. George Albert Smith put it this way, “Remember that, after the great political nations of this world have crumbled and fallen to decay, the Church of Jesus Christ, with which [a Saint] is identified, will be in existence, and the Master Himself will…be its head. Let us not be so worked up in our feelings [by politics] that we shut our eyes to the greater blessings, to the most important thing, the salvation of…souls.”
The world, by the very fact of its rebellion, has guaranteed that the Christian social critique will not lead too far; at most, the world can be challenged, one person converted and reconciled at a time, to take one step in the right direction, to move one more notch in approximation of the righteousness of love. The state is a fact; that it might be done away with by the criticism of love is inconceivable. Unlike the Law of Moses, the state does not limit vengeance, rather institutionalizes it in order to secure its permanence and, judging by the punishments affixed, magnifies the disproportional retaliation a single community or person could do by pooling the resources of many persons and communities. The state is a beast that refuses to be tempered. The people must be tempered through missionary work before the state ever can be and, even then, the civil order would only become superfluous to the church. It is more likely the civil order will pass away and the church will take its place heading into the millennium.
There is no clear concept of justice consisting in the exact equivalent of offense and retribution and that this justice is either wholly respected or fundamentally rejected. In reality there is no one sure yardstick by which to measure the “justness” of a penalty; every culture and every age have different conceptions of what is fair retribution. Opinions change as to how much it matters whether the offender was human, adult, and of a sound mind, and whether he was aware of the demands of the law. They vary equally in their judgments of what equivalent means. “Eye for eye” is measurable when we are dealing with bodily wounds or “ox for ox” in the economic realm, but what equation shall be used for adultery or for covetousness? Justice is a relative, not an absolute concept. It is a direction, not a level. Moral acts may be more just or less just, but we know of no ideal justice, distinct from love, which “too much emphasis on love and forgiveness” would jeopardize. Justice may well be endangered by idealistic schemes for reformation, by social criticism that does not propose a relevant alternative action, by a sentimental misunderstanding of the nature of love, or by failing to recognize how much order and mutual respect have already been achieved by the society one criticizes; but justice is not endangered by love. There will be an Eternal Judgment day by one perfect and omniscient to judge and no one is deprived agency to judge for themselves in temporal affairs where victim’s rights are recognized.
Atonement and Repentance
There are two reasons for rejecting the idea that the will of God demands carnal, or be it temporal, punishments. First, we have observed that biblical references to equivalent punishment should be understood not as requiring but as limiting vengeance; the same is true of limiting pagan concepts of justice from which worldly justice is largely derived. They do not, therefore, mean that vengeance is good or necessary. Second, we have seen that the idea of expiation grows from the truth that life is sacred, that is, it belongs to God. Christians do not deny the reality of a need for expiation when blood has been shed, but they confess that Jesus Christ has met this need for all humans. Sinners cannot expiate for their own sins, only Christ’s atonement can do it. This does not mean that a sacrifice from sinners is not required by the Law of the Gospel. The sacrifice is a personal one voluntarily given. Sinners are called to repentance which includes reconciling victims by whatever means necessary, up to and including the uttermost farthing, and despite what is necessary potentially being unjust or disproportionate to the offense. The fact that modern secular society has abandoned the idea of expiation in its interpretation of the carnal commandments is a result not only of secularization and loss of faith, but also of the indirect influence of Christ on modern culture. Repentance is meant to pardon, whereas, secular society uses repentance as evidence in order to destroy.
Another set of factors weakens the “moral order” view. One of the indirect influences of Christianity on modern society has been the progressive limitation on imposing the death penalty. Distinctions are now made between the insane and the legally responsible; between accidental manslaughter, self-defense, and premeditated murder. It has come to be recognized that all of society bears some of the blame for the situations of conflict, the temptations, and the weaknesses of personality that result in killing. Faced with this development, the friends of the “moral order” theory of capital punishment must, it would seem, choose one of two answers: either they may stand by the claim that “a life is a life,” rejecting such distinctions; or they must claim that there is one clear and sure way of calculating the exact degree of blameworthiness, so that what the moral order calls for by way of punishment is always definite and easy to agree upon. But in the latter case it must be admitted that today capital punishment in law and in practice cannot be any nearer to this ideal moral order than its abolition would be, for not two states or nations are alike in the use and severity of punishment. Those who use the “moral order” theory should first prove their sincerity by working for a far greater uniformity, clarity, and conformity to moral order in all criminal law. They would further need to explain the retention of the ultimate penalty for crimes other than murder.
The justice of God, according to the Bible, is “faithful and just to forgive.” Justice is more accurately translated as “righteousness” and closely associated with another Hebrew term translated “steadfast mercy.” To fulfill the ends of the Law is righteousness. The Law of the Gospel requires repentance and forgiveness, not punishment. To fulfill the ends of the Law in righteousness is to repent, to forgive, and to reconcile. We call this “love.” Instead of retaliating for an offense, the right and just thing to do is to be merciful. Scripture states that the Lord desires mercy, not sacrifice. Mercy satisfies justice. Mercy claims the penitent. It is a serious transgression against the “moral order” to punish a penitent sinner. It is equally a serious transgression against the “moral order” to refuse repentance and to reconcile one’s victim. The process of repentance begins with confession (but can also end with confession where all other steps are fulfilled first), remorse, restitution (reconciliation of a victim by whatever means necessary), forsaking the sin (sinning no more) and living righteously. The process of repentance has redemptive value spiritually (in the Kingdom of God) for those who are baptized (the covenant of baptism invokes the Atonement of Christ on behalf of penitent sinners) and it is overseen by an ecclesiastical leader who has the proper priesthood authority. The Atonement of Christ offers as free gifts to all mankind immortality (a degree of glory) and social salvation (a probationary period in which to repent, to become morally and ceremonially clean). The latter is contingent upon the willingness of victims and/or society recognizing this gift or “natural right” to life. Social salvation does not require but is often facilitated by repentance. Spiritual salvation requires baptism in addition to repentance.
Christians call Jesus not only priest, prophet, and teacher, but Lord and King; these are political names. The Prophet Thomas S. Monson is called President which is also a political name. The Church does not have a political or social strategy. The Church is the political or social strategy of God upon the earth. Christianity challenges the primacy of politics, not simply policies of state but, rather, the existence of state. The political novelty that the Lord brings into the world is a community of those who serve instead of rule, who suffer instead of inflict suffering, whose fellowship crosses social lines instead of enforcing them. The difference between the State and the Church is most clearly demonstrated by what Jesus says about serving and ruling. “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But no so with you…” (Luke 22:25-26 cf. Matt. 20:25). In modern parlance, “public service” has become the standard euphemism for the exercise of power, thus fulfilling in the name of the “Christian calling” what Jesus ironically said about pagan rulers, namely, that they glorify the exercise of power and influence over people and over society as being “benefaction.” It was the mission of the Son of Man to serve and not to rule and that his disciples will follow in the same path. There is work yet to be done, but it cannot involve the state. The state, like any other rebellious power, can attempt to be independent, can claim to be its own master, but Christians know the claim is false and the attempt doomed to failure.
We see that the existence of the death penalty and other temporal punishments in early human societies is due not to the fact that God demands punishment, but rather that punishment exists and God limits it. The normal process in a healthy community subject to the salting and illuminating effect of the gospel should be for this limitation to be pulled tighter and tighter by covenant and by witness. The course of history has been in the opposite direction. With the creation of the state, the law has not brought limitation but license. Killing by the state exceeds the amount of killing that exists in society. Taxation by the state exceeds the amount of stealing, theft, burglary, and robbery that exists in society. Imprisonment and conscription by the state exceeds the amount of slavery that exists in society. The state does not limit nor temper nor tame crime, it commits it writ large. The state is legal lawlessness. Most arguments in favor of punishments no longer avow sacrifice as a justifiable motive, and thus they argue the retention of punishment for reasons different from those that originally caused its institution.
The Myth of Deterrence
It is claimed that if persons who are tempted to commit a crime know what the punishment will be, they will turn away from crime. At first glance, this seems sensible. That it is basically an error can be seen, however, upon closer attention. The major source of error is the assumption that murder is like speeding, in that a normal person, if sure of being caught, will refrain from it out of consideration for the consequences. Murderers are, however, not normal people. Most of them are driven by forces of emotion or outright insanity such that no reasoning, no weighing of consequences takes place as they decide to kill. Some cases are, in fact, on record where unbalanced persons, lacking the strength of will to kill themselves, have committed murder as an indirect means of suicide. A small minority are professional criminals for whom the “hot seat” is simply one of the risks of the game. This is similar with other crimes where the consequences only make criminals more bold, devious, scheming, and intent on violence when carrying out their designs in order to evade capture. We saw this during the years of prohibition in which bootlegging and the mafia developed, with violence spilling out into the streets. We see it now with the war on drugs and border violence. We saw it in the South with black markets and smuggling as a result of Northern tariffs. Punishment does not deter the criminal, it makes him more dangerous and more calculating. It also makes the crimes more profitable. Professional criminals are reasonably sure to avoid capture, or if captured to avoid conviction, or if convicted to avoid execution or serious punishments.
The error of deterrence theory can also be shown statistically. In the years where the death penalty in some states had been abolished, the murder rate had consistently lowered whereas in other states with capital punishment, the murder rate increased. This by no means proves that abolishing the death penalty will reduce the crime rate, but it does prove that other considerations—social, economic, educational, racial–have far more to do with deterring or favoring crime than does the kind of punishment the law calls for. The argument of deterrence is a pagan concept and can hardly be called “justice” since the punishments are disproportionate to the crime in order to “deter” crime. Incommensurate punishment is not justice especially because it is motivated by politics of fear. It only scares those citizens who are unlikely to commit murder anyway and does not deter the criminal determined to commit crime (although it may require he be more methodical and bold, to employ more resources, in order to evade capture, conviction, or punishment). Deterrence always causes a population to become more violent which is why public executions have fallen out of favor with governments. Fear as a motivating factor for compliance never lasts long. Only love inspires righteousness in perpetuity.
The Limits of Human Justice
Judicial error can to some extent be made right after many years of appeal and introduction of new evidence. It is a costly process to correct error and is often resisted by judges, prosecutors, and courts in error. Nobody likes to admit they wrongly convicted someone and are themselves the offenders against and terrors to society. There is one kind of judicial error that can never be made right, and that is an erroneous sentence of death. The death penalty assumes that the courts are infallible and that they have all the evidence. Unless infallibility and omniscience are assumed, the inflicting of an irrevocable punishment is unjustifiable; yet this assumption is one that is made in no other realm of government or judicial practice. The advocates of capital punishment have never yet answered Lafayette’s challenge: “I shall ask for the abolition of the penalty of death until I have the infallibility of human judgment demonstrated to me.”
In practice it is impossible to know just how many innocent persons have been murdered by order of the court. The homicide of innocents happens because of false testimony, mistaken identification, a biased jury, or misinterpreted circumstantial evidence. By the very nature of the case, it is seldom possible or useful to review judicially such a case once the victim has been executed. If such an error is to come to light, it must be through the disinterested curiosity of some journalist or lawyer, or through subsequent confession by the guilty person. Such rehabilitation is therefore rare, and it is impossible to know how many other cases of innocent persons executed remain undetected. Known cases are still frequent enough to fill numerous articles and books. Responsible estimates of the proportion of innocent persons among those executed run as high as five percent.
The friends of capital punishment can continue to argue strongly that the danger of such miscarriages of justice is very slight. It may well be true that the actual number of such cases is well under five percent. But the Christian attitude to this question should not be to quibble about whether the proportion is five or five-tenths of one percent, as if the desirability of the death penalty were to depend on whether a certain minimum percentage of error was overstepped. How often such unjust executions occur is not the question. That they occur at all, even if only rarely, is proof enough that society, as long as it is fallible, is incapable of justice and should never lay claim to absolute authority over life and never make decisions about men’s fates that cannot be reviewed. No one worthy of the celestial kingdom would like to miss out because of some technicality or error by the Lord. Therefore, we should not put up with it under human law but leave all judgment to the Lord.
The fact that capital punishment closes and locks a door that must be kept open has numerous undesirable accessory effects on the administration of justice itself, beyond the obvious fact we have already dwelt on, namely, that errors of justice cannot be corrected. The prosecution of murder cases is much more lengthy and thereby more costly to society in a death penalty state than in an abolition state, because the defense will leave no stone unturned and no legal technicality untried. If the accused is wealthy enough to hire qualified lawyers, there is almost no limit to the possible delaying tactics. Warden Lewis E. Lawes says that those who are executed are always poor and friendless. Whoever has either money or friends to assure that their case will be kept in the courts or before the governor has excellent chances of avoiding the electric chair. This is why only one of fifty convicted is actually executed. The time and taxpayer’s money is wasted and the end result is discrimination in favor of the economically and socially powerful. Joseph Smith stated: “Hundreds of our kindred are held as slaves for an infraction, or supposed infraction, of some over-wise statute, being incarcerated in dungeon gloom, or penitentiaries, while the duellist, the debauchee, and the defaulter for millions, and criminals, take the uppermost rooms at feasts, or, like the bird of passage, find a more congenial clime by flight.” We currently have the largest prison population in the world, a significant percentage of whom are nonviolent offenders of victimless crimes. Smith’s solution to resolving this discrepancy in human justice is as follows: “Petition your State Legislatures to pardon every convict in their several penitentiaries, blessing them as they go, and saying to them, in the name of the Lord, Go thy way and sin no more.”
Overcoming the Natural Man
No transgressor having obtained social salvation will receive a spiritual salvation unless he repents. For this reason, those who have faith in the Lord, will not pursue justice themselves, but will leave it to the Lord. This is a difficult thing, especially when we do not possess a love for the spiritual welfare of our enemies or neighbors. Our mission is to save lives and that begins by facilitating repentance through social salvation. Facilitating social salvation requires making humans human again. I have formulated for myself three rules of conduct. They are:
1. Suffer offense, in love and forgiveness, as it is required of thee by an offender, even unto death. Say to thyself, “Not my will, but thy will, O Lord, be done. Bless me with strength to forgive.”
2. Resist, neither by force nor coercion, any requirement compelled upon thee to do evil, even unto death. Say to thyself, “May the Lord judge between me and thee. Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do.”
3. Immediately reconcile victims despite the outcome, save only a hope for God’s forgiveness, and seek to facilitate the victim’s healing by whatever means necessary, even unto death. Say to thyself, “Forgive me my trespasses Lord as I forgive those who trespass against me. Help me to lead others from temptation and deliver me from this evil.”
There are seven common behaviors that dehumanize and undermine nonviolent disciplined. They are:
1. Comparing ourselves to others in order to rationalize for lower standards.
2. Engaging in legalistic arguments in order to justify our actions.
3. Embellishing, rather than marginalizing, the faults of others.
4. Embellishing our own virtue.
5. Justifying or Excusing our own failures because others have and do fail.
6. Marginalizing the value of service to others while embellishing the value of personal interests.
7. Accusing others, either rightly or wrongly, for failing in a similar manner as oneself (tit-for-tat).
There are four reasons why the wicked are suffered by Christ to prevail against the world:
1. As a reminder to the Saints of their own wickedness and what it means to repay evil with evil.
2. To hold spiritually accountable the wicked for their acts while in the flesh.
3. To save some of them through the missionary effort, baptism and repentance.
4. To provide opportunity for Saints to renounce war and proclaim the gospel of peace and of reconciliation while leaving wrath and the destruction of the wicked to the wicked.
When the Israelites failed to renounce legalism (D&C 24:17) and war, the Lord brought them into bondage. The natural man acts as an agent of God’s wrath and it is the natural man who will clear a path for the people of God, if they remain patient, humble, meek, and longsuffering, to inherit the earth. It is not for the Saints to defend themselves (save through every exception provided by law), rather to be industrious, preach the gospel, and build the church.