Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Quakers & The Death Penalty

Death Penalty: Reconsidering the Quaker Position 
Dudley Sharp

Genesis 9:5-6, from the 1764 Quaker Bible, the only Quaker bible.

5 And I will certainly require the Blood of your Lives, and that from the Paw of any Beast: from the Hand likewise of Man, even of any one’s Brother, will I require the Life of a Man.  

6 He that sheds Man’s Blood, shall have his own shed by Man; because in the Likeness of God he made Mankind. 

Of all the versions/translations, this may be the most unequivocal.


Quaker biblical scholar Dr. Gervas A. Carey:

” . . . the decree of Genesis 9:5-6 is equally enduring and cannot be separated from the other pledges and instructions of its immediate context, Genesis 8:20-9:17; . . . that is true unless specific Biblical authority can be cited for the deletion, of which there appears to be none. 

It seems strange that any opponents of capital punishment who professes to recognize the authority of the Bible either overlook or disregard the divine decree in this covenant with Noah; . . . capital punishment should be recognized . . . as the divinely instituted penalty for murder;

The basis of this decree . . . is as enduring as God; . . . murder not only deprives a man of a portion of his earthly life . . . it is a further sin against him as a creature made in the image of God and against God Himself whose image the murderer does not respect.” (p. 111-113) 

"A Bible Study”, within Essays on the Death Penalty, T. Robert Ingram, ed., St. Thomas Press, Houston, 1963, 1992.  Carey was a Professor of Bible and Past President of George Fox College, now Fox University


Quaker leadership

Quaker founder George Fox was only opposed the death penalty for lesser crimes, such as stealing, but not for murder. I have found no evidence that he opposed capital punishment for all crimes.

 The other major figure in Quaker history was William Penn who, ” . . . in the preface to the “First Frame of Government”, argued for the divine right of government to “terrify evildoers” . . .”

In the Pennsylvania Holy Experiment of Quaker government ” . . . capital punishment was only allowed for treason and murder.” “However, in 1700 mutilation and branding were added, and in 1718 the provincial (Quaker) assembly extended the death penalty to twelve more felonies.” ” . . . Quakers in the assembly said that killing a soldier, whose sole crime was obeying his sovereign, was vastly different from executing a murderer or a burglar for violating laws, (which was proper).” “Quakers: Fox and Penn’s Holy Experiment”, Guides to Peace and Justice from Ancient Sages to the Suffragettes, HISTORY OF PEACE – Volume 1, by Sanderson Beck, World Peace


Mercy and the Death Penalty

Professor Carey agrees with Saints Augustine and Aquinas, that executions represent mercy to the wrongdoer: 

". . . a secondary measure of the love of God may be said to appear. For capital punishment provides the murderer with incentive to repentance which the ordinary man does not have, that is a definite date on which he is to meet his God.

It is as if God thus providentially granted him a special inducement to repentance out of consideration of the enormity of his crime . . . the law grants to the condemned an opportunity which he did not grant to his victim, the opportunity to prepare to meet his God.

Even divine justice here may be said to be tempered with mercy." (p. 116).

There is much biblical and theological support for that position:

The Death Penalty: Mercy, Expiation, Redemption & Salvation

Is Execution Closure? Of Course.

95% of Murder Victim's Family Members Support Death Penalty
US Death Penalty Support at 80%: World Support Remains High