Death Penalty and Redemption: Thoughts On Tsarnaev and American Christianity

FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation shows Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, charged in the Boston
FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation shows Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, charged in the Boston Marathon bombing. Prosecutors rested their case against Tsarnaev on Monday, March 30, 2015, after jurors saw gruesome autopsy photos and heard a medical examiner describe the devastating injuries suffered by the three people who died in the 2013 terror attack. (AP Photo/FBI, File)

Do you believe in redemption? No, do you really believe it is possible?

It's easy to believe in redemption for yourself. I mean, come on, you aren't that bad. But, do you believe redemption is possible for everyone?

These are questions that we as Christians in America really have to start asking ourselves. Redemption is a basic tenant of the Christian faith, yet so many Christians doubt its reality. It's all fine and dandy when someone wants to be redeemed from lying or stealing or smoking dope. But, when it's a major issue, Christians back off and give up on the person. It's almost as if we put a limit on God's grace, and we say that for minor offenses, you can be redeemed. But, if you have screwed up majorly, then there is no hope for you. Here in lies the reason so many Christians support the death penalty.

I'm going to just go ahead and say it: if you support the death penalty, then you don't really believe in redemption.

I know many people will balk at that point, but hear me out. If you believe redemption is possible for everyone, then the last thing you would want is for them to die. No, you would want to give that person every chance to turn around and make-up for their offenses. At the least, you would want the person to realize the pain his or her offenses caused, and allow that person a chance to at least ask for forgiveness. If one truly believed in redemption, then they would want to give that person every opportunity to be redeemed.

After the Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was sentenced to death, I watched the Internet blow up with Christians celebrating. One after another chimed in with their remarks.

When it comes to people like Tsarnaev and Islamic people, the sentiment among many Christians seems to be "kill them all and let the Lord separate them." But this, my friends, is the opposite of the Christian theology of redemption.

We claim to believe that God can save anyone, yet we act like it's only possible for minor sins.

We claim to believe that the blood of Christ was powerful enough to cover up any sin, yet if the person really screwed up, then we say things that sound like just the opposite.

The problem is that what we claim to believe is not what we actually believe -- or sometimes, what we even hope to be true.

Just think about this: how would you feel sharing a spot in Heaven with Tsarnaev? What about Hitler? What about the person that molested you as a child? Or how about the person who killed your child? Your parent? Or you?

These are hard questions in which to ponder, and right now with the death sentencing of Tsarnaev, I think it's time that we start pondering them. We cannot claim to believe (and hope) that God can redeem everyone and anyone if we celebrate taking a person's life that committed an offense.

Now listen, I get it. I'm not saying this is easy. The carnal side of me wants to see Tsarnaev on death row, too. I mean, he walked calmly into a crowd (including children!) and placed a bomb! That is major. It is also enough to make one wonder whether someone with a mind like that can even want to be redeemed. I understand where the anger comes from because I feel it myself.

But, there's another side of me -- the spiritual side -- that believes that redemption truly is possible for everyone, and I do not believe it is my place (or anyone else's) to cut short his life, making that redemption impossible on this side of life. He has to be punished for his offenses, yes. But, is death the only punishment worthy? How is this any different that the justice we see in extremist Islam? Christianity is supposed to be a religion that is different and separate from all of the others, and the thing that separates us is our theology of redemption. If we do not really live out that theology, then we aren't any different.

The bottom line is if we really believe the words of Jesus, and the theology of Paul, then we know that the blood of Christ really is for everyone, and we have to start facing the reality that the death penalty is in complete opposition to the theology we claim to believe. It is time that American Christians either start backing up the theology they claim to believe, or simply face the fact that they don't really believe in the power of redemption and just say so.


This post was originally from Brandon's website, Brandon is the author of the new book, Straight-Face, which chronicles the psychological, deeply emotional, and spiritual aspects of his incredible journey from Southern Baptist minister to out-and-proud gay man. You can find Straight-Face on Amazon.