The Death Penalty: A Barbaric Trade

At this time many Christians of different denominations all over the world are fighting for the abolishment of the death penalty. They do this out of a deeply held belief that God alone is the ruler on life and death. Through the carrying out of the death sentence state power takes on His position and relativizes the value of human life. This is, however, in my opinion not compatible with the message of the gospel. According to biblical testimony everyone has an irrefutable worth as a being created in the image of God. Every Christian, male and female, has learned that the dignity of this worth rules out the death penalty.

If nothing else this understanding of the value of human life was the basis for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations. There in article 5 the law declared that no one is to suffer torture or be the victim of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. This article of the UN Declaration of Human Rights stands in my point of view in opposition to state-sponsored killing. We do not want to let go of that in the face of challenges from countries and administrations that practice the death penalty.

In Germany many church congregations have taken a position against the death penalty. Just 15 years ago the head of protestant churches in Germany, on the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, described the death penalty as "a particularly drastic and irremediable way to disparage human rights" and he furthermore declared "The fight for the world-wide abolition of the death penalty since 1948 is not without success, but in the face of the still shockingly high number of executions it has to unabatedly carry on."

I hold the use of the deathly penalty as a barbaric trade and not as an instrument of justice. The death penalty answers violence with counter-violence. By every understanding of the wish for equitable punishment -- experiences have taught us that justice is not reached through more injustice.

Against that injustice we place ourselves as churches on the side of a heeling justice that keeps the victims and perpetrators in view. This is a justice that is designed so that the perpetrator is guided towards and comforted by understanding, penitence and a return to God. As a Christian I trust in the judgment of God and the all-encompassing justice that only God alone can administer.

The life and death of Christ gains its own deep profundity in the face of the difficult questions of guilt and forgiveness. As the son of God and through the consequence of his limitless love of man he was condemned to death. At Calvary he was sentenced to an execution on the cross and died for the devotional and sinful. Through that he broke the absolute power of sin. With a belief in the love of God and Jesus Christ we as humans can come to know forgiveness for the worst transgressions and live on as sinners brought to a path of righteousness. No one should be allowed to take this possibility away from man. That is why I am for the ban of the death penalty.

Nikolaus Schneider is the head of protestant churches in Germany. He was voted as the successor to Margot Käßmann after her resignation. From 2003 to 2013 he was the president of the protestant church of Rhineland.