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The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments against Kentucky's lethal injection procedure in January, as attorneys for two death row inmates contended that when done incorrectly, the procedure—which involves three shots to numb, paralyze, and kill—can cause extreme pain to the prisoner.

While the issue before the Supreme Court is narrow, the national mood on capital punishment itself seems to be shifting. New Jersey became the 14th state to outlaw executions in December 2007. And a Pew Forum poll taken last August found that public support for capital punishment has dropped to 62 percent from a high of 80 percent in 1994. White evangelicals are still the death penalty's strongest supporters, with 74 percent approval, but that is down from 82 percent in 1996.

Some Christians have been disturbed by the disproportionate number of poor and African American prisoners on death row, said John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, a conservative civil liberties organization. According to a January poll done by NationalChristianPoll.com, a research service of CT parent company Christianity Today International, about two-thirds of active Christians who oppose capital punishment are troubled by mistakes in the legal system that could lead to the execution of innocent people.

"It's anti-evangelical to kill people," Whitehead said. "Christianity is redemptive. But you can't redeem people by extinguishing them." Whitehead believes opposition to the death penalty will gain momentum in the future. "Young Christians are seeing right away that, hey, the meek and mild Jesus—would he pull the lever? Would he put the hood on and pull the lever? I don't think so."

The numbers may support Whitehead's theory. Only 55 percent of ...

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Christianity Today
Capital Doubts
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March 2008

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