During the past 28 years 3,616 persons have been executed in the United States—3,136 for murder, 418 for rape, and 62 for other offenses such as treason, espionage, kidnapping, and bank robbery. Nine states (Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin) have set aside capital punishment, but all the others along with the District of Columbia impose the death penalty (including eight states which in time past abolished capital punishment only to reinstate it).
Churchmen have become increasingly vocal over the issue. One group contends that capital punishment is immoral, another argues that the death penalty for murder is not only permissible but mandatory because civil government is under divine obligation.
WhenCHRISTIANITY TODAYpublished Jacob J. Vellenga’s article “Is Capital Punishment Wrong?” (see Oct. 12, 1959, issue for his answer: an emphatic no!), streams of letters pro and con poured into our editorial offices from high places and low. Limitations of space precluded publication of all but representative letters in this spirited exchange. Much of this subsequent debate turned on modern sociological and penal theories rather than on the biblical witness.
Along with this flow of correspondence came a goodly number of essays. Two of these have been selected for publication inCHRISTIANITY TODAYbecause in dissenting from Dr. Vellenga’s view they propose a biblical basis for opposition to capital punishment. Ranged against Dr. Vellenga (from 1948–54 a member of the National Board of Administration of the United Presbyterian Church) are Dr. Charles S. Milligan of the Department of Christian Ethics, Iliff School of Theology in Denver, and Dr. John Howard Yoder who, since completion ...
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