OBU community discusses death penalty at philosophy forum

by Morgan Smith, Faith Editor

Should Christians support the death penalty? That was the question posed at a Philosophy Forum hosted at the Baylee Business Center on Friday.

The panel took the form of a faculty dialogue between Dr. Matthew Arbo, an assistant professor of Biblical and Theological studies, and Dr. Galen Jones, an assistant professor of Church Planting.

Alyssa Sperrazza / The Bison

Dr. Arbo took the negative position, and Dr. Jones took the affirmative position.

Dr. Tawa Anderson, an assistant professor of philosophy served as the moderator, and was responsible for organizing the panel.

“He asked myself and a group of others who was interested,” Dr. Arbo said.

“I volunteered, in part because no one had yet, but also because I think we are in a position where capital punishment should probably be abolished.”

Dr. Anderson said he chose the topic because he believes questions of life and death to be  significant.

“It’s a question on which Christians disagree,” Dr. Anderson said. “It’s healthy to bring both positions out and see why people think the way they do.”

Although Dr. Arbo and Dr. Jones debated on different sides of the issue, they both said they felt that capital punishment was an important question for students.

“I wanted to bring some light to the issue and get students to think deeply about it,” Dr. Jones said. “Our sociology should be driven by theology.”

In the November election there will be a ballot initiative regarding capital punishment.

It is called State Question 776. It will endow an amendment of the state with authority to reassign the form of capital punishment in the case of a conviction.

Both Dr. Arbo and Dr. Jones said the upcoming ballot makes it important for students to consider their stance on the issue of capital punishment.

“It’s just a broader moral question, I think, with deep theological roots of why the accused deserve death, and that’s a much harder question to answer,” Dr. Arbo said.

The forum started at 4 p.m. and lasted until 5:15 p.m.

Both panelists gave their opening statements before engaging in seven minutes of cross-examination.

Dr. Anderson said during introductions that there would be no privileging of one view over another.

“The goal is civil intellectual discourse that doesn’t demean,” he said.

Dr. Jones argued that capital punishment has its basis in both the Old Testament and the Gospel, and that Christians have to deal with the tension of extending both forgiveness and warning.

“The morality of God from which the death penalty comes is paradoxically a part of God’s sovereignty,” Dr. Jones said.

Dr. Arbo argued that the Christian faith is fully pro-life, from the beginning to the end, and that the many prisoners on death row have proven to be unjustly convicted.

“We should be willing to criticize a punishment for the contempt for the condemned,” Arbo said. “Shame is not the same as degradation.”

After cross-examination, both panelists took questions from the audience before issuing their closing statements.

At the end of the forum, Dr. Anderson said the forum had reached an agreement that there are flaws in the justice system, that there needs to be an increase in evangelical work towards prisoners and that capital punishment is a complicated issue.

“As Christians, any time there is a loss of imagio dei there should be a visceral response,” Dr. Jones said. “If we were acting evangelically in that every life matters that we would be reaching those at death row.”

Dr. Arbo said that he hopes students were able to listen to both views of capital punishment and their merits.

“Is there good moral theological reason for the Christian to support the capital punishment? Is there good reason to abolish it? What are the reasons?” Dr. Arbo said. “I hope that they’re able to see that there are some good reasons on both sides.”

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