On the 10th of October 2023, the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe joined Amnesty International Zimbabwe’s campaign of World Day Against Death Penalty. In celebrating this, the Church takes the opportunity to remind the believers of their special call, to uphold the sanctity of life and the condemnation of the death penalty.
God gives life
Why did God give this commandment to his people, not to kill or commit murder? There are many passages in the Bible, where God is heard saying, ‘I am your God and you are my people.’ This phrase in itself points to the fact that people belong to God and He is the One in charge of the fundamentals of humanity. One important gift that God gives to humanity, is my life, your life, and our lives. He gives life to humanity and other living things on his own accord. In His command, he wants His people not to take it upon themselves this responsibility, of terminating the life of anyone as a way of punishment.
Those who propose the death sentence and those who execute it, are given the power to kill, by human beings and not by God himself. This is the fact, that not to kill, is doing the will of God, while killing someone is doing the will of another person. The words of J.R.R. Tolkien, can be re-echoed as he says, “Many who die deserve life, while some who live, deserve life.” Humanity kills for an agenda while God calls his people to heaven at the appropriate time, hence do not kill. God keeps every being in existence and in His power and brings life to an end on his own. He never contracted an agent to undertake this responsibility.
Even in most of the local African Traditional practices, people were very much aware of the fact that no life of an individual should be taken to compensate for a life lost. However, the aggrieved would rather be compensated by a living person, a traditional practice that has now been replaced by life imprisonment of the offender. Surely, no price can be paid to return a life lost through murder or any other way, but the greatest gift is to confront and acknowledge the mistake committed. Fighting back in most cases, can be relived and can go on for a long time. So it is with capital punishment; it calls for more killings and does not promote life.
A society that is alive
As we commemorate this day of abolition of the death penalty, let humanity know that their lives depend on each other and hence it is their responsibility to keep the society alive. Humanity has to enact laws that cherish life and put in place structures that preserve that life. Only a good and just administrative system can break this cycle of killing in the name of justice. It is therefore for the sake of humanity, that you and I have to break this cycle and embrace the gospel value of respect for human life.
All believers in God, the giver of life, are charged with the mandate to showcase openly their support for any system that supports life and condemn what militates against it. If a particular system cannot preserve life, the same system cannot guarantee the preservation of the same life. Zimbabwe as a God-fearing nation, has a Constitution that promotes life and hence, no other legal or religious framework in it, should contradict this and act otherwise. Society is not protected by retaliating with death, but by a punishment that helps one to acknowledge their wrong doing. In fact in the words of Nick Yarris, “I believe life imprisonment is far worse that the death penalty.” It punishes the offender and sends a louder signal to potential offenders.
We encourage our judicial system, to desist from sentencing perpetrators to a death sentence but rather to a life sentence, bearing in mind that to be anti-death penalty is not to be anti-victim or anti-justice. Anytime someone is sentenced to death, a life is not only taken away but something of humanity is being taken away as well. The convicted person should be punished and not be killed because once killed, he or she does not feel the effects of being punished.
As the Church, we stand beneath Mt. Sinai and listen to God commanding us and the nation saying “Do not Kill,” and do not practice death sentence, “He is God of the living.” (Mk. 12:27).
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