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Russell Moore Responds to Pope Francis and the Death Penalty

WASHINGTON, D.C, Feb. 22, 2016Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Conventions Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, expressed concern in a “blog”: today with Pope Francis recent comments regarding the death penalty. Pope Francis recently commented that the death penalty is, in all circumstances, a violation of the biblical command not to murder.

In response, Moore wrote, If one believes the state can order the military to kill opposing combatants in war, one does not, by definition, believe that every instance of the state killing is a violation of the commandment not to murder.

Moore expressed appreciation for the Popes commitment to human life, but said the Bible does not support Pope Francis argument.

The new covenant applies a command of capital punishment in the old covenant to church excommunication in the new (1 Cor. 5:13; Deut. 13:5), Moore said. Even so, the point here is that the Mosaic Law itself draws a distinction between murder and lawful execution by the state.

Moore pointed out that while reasonable persons can disagree on the prudential wisdom of capital punishments, The Pope is here making more than just a prudential argument. He is applying the commandment against murder to every application of capital punishment. On that, I believe he is wrong.

Moore concluded by noting that we must not lost the distinction between the innocent and the guilty, saying We may disagree, with good arguments on both sides, about the death penalty. But as we do so, we must not lose the distinction the Bible makes between the innocent and the guilty. The gospel shows us forgiveness for the guilty through the sin-absorbing atonement of Christ, not through the states refusal to carry out temporal justice.

The Southern Baptist Convention is Americas largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBCs ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.

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