“Nearly five years have gone after Zimbabwe adopted a new constitution yet there seems to be no finality on the matter of the death penalty.”

VERY few things are probably as divisive as the subject of the death penalty; even the religious world is sharply divided on this issue.

Almost five years have gone now after Zimbabwe adopted a new constitution yet there seems to be no finality on the matter; it is even oxy­ moronic that the Zimbabwean charter would, at this point, be referred to as ‘new’.

It befuddles the mind that the question of the death penalty remains fluid and contentious after so many years.

This matter can be tackled from a purely legal standpoint but, in this piece, I have to write from a religious viewpoint, having written from a legal angle several times.

The church’s view on the death penalty remains blurred on the raging matter in this regard. It is however necessary to provide a bit of legal background as to why there seems to be no closure on the death penalty since the coming into effect of the new constitution.

According to Section 48(2) of the Constitution: “A law may permit the death penalty to be imposed only on a person convicted of murder committed in aggravating circumstances.”

It is in this regard that the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act (CPEA) is not in conformity with the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

In other words, this law, contemplated in Section 48, is not yet in existence and therefore the death sentence cannot be passed.

If this law is passed, then the death penalty can be passed under it. Otherwise, as things stand, Zimbabwe cannot pass the death sentence.

Coming back to the church, there is a strong viewpoint that the death penalty is squarely provided for in the Bible and must therefore be adopted. Indeed, one can cite a number of occasions wherein capital punishment is supported in the Old Testament.

Life was generally harsh for the Hebrews in early Old Testament history. They had just been freed from slavery in Egypt, and wandered in the desert for 40 years.

There were few options for dealing with offenders in a society that moved frequently and struggled just to survive.

The penalty for most crimes was death, beating or banishment from the tribe. The Old Testament Law prescribed the death penalty for an extensive list of crimes including: Murder (Exodus 21:12­14; Leviticus 24:17,21), attacking or cursing a parent (Exodus 21:15,17),disobedience to parents (Deuteronomy 21:18­21), kidnapping (Exodus 21:16) Sex with an animal (Exodus 22:19, Leviticus 20:16) Doing work on the Sabbath (Exodus 31:14, 35:2, Numbers 15:32­36) among many others.

A shift in ideology However, with the emergence of the New Testament a clear paradigm shift can be seen. Now, it is certainly a failure to grasp the New Covenant provisions if the church were to throw weight behind the death penalty today.

Of course, the legalistic point of view would point to such things as the barbaric nature of the death penalty but, to the Christian, the coming of Christ and the New Testament (NT) shows a clear paradigm shift from the vengefulness of the death penalty.

The NT does not have any specific teachings pertaining to capital punishment but it’s clear how Christ strived to enlighten people that capital punishment should be the preserve of God alone.

The right to take away life, even when someone has committed the vilest of crimes, remains the preserve of the One who gave it.

The Old Testament ideas of punishment are secondary to Jesus’ message of love and redemption; both reward and punishment are seen as properly taking place in eternity, rather than in this life. This was the latent message in the well­known incident in which Christ forgave the woman caught in adultery (capital offence).

Jesus said to those who wanted to stone her to death, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her”.

Even more, that Jesus Christ himself was to become the ultimate victim of capital punishment despite being blameless casts a dark shadow on the acceptability of capital punishment.

While there was provision for it in the Old Testament, it is apparent that Jesus, bringing in new light, tried to school the headstrong people of his time out of it.

There was a palpable hard­heartedness and a pharisaic spirit that held on to the practice hence the numerous deaths through capital offence even in the New Testament.

Apostles, disciples and deacons, like Stephen, all died cruel deaths with some either being stoned to death or being nailed to the Cross. It is not for mortals to decide on anyone’s death.

This is probably one reason why the legal viewpoint that the earthly judiciary system is not foolproof makes solid sense.

What happens years after administering capital punishment when the court realizes it ‘murdered’ an innocent person? Can they give back life? No, they can’t, hence it is illogical for anyone who did not create life to make a ruling on it. George Ryan was right when he ironically said, “I support the death penalty.

But I also think there has to be no margin for error.” And the margin for error will always exist, hence no one, the courts included, can and should play God.

The church cannot support the death penalty.