Jimmy Myers

’14, Covenant College


This paper investigates the relationship between retribution and forgiveness. After discussing various interpretations of retribution and forgiveness, I argue that the desire for retribution is compatible with only some forms of forgiveness. But the matter is not solved at that. A pertinent feature in the current American justice system is its inclusion of capital punishment as a permissible form of punishment. My paper seeks to consider whether communities who are committed to and have institutionalized the New Testament’s robust practice of forgiveness can exist harmoniously in a nation where capital punishment, the highest form of retributive punishment, is acceptable and practiced.


Jeanne Bishop, in her essay, “The Problem of Forgiveness,” tells of her experience of living through the aftermath of the horrific murder of her sister Nancy, Nancy’s baby, and Nancy’s husband, Richard. According to Bishop, a 16-year-old intruder broke into Richard and Nancy’s home, shot and killed Richard execution-style and then proceeded to shoot the baby in Nancy’s womb, leaving her to “bleed to death on the cold concrete floor.”[1] Nancy died slowly, after having witnessed the murder of her husband and her first child.

With good reason, hearing stories like these stir up deep and righteous—one could even say transcendent—emotions. The shock that is produced in the realization that a human could stoop so low, be so cruel, and have so little regard for human life is at once crippling and empowering. It cripples because it displays the savage character of humans, a character that we all share. The honest reflection of any person leads her to confess, as Vladimir Jankelevitch writes, “Et ego! Me, too…you are sinners, well, I am another one of them, too. I, as well, I sinned or will sin. I could have done as you did; maybe I will do as you did. I am like you, weak, fallible, and miserable.”[2] And yet this shock also empowers because it creates a desire to stand up for those who have been crushed, to reverse the effects of the offense by exacting revenge on the offender, to uphold the requirements that justice demands.

But what is perhaps most shocking about Jeanne Bishop’s story, and other stories like it, is hearing her response of forgiveness.[3] How can she forgive such a horrific act, especially when the wrongdoer offered no apology? Is it not inhuman and contrary to every natural instinct for justice? What does it even mean to truly forgive? These are some of the questions that we cannot help but ask when such a surprising series of events takes place.

The purpose of this paper is to take a closer look at these questions by examining whether forgiveness and retributive justice are compatible, and if not, to determine where the incompatibility lies. Particularly, I will examine whether those committed to practicing forgiveness can have retributive desires, desires that are fulfilled by the retributive punishment of the state or governing authority. With regard to this question, I will specifically consider whether capital punishment—the most extreme, ultimate, yet most relevant form of retributive punishment—is something a person committed to forgiveness or a community that has institutionalized the practice of forgiveness can endorse.[4]

I. Forgiveness

The concept of forgiveness is controversial. In the 18th century, Alexander Pope famously said, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.”[5] Some, however, do not share this sentiment and would probably agree with J.L. Perelman’s reformulation of Pope’s phrase: “To err is human; to forgive, supine.” [6] Clearly, opinions differ as to whether forgiveness is a virtue or a vice. But opinions also differ as to what constitutes forgiveness in the first place. What does it mean to forgive? Certainly, forgiveness does not involve merely excusing or forgetting wrongdoing. Forgiveness, however conceived, is dependent on a strong recognition that an immoral act is truly immoral. If the immoral action can be morally justified or excused for some reason, then forgiveness becomes obsolete. Similarly, if a person merely says that she has forgiven her wrongdoer by forgetting the crime, this is not proper forgiveness, for if one cannot remember the crime and recognize its evilness, one cannot forgive the criminal. Forgiveness requires that the crime occurred, and that the crime has been recognized as wrong by the victim. With this being said, there are primarily two different ways to conceive of forgiveness and two further considerations that modify the two conceptions respectively.

First, forgiveness can be conceived in purely deconstructive terms—that is, forgiveness can be strictly a matter of overcoming or forswearing personal revenge and hatred of a wrongdoer. All that is required for this type of forgiveness is for the victim or victim’s family to forego aiming hatred and anger towards the wrongdoer. Jeffrie Murphy writes, “Forgiveness is the resolute overcoming of the anger and hatred that are naturally directed toward a person who has done one an unjustified and non-excused moral injury.”[7] It is important to note that on this conception, forgiveness does not necessarily include restoration of parties, nor does it require that the victim and victim’s family desire the good-will of the wrongdoer, it simply requires that the victim and victim’s family deconstruct their psychological attitude of hatred and anger towards the offender. Thus, forgiveness is merely an absolving of sorts—a negative project that says, “I (or We) do not hate you or have anger towards you.” We might call this a minimalist conception of forgiveness because it is merely deconstructive of negative feelings aimed at the wrongdoer and does not involve any reconstructive, positive position towards the wrongdoer.

The second conception is different from the first precisely because it includes both a negative aspect (a deconstruction of moral hatred) and a positive aspect, a reconstructive good will aimed at the wrongdoer. This conception goes beyond the first because it requires that the forgiver genuinely desires the good of the wrongdoer. Thus, Eve Garrard and David McNaughton write, “Some more positive attitude is involved in forgiveness as well…some element of good will towards the offender.”[8] This also seems to be the conception that Christ commands when speaking about personal revenge and the attitude towards the wrongdoer: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven.”[9] This radical forgiveness involves loving the wrongdoer and desiring his good. The forgiver who practices this kind of forgiveness totally eschews revenge by desiring that the wrongdoer receive not just better treatment than the victim received, but good treatment—treatment that aims at his or her flourishing. This kind of forgiver desires that the wrongdoer receive blessing, love, and benefits even after the wrongdoer has cursed, hated, and disadvantaged the victim. These desires are not merely “internal feelings” or well wishes; they are not simply attitudes. To the contrary: these desires are active desires in that they manifest in the forgiver as acts of love towards the wrongdoer. As Aristotle said, love is “wishing for someone what one thinks to be good things, for his sake and not for oneself, and being productive of these up to one’s capacity.”[10] The call to love enemies in Matthew 5 indicates that the Christian forgiver is called to this kind of forgiveness because Christians are “children” of God the Father who is the kind of God who forgives in this way. But the Christian is not just called to forgive—she is also empowered to do so. In John 20:23, Jesus says to his apostles: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” The power of absolution and forgiveness is given to the people that Christ “spirates” into being, and that power continues today in the Spirit-filled community called church.[11] This forgiver overcomes moral hatred, turns toward the wrongdoer in love, and effectively frees the wrongdoer from his guilt by speaking the radical word of absolution. She says, “You did this and you are responsible for doing this evil, but I forgive you—I give you the gift of my forgiveness and you are free.”

One might object, as Jeffrie Murphy and Jerome Neu do, that this kind of forgiveness amounts to condoning the criminal for his crime and that it evinces a lack of respect for oneself, others and the moral order.[12] This is an understandable misunderstanding. Garrard and McNaughton rightly argue against this objection, writing,

What matters in forgiveness is not the forming of favorable moral assessments, which might indeed in some circumstances amount to failing to take the offense seriously enough. . . . Retaining good will does not mean accepting the views or the verdict of the one towards whom you take a benevolent stance. Silence does not imply consent or endorsement.[13]

In other words, the radical forgiver neither forms a “favorable moral assessment”—effectively condoning the action of the wrongdoer—nor does she have a lack of respect. Rather, the radical forgiver, recognizing the evilness of the crime against herself, others and the moral order, loves the wrongdoer and desires his good in spite of his action. In effect, the radical forgiver says, “What you did was cruel and terribly evil; nevertheless, I love you and desire your good treatment.”

Thus far the two conceptions break down in the following manner, respectively:

  1. Forgiveness involves (i) a recognition of the evilness of the crime, and (ii) overcoming personal anger and hatred toward the wrongdoer
  2. Forgiveness involves (i) a recognition of the evilness of the crime, (ii) overcoming personal anger and hatred toward the wrongdoer, (iii) desiring the good of, and thus loving, the wrongdoer, and (iv) manifesting that love in such a way that offers forgiveness and effectively frees the wrongdoer[14]

The only modification to add to these two conceptions is the conditional/unconditional dichotomy. In other words, one can support both 1 and 2 either conditionally, the offer of forgiveness being contingent on repentance, or unconditionally, forgiveness being given with or without repentance. Thus, there are two different ways to extend two different kinds of forgiveness: conditionally 1, unconditionally 1, conditionally 2, unconditionally 2. With adequate conceptions of forgiveness in hand, we turn to examine retributive justice.

II. Retributive Justice

Albert Camus once wrote in his “Reflections on the Guillotine,” “Whoever has done me harm must suffer harm; whoever has killed must die. This is an emotion, and a particularly violent one, and not a principle. . . . Retaliation does no more than ratify and confer the status of law on this pure impulse of nature.”[15] These haunting words by Camus fittingly capture the idea of retribution. The Latin verb “retribuere” signifies a similar meaning: “to assign back.” Retributive justice so conceived is primarily aimed at assigning back to the criminal what was assigned to the victim during the crime. Thus, if the criminal, through the course of the crime, assigned the victim a false value by acting immorally towards her, the aim of retributive justice is to assign a similar value to the criminal—to make him feel what he made the victim feel and bring him low so that the scales of justice can be balanced. Oliver O’Donovan supports this by characterizing retributive justice as justice that “attempts to justify punishment retrospectively, by reference back to what the offender has done to deserve them.”[16] Crudely put, it is a tit-for-tat justice—one that aims to retaliate and exact punishment for the sake of the past immoral action, to right what has been wronged. In this respect, retribution is concerned with giving the wrongdoer punishment that he deserves based on his crime. It is a justice that says, “You wronged me, now you must be wronged.” At its base, then, retribution is a desire for revenge and retaliation against the wrongdoer. The end goal is for the criminal, through the course of the retributive punishment, to receive what she deserves for her evil.[17]

It seems that over the course of world history, this retributive desire, this natural instinct, became institutionalized in order to guard against flagrant and overly extreme personal vendettas. We see it in the ancient lex talionis of the Hammurabi and Israelite law code: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”[18] It has even been retained in contemporary society, though certainly in a less extreme form. But in some ways it is still extreme, for what retributive justice demands—“A life for a life”—is exactly what countries like the United States often provide for capital crimes like murder. But this capital punishment is conceived as just, as O’Donovan points out, as long as it is proportionate to the crime, distributed consistently, and done in a humane manner.[19] The difficulty comes in determining what punishment is proportionate, consistent, and humane. For example, it is not easy to determine the punishment for a rape. Certainly it would be wrong, and probably impossible, to subject the rapist to a punishment by rape.[20]

In any case, in the end, retributive justice seems to be

(i) a personal or collective/institutionalized desire for and practice of retaliation that is (ii) aimed at punishing the wrongdoer because (iii) it is what the wrongdoer deserves.

We now turn to consider the compatibility of retributive desires and practices with the desires and practices implicated by forgiveness.

III. Compatibility and Capital Punishment

It should be clear that the retributive desire and practice as understood above is perfectly compatible with both conditional and unconditional forgiveness of type 1. One can recognize the evilness of the act and overcome personal anger or hatred towards the wrongdoer and still desire both personally or via an authoritative structure that the wrongdoer be punished proportionately, consistently, and humanely. Jeffrie Murphy, who probably fits well into the category of conditional forgiveness of type 1, writes, “To forgive a wrongdoer involves a change of heart toward that person, but that is not necessarily a change in one’s view on how the wrongdoer is to be treated.”[21] Because the forgiver of type 1 is merely concerned with breaking down a psychological stance towards the wrongdoer, she can consistently forgive the wrongdoer—i.e. eschew hatred and anger towards him—and still desire that the wrongdoer receive what he deserves. Thus construed, the desires of forgiveness and retribution function as two different sides of the same coin: forgiveness supplies the negative aspect by allowing the forgiver to forswear morally hating the wrongdoer, and retribution supplies the positive aspect where the forgiver actively desires the similar painful or harsh treatment of the wrongdoer. A story will help illustrate how this can be.

Suppose it is the 14th century, and there is a woman named Cinderella who has been subjected to severe, serf-like conditions and forced labor by her evil stepmother and stepsisters for 10 years. Even though she is their equal in every way, she is treated like a slave and has to do 12 hours of chores each day. Suppose then that, after a long, romantic, and secret courtship, Cinderella marries the Prince of the land and becomes queen of the state and thus has the power to dispose of her stepmother and stepsisters. They humbly beseech her, asking for her forgiveness and repenting of their former ways.

According to type 1 forgiveness, Cinderella can forgive them and subject them to 10 years of proportionate serf-like service of 12 hours a day. She can tell her relatives that she has no hatred or malice towards them and desire for them to be treated harshly in the same manner that she was treated.

Furthermore, in a different way, conditional forgiveness of type 2 is compatible with the conception of retributive justice as delineated above, but only provisionally so. The conditional forgiver of type 2 can desire retribution only if the wrongdoer has not asked for forgiveness and repented. Once the offender repents and asks for forgiveness, the conditional forgiver of type 2 can no longer desire retribution.

Unconditional forgiveness of type 2, however, is not compatible with the personal desire for retribution. The reason is that in type 2 forgiveness, a victim’s forgiveness involves not only abstinence from moral hatred, malice or anger towards the wrongdoer, but also a positive aspect—i.e. loving one’s wrongdoer, desiring his good, etc.—that is incompatible with a desire for one’s wrongdoer to undergo the evil treatment to which he subjected the victim. Thus, one cannot both desire and/or authorize harsh treatment on a wrongdoer and at the same time love them and desire that they be treated well—i.e. desire their flourishing. In the Cinderella example, according to type 2 forgiveness, Cinderella, by desiring and authorizing the retributive treatment of her relatives, does not genuinely forgive them. She might not hate them or have any malice towards them, but she certainly does not desire their good and is not concerned for their welfare—she does not truly love them. Does this mean that the forgiver of type 2 cannot advocate any kind of punishment? Not at all. Stanley Hauerwas argues that we “must be careful not to let appeals to forgiveness and reconciliation hide from us the seriousness of punishment and the proper role punishment has, not only for any society but in particular in the Church.”[22] The type 2 forgiver can desire punishment insofar as it does not aim merely at the punishment, which is precisely what retributive punishment aims at. Our reasons for punishment must be other than retributive—punishment must aim at the good of the wrongdoer. Thus, a victim who has offered forgiveness of type 2 to a wrongdoer might still desire that the wrongdoer be punished by being placed in solitary confinement in order to protect others in society, but only if the solitary confinement is a place where the wrongdoer can continue to enjoy life, be offered forgiveness, reconciliation and relationship, and, thus, flourish.[23] Garrard and McNaughton concur with Hauerwas, writing, “And forgiveness doesn’t require that punishment of the offender be waived by the forgiver, because sometimes punishment will be needed for the good of the offender or of others, and accepting this is compatible with good will towards the wrongdoer.”[24]

One might respond by saying that this incompatibility does not amount to much. All that it shows, if correct, is that a victim or a victim’s family cannot both practice forgiveness of type 2 and desire retribution. It says nothing about the friendly, peaceful co-existence between those practicing type 2 forgiveness and the public, governmental institutionalization of retribution by the state. In other words, some might restrict this practice of forgiveness to a personal level, while still permitting, even advocating, the practice of retributive punishment on a general, collective, geo-political level. Nicholas Wolterstorff, who would most likely consider himself a practitioner of type 2 forgiveness, has argued along these lines, writing, “Within human society in this present era, retributive punishment is to be an official act exercised by authorities; the old vengeance system, of private parties getting even at each other, is forbidden.”[25] In this way, Wolterstorff endorses a public/private dichotomy: forgiveness is a private act aimed at restoration between individuals whereas retribution is a public, governmental act aimed at maintaining justice within the state. Thus, in the end, forgiveness of type 2 might not be compatible with a personal retributive desire, yet the type 2 forgiveness can peacefully coexist with corporate retribution because forgiveness and retribution exist in different spheres.[26] This dichotomy becomes exceedingly controversial with regard to the most extreme and final form of retributive punishment: capital punishment.

Gilbert Meilander, a Christian ethicist, advocates capital punishment by taking a similar line to Wolterstorff and arguing, using Romans 13 as a foundation,

Until the end of history, government exists as God’s servant to sustain ordered human life – in part, by fitting punishment of wrongdoers. It is permitted, though not required, that such punishment should, in certain cases, extend even to execution…We are all aggrieved when one of our fellow citizens is murdered, and the criminals’ punishment (even execution) satisfies not our need for therapeutic closure, but our need for a just society.[27]

Clearly, though, we can maintain a just society by punishing criminals in such a way that is compatible with type 2 forgiveness, and thus, choose not to exact “a life for a life.” As John Howard Yoder points out, “The state is a fact; that it might be done away with by the criticism of love is inconceivable…it is. It does not need to be defended.”[28]

Richard Hays concurs. Because of a strong commitment to non-violence, he proposes that the forgiver of type 2 ought to refrain from participating in the public martial sphere which practices retribution. Hays writes,

This would mean, practically speaking, that Christians would have to relinquish positions of power and influence insofar as the exercise of such positions becomes incompatible with the teaching and example of Jesus. This might well mean, as Hauerwas has perceived, that the church would assume a peripheral status in our culture, which is deeply committed to the necessity and glory of violence.[29]

We are left, then, with two ways of responding to the tension that forces itself upon us because of the incompatibility between type 2 forgiveness and the practice of retributive punishment: either we accept the reality of the public/private dichotomy, which seems to be the varying approach of Wolterstorff and Meilander,[30] or we deny the reality of the public/private dichotomy as Yoder, Hauerwas, and Hays do, instead proposing that advocates or practitioners of type 2 forgiveness should seek to be positively subversive in proclaiming an alternative.

Surely type 2 forgivers should not force their forgiveness on the whole of society. And the church, which, I submit, is a community characterized by type 2 forgiveness, is not called to conform a nonreligious society to its vision of the moral life. The church, as Hauerwas is well known for emphasizing, is not the state or the world.[31] It cannot coerce the world into agreement or conformity. But it does not follow from this that the church must disengage from the world. If the church disengages, it fails to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. The church, for Hauerwas, has to be its own alternative politics.[32] Putting the matter in this way should make it clear that the community of the church, which has institutionalized the practice of type 2 forgiveness—i.e. putting it in direct conflict with the practice of the state—is anything but private.[33] Yoder comments,

The new level of brotherhood on which the redeemed community is to live cannot be directly enforced upon the larger society; but if it be of the gospel, it must work as a ferment, as salt, and as light…[and show that] what God has always wanted to do with evil, and what he wants men today to do with it is to swallow it up, drown it in the bottomless sea of his crucified love.[34]

This is to say that the Christian community has to be a determinative community. It cannot simply accommodate the practices and desires of the state and make them its own. Surely it respects and loves those involved in the politics of the world (cf. Romans 13), but never to such an extent that it forgets who its Lord is. The Lord of the Christian politics judges in the most mysterious of ways. Rather than overcoming violence with violence, rather than wearing a golden crown and riding a white horse into battle with a sword drawn high, he comes in a manger and on a donkey, he wears a crown of thorns, and he tells his disciple Peter to sheath his sword. This Lord calls his people to love their enemies. Hence, Yoder, denying the reality of the public/private split, suggests that individuals that are part of communities dedicated to practicing type 2 forgiveness can and should work as a ferment in a society that prizes and practices retributive punishment: a ferment that is not aimed at stirring up or inciting trouble or division; rather, one that aims at showing how true justice is “transformed by the cross and resurrection of Christ.”[35] Thus, he specifically urges Christians who ought to be practitioners of type 2 forgiveness to proclaim to the state that “the killing of criminals is not God’s will even for a sub-Christian society.”[36] The continual killing of criminals makes no sense for a church that inhabits a story where God has been killed as a criminal and in doing so has put an end to death and made it possible for the worst criminal to receive life.[37] In this respect, Meilander and Wolterstorff may be right about coexistence between personal forgiveness and public justice. The problem with this schema is that it fails to appreciate the upside-down, dizzying politics of forgiveness that is the root of the Christian city. It is a schema that, according to Hauerwas, is characteristic of the presumption of the modern state: “Modern states do not welcome the church as the true city because they are willing to recognize only a church that reduces itself to a religion or private piety.”[38]

In this way, as an alternative politic, the coexistence between the ecclesial practice of type 2 forgiveness and the governmental practice of capital punishment is anything but peaceful. It is anything but peaceful because capital punishment is inconceivable for a church who worships a God whose death and bloodshed has put an end to sacrifice. The argument against capital punishment is thus an argument against a church that thinks bloodshed is still needed in order for our world to be just. The church, according to Hauerwas, Hays, and Yoder, is meant to display

for the world what true justice is because true justice is first and foremost giving back to God what God has given us through the sacrifice of the Son…the justice of a social order begins in the recognition that the church is a more determinative reality than the state. That the church is so, moreover, means that the church betrays herself and the world when she identifies with the power structures of the world.[39]

A church of forgiveness and a church of justice aren’t incompatible, but a church of forgiveness and a church of retribution that supports a world of retribution are. Yoder even goes so far as to say that any church that “keeps silent” concerning capital punishment is just as responsible as an advocate. Though he is wrong that silence is equitable to advocacy, it does seem that those committed to type 2 forgiveness should take the opportunities to reject the policy of capital punishment inherent in a system dedicated to retribution. Christians do this by working as salt and light, by showing how justice transformed by forgiveness is true justice, and how the way of forgiveness of the God of peace is an ontologically deeper reality than retribution.


[1] Jeanne Bishop, “The Problem of Forgiveness,” in Religion and the Death Penalty: A Call for Reckoning, ed. Erik C. Owens et al. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), 265.

[2] Vladimir Jankelevitch, Forgiveness (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005), 161.

[3] Ibid., 271. There are also examples of Amish and Mennonite communities forgiving offenders that have viciously murdered innocent children within those communities.

[4] Furthermore, it is important to note that I will not be discussing whether forgiveness is rational or just. Jerome Neu and Jeffrey Murphy have much to say about this question. See Jerome Neu, “On Loving Our Enemies,” in The Ethics of Forgiveness, ed. Christel Fricke (New York: Routledge, 2011) and Jeffrey Murphy and Jean Hampton, Forgiveness and Mercy (Cambridge University Press, 1998).

[5] Alexander Pope, “An Essay on Criticism,” Part II.

[6] As quoted by Jeffrie Murphy, Forgiveness and Mercy, 14. Emphasis added.

[7] Murphy and Hampton, Forgiveness and Mercy, 15.

[8] Eve Garrard and David McNaughton, “Conditional Unconditional Forgiveness,” in The Ethics of Forgiveness, ed. Christel Fricke (New York: Routledge, 2011), 98.

[9] Matthew 5:43-45. Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[10] Aristotle, Rhetoric II.4, 1380b36. Translated by H.C. Lawson-Tancred (England: Penguin Books, 1991), 150.

[11] See The Book of Common Prayer (New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 2007), 448.

[12] See Neu, “On Loving Our Enemies,” 139; Murphy and Hampton, Forgiveness and Mercy, 17.

[13] Garrard and McNaughton, “Conditional Unconditional Forgiveness,” 99-101.

[14] It is very important to add that if the type 2 forgiver exists within a community that has institutionalized type 2 forgiveness, then the type 2 forgiver, following the community, will desire that every wrongdoer receive type 2 forgiveness. The tension arrives when a community that has institutionalized type 2 forgiveness exists within a larger community that has institutionalized retributive punishment, which will be discussed later.

[15] As quoted by Murphy and Hampton, Forgiveness and Mercy, 1.

[16] Oliver O’Donovan, Measure for Measure: Justice in Punishment and the Sentence of Death (Grove Books, 1977), 11.

[17] For more on this, See Oliver O’Donovan, “The Death Penalty in Evangelium Vitae,” 223, as cited by Stanley Hauerwas, “Punishing Christians: A Pacifist Approach to the Issue of Capital Punishment,” in Religion and the Death Penalty, ed. Erik C. Owens et al. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), 64.

[18] For a biblical example, see Deuteronomy 19.

[19] O’Donovan, Measure for Measure: Justice in Punishment and the Sentence of Death, 14.

[20] Despite this and other difficulties, there do seem to be good reasons to support retributive punishment. Jean Hampton writes that by responding to wrongdoing in a retributive fashion, a society re-establishes a victim’s worth: “Part of what it is to view an action as immoral is to have the desire to reassert the victim’s value through punishment…” See Hampton, Forgiveness and Mercy, 132. So, one merit of retributive justice is its robust notion of human worth. But it is not at all clear that retributive punishment is required in order to reassert the victim’s value.

[21] Murphy and Hampton, Forgiveness, 33.

[22] Hauerwas, “Punishing Christians: A Pacifist Approach to the Issue of Capital Punishment,” 61.

[23] It is very important to note that the wrongdoer need not accept the forgiveness of the victim or victim’s community. If it is the case that the wrongdoer, after having been offered forgiveness, reconciliation, and gifts from the victim/victim’s community, shuns them and rejects all their beneficial advances, it is proper for the community to retreat and permit his desire against reconciliation. But, it seems to me that the victim/victim’s family can only retreat after reconciliation and forgiveness has been offered.

[24] Garrard and McNaughton, “Conditional Unconditional Forgiveness,” 99.

[25] Nicholas Wolterstorff, “Does Forgiveness Undermine Justice?” in God and the Ethics of Belief: New Essays in Philosophy of Religion, ed. Andrew Dole and Andrew Chignell (Cambridge University Press, 2009), 236.

[26] One might further comment by saying that there is no tension at all because it is only the victim and the victim’s family committed to type 2 forgiveness who can offer forgiveness, and some (if not many) victims/victims’ families do not desire to show forgiveness; thus, the mere institutionalization of retributive punishment is not incompatible with the fact that some people are type 2 forgivers. This is certainly true. However, because retributive punishment—i.e. capital punishment—has been institutionalized in a place like the United States, any victim (individual, family, or familial community that has institutionalized type 2 forgiveness) who is committed to type 2 forgiveness and lives under the law of capital punishment, though they might still be able to desire the wrongdoer’s good, cannot act on that desire or offer long term reconciliation because the state may decide to kill the wrongdoer. Thus, the institutionalization of capital punishment is not a law with which the type 2 forgiver can happily live.

[27] Gilbert Meilander, “The Death Penalty: A Protestant Perspective,” in Religion and the Death Penalty, ed. Erik C. Owens (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), 53. The Romans 13 foundation is controversial and has been questioned by many, including John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, Richard Hays, and Jeanne Bishop.

[28] John Howard Yoder, The Christian and Capital Punishment (Newton, Kansas: Faith and Life Press, 1961), 12.

[29] Richard B Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation, A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics (New York: HarperOne, 1996), 342.

[30] Wolterstorff et al. would not recommend that church members pull out of society. Rather they would suggest that both the church and any “official authority” have been endowed by God’s authority to exact retributive punishment in today’s society. I argue, however, that this is incompatible insofar as the church or any other “official authority” has institutionalized type 2 forgiveness. Because I think the church has in fact institutionalized type 2 forgiveness, they could not equally as well exact retributive punishment.

[31] This statement can be found in almost any work by Hauerwas. For an example, see Hannah’s Child: A Theologians Memoir (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 2010), x.

[32] Hauerwas, Approaching the End: Eschatological Reflections on Church, Politics, and Life (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 2013), 75.

[33] Someone might argue that “the church” can’t institutionalize forgiveness because only the victim and the victim’s family members can forgive a wrongdoer; thus, the entire church cannot forgive wrongdoers. But this is not true. Christian theology teaches that the church is a family, all members of one body that are united to Christ by the Spirit. Thus, if the church desires to be faithful to Christ it appears that it must as one body advocate a type 2 forgiveness.

[34] Yoder, The Christian and Capital Punishment, 7; 11.

[35] Hauerwas, “Punishing Christians: A Pacifist Approach to the Issue of Capital Punishment,” 67.

[36] Yoder, The Christian and Capital Punishment, 21.

[37] It seems noteworthy to mention that Jesus offers forgiveness and life to a man even after he has been condemned to die by the state when he tells the “thief on the cross” that he will be in paradise with God. See Luke 23:43.

[38] Hauerwas, Approaching the End, 32. On the same page, Hauerwas makes a provocative claim that the modern state’s rejection of the sacrifice of Christ is eminently evident in that it resacralizes and legitimizes itself through the continual shedding of blood.

[39] Hauerwas, Approaching the End, 33.

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