Source: (2004) Punishment and Society. 6(1): 87-98.

The central themes of Christianity -- love, mercy, forgiveness, and redemption -- seem opposed to the harsh, condemnatory, and stigmatizing nature of criminal punishment. Murphy concedes that some forms of punishment, such as torture or mutilation, are incompatible with Christian love, but not the death penalty. He assumes that Christians believe love is the primary value in all things and assumes that Christian support for criminal punishment is based on a "hard and demanding" understanding of Christian love. In response to this, it is doubted that the practice of punishment is consistent with Christian love. Saying otherwise gives criminal punishment a legitimacy it does not deserve. This does not mean that Christian love forbids governmental efforts to teach right from wrong or to protect the public from harm; just that those efforts would have to be part of an approach to promote justice and the common good differently from criminal punishment. Supporters of the restorative justice movement hope their vision of justice will one day replace what they call the "retributive" system of criminal punishment. Others say that this paradigm is unrealistic because this country’s harsh penological practices are the product of serious social problems and institutional arrangements that will not change. The articulation that Christians should take seriously the subject of criminal punishment offers hope of something in between, which is a faith-based critical approach to criminal punishment that inspires reform. Abstract courtesy of the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, www.ncjrs.org.