Ethos Education

The Ides of March: What factors influence Christians in their attitude towards capital punishment?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Consideration of whether capital punishment is ever justifiable.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect upon a number of statistics concerning capital punishment.
  • Analyse an argument against capital punishment from the film The Ides of March.
  • Analyse Bible passages to understand two contrasting Christian attitudes towards capital punishment.
  • Synthesise learning by writing a letter to a Member of Parliament, asking him or her to vote a particular way in a forthcoming Commons vote on reintroducing capital punishment.

STARTER:

Ask the students to guess what the following countries have in common: Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and the United States of America. The answer is that they are among the few developed countries in the world to still allow the death penalty for certain crimes.

Tell the students that while there are 58 countries that still permit capital punishment, in 2011 there were 97 countries who had abolished it (compared with only 16 countries as recently as 1977). Of the 58 states that permit capital punishment, Amnesty International reports that 23 are known to have carried out executions in 2010. Despite there being more countries that have abolished capital punishment than those that still practice it, the presence of very populous countries like China and the United States in the latter group means that 60% of the world’s population lives in nations that permit capital punishment.

Ask the students if any of those statistics have surprised them.  Explain that in today’s lesson you are going to be thinking about attitudes towards capital punishment, in particular thinking about Christian perspectives on the subject.

MAIN ACTIVITIES:

Introduce the clip from The Ides of March (e-one, 2011, certificate 15). Click here to buy the DVD online.

Explain that Mike Morris (George Clooney) is running to be the Democrat candidate for the Presidency of the United States of America. In this scene he is being interviewed on television during his election campaign. Ask the students to pay particular attention to the arguments he puts forward justifying his position on the death penalty.

  • Start time:       0.24.21 (in chapter 6 of the DVD)
  • End time:        0.25.14
  • Clip length:     53 seconds

The clip starts with Mike Morris being interviewed. The first line is him saying, ‘Is it a difficult decision? I have to believe it is…’ The clip ends after the interviewer says, ‘This is public television; we don’t have any commercials.’

Ask the students what they thought of Morris’ argument against the death penalty: while the loved ones of someone who is murdered might want to get revenge, the state should be held to a higher standard.

Explain that capital punishment is a subject that divides Christians. Give out the Capital Punishment: For and Against worksheet, and ask the students to read the different Bible passages referred to on the sheets and answer the questions.

Draw out from the students that the Christian case for executing people who commit murder is based on the concept of humans being made in God’s image. It is because Christians regard human life as being so precious that some of them believe the ultimate sanction should be used against those that destroy it. On the other hand, other Christians would place more emphasis on the instructions in the Bible to show forgiveness and mercy.

If students are struggling with reconciling the apparently contradictory message of these verses, you could point out to them that many Christians regard the purpose of the Law in the Old Testament as being to make humans realise that it is impossible to be good enough to deserve God’s favour, and that Jesus’ fulfillment of the law was to show another way of being put right with God – through God’s grace, rather than through human merit.

SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:

Ask the students to write a letter to a Member of Parliament, either calling for the MP to vote to reintroduce capital punishment, or to vote against a proposal to reintroduce it. The letter should be from a committed Christian and should demonstrate an understanding of a Christian perspective on the subject.

YOU WILL NEED:

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