What does Christianity say about crime?

Christianity teaches that sin is a part of human nature and that all people have the potential to commit a crime. This is shown in the story of the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis, when they disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit.

Many Christians believe that the Bible teaches the difference between right and wrong. Following God's will leads people to the right path; ignoring God's will leads to disaster.

A typical set of guidelines from the Bible is the Ten Commandments. Christians should follow these guidelines to be good people. This belief is emphasised in the gospel books such as John:

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Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God.1 John 3:10

Christianity also teaches that:

  • People should be treated fairly.
  • God wants the world to be ruled justly.

Many crimes treat people unfairly. Punishments ensure that justice is done.

Christians do not believe in taking revenge when they have been wronged. They believe that they should forgive the sins of others, in the same way that they believe God forgives them for their sins.

Christians look to the example of Jesus, who taught the importance of forgiveness:

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Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.Matthew 18:21-22

What does Christianity say about how criminals should be treated?

Christians believe in justice and therefore Christians believe that criminals should be treated justly. They follow the example of Jesus, who taught that Christians should reform sinners and not be judgemental in their attitude:

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Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?Matthew 7:3

As well as reform, some Christians would consider protection and deterrence to be important aims of punishment. These help to ensure safety in society. They would also believe criminals should be treated justly while in prison, and be given the opportunity to reform.

Some Christians consider Old Testament teachings to be as important as New Testament teachings and therefore they may believe that retribution is an important aim of punishment. They may think that criminals should be treated in a way that reflects the crime they have committed.

In Exodus it states:

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But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.Exodus 21:23-24

This punishment is limited, eg it is only one eye for one eye. But it is also important to note that Jesus qualified this teaching:

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You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.Matthew 5:38-39

In this passage, Jesus teaches that violent and evil people should be dealt with in unexpected ways, which will hopfully encourage them to think about and amend their ways.

How do Christians respond to crime in society and those who commit crime?

Many Christians are concerned with the welfare of prisoners. They may campaign for prison reform, visit prisoners, or vote for a political party that reflects their views on justice equality.

Jesus taught in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25: 36) that people who help those in prison will go to Heaven. This is because Jesus identifies himself with the outcasts, including prisoners. Those who treat the outcasts well will have eternal life, which means they will go to Heaven.

An example of a Christian response to those who commit crime is the Paulist Prison Ministries. They work with prisoners and detainees, helping to rehabilitate them into society.