THE DEATH PENALTY is almost dead in America. It’s time to pull the final plug.
The number of death sentences imposed is the lowest it’s been in 40 years, and the number of executions is the lowest it’s been in 20. Every year another state abolishes the death penalty. Just this summer Delaware’s highest court declared its death penalty unconstitutional. Several more states are poised to do the same. In fact, only a handful of states are actually still executing. This year Texas and Georgia accounted for 80 percent of the executions.
Most Americans have moved on from the death penalty. When presented with alternatives, a majority of the population says they are against it.
The question is not if we will abolish the death penalty, but when. With the vacancy on the Supreme Court, we are at a critical tipping point. We will someday look back at the death penalty like we look back at slavery, asking, “How did we think that was okay?”
But where will Christians be as this history is made? It’s troubling that the death penalty has succeeded in the U.S. because of Christians, not in spite of us. Eight out of every 10 executions in the past four decades have been in the Bible belt. Where Christians are most concentrated is where capital punishment has flourished. Strange, isn’t it? One would think that those of us who worship a victim of state-sanctioned execution would be suspicious of state violence, that we’d be its biggest critics. But that’s not always the case.
But here’s the deal: I’m hopeful. Only 5 percent of Americans think Jesus would support the death penalty. Christians born after 1980 are overwhelmingly opposed to it. The National Association of Evangelicals has pulled back on its support and the National Latino Evangelical Coalition has called for total abolition. A growing movement of faith-fueled conservatives is leading the way to alternatives to the death penalty in states such as Nebraska, where a referendum to retain a death-penalty ban is on the upcoming ballot. The Movement for Black Lives lists ending capital punishment as one of its top needed reforms. And, as part of the year of mercy, Pope Francis issued a clarion call for a global moratorium.