capital punishment

Change Is Afoot Among Evangelicals on Death Penalty

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The National Association of Evangelicals, which represents over 45,000 churches from almost 40 different denominations, published a resolution Oct. 19 that substantially revises their position on the death penalty.

The resolution casts serious doubt on the fairness of the U.S. criminal justice system, citing, among other things, the use of DNA evidence in the exonerations of 258 people in the first decade of the 21st century. While levelling a substantial critique of criminal justice in the U.S., the resolution does not call for an end to the death penalty, but instead acknowledges both sides as legitimate positions.

Kelly Gissendaner Executed Despite Papal Appeal, 11th-Hour Clemency Bid

Image via REUTERS / Georgia Department of Corrections / Handout via Reuters / RNS

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Tuesday that the pope, back in Rome after a six-day visit to the United States, sent a letter through a representative, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano.

“While not wishing to minimize the gravity of the crime for which Ms. Gissendander has been convicted, and while sympathizing with the victims, I nonetheless implore you, in consideration of the reasons that have been expressed to your board, to commute the sentence to one that would better express both justice and mercy,” Vigano wrote.

“In reaching its decision, the Board thoroughly reviewed all information and documents pertaining to the case, including the latest information presented by Gissendaner’s representatives,” a release sent from board chairman Terry Barnard said. No other explanation of the decision was given.

The U.S. Is Ignoring Pope Francis' Call to Abolish the Death Penalty

Screenshot via C-SPAN / Youtube

I formerly served as a corrections officer at a maximum security facility. I also used to be a reserve police officer. I have sped through city streets in a squad car, sirens blaring, on my way to shootings. I have booked and interviewed (interrogated) alleged murderers. I have seen victims’ families cry. I have had inmates hit me. I even used force when I wore a badge. And yet, as a Catholic Christian, over the years I have come to oppose capital punishment for a number of reasons.

I agree with Pope Francis’ remarks about the death penalty. During his speech before Congress, Democrats and Republicans applauded when he emphasized: “Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’” (Mt 7:12). The pope added: “This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.”

Latino Evangelicals Say No to the Death Penalty

THE NATIONAL LATINO Evangelical Coalition announced in March that it would no longer support the death penalty, making it the first U.S. evangelical association to take this stand. Coalition president Gabriel Salguero announced the change at a press conference in Orlando, Fla., and urged NaLEC’s 3,000 member congregations to work toward ending capital punishment nationwide.

“As Christ-followers, we are called to work toward justice for all. And as Latinos, we know too well that justice is not always even-handed,” said Salguero.

This groundbreaking move by Latino evangelicals puts them at odds with the pro-death penalty stance of the National Association of Evangelicals, although “sources within the NAE say that leadership is considering a change in the months ahead,” according to Religion News Service.

NaLEC did not come to this new position lightly. It came after two years of prayer and reflection accompanied by intensive dialogue between NaLEC’s leadership and Equal Justice USA and the Constitution Project, two leading anti-death penalty organizations. In addition, coalition members met with a number of wrongly convicted former prisoners such as Fernando Bermudez, who spent 18 years in prison in New York for a murder he did not commit.

According to Salguero, selecting Florida for the announcement was intentional. Florida was the first state to reintroduce capital punishment after the Supreme Court struck down the 1972 moratorium. Since executions were resumed, 25 people on Florida’s death row have been exonerated. This record of mistaken convictions is the highest of any state. It is particularly disturbing that Florida has on its books the so-called Timely Justice Act that mandates a swift execution process. With 394 people currently on Florida’s death row and the prevalence of mishandled cases and inadequate defense, especially for minorities, this law exacerbates existing problems in a system plagued by errors.

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July 2015
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Protestants Join Catholics in Reconsidering the Death Penalty

Photo via Bhakpong / Shutterstock / RNS

Close up of a drip bag. Photo via Bhakpong / Shutterstock / RNS

Three times in the past month, the Nebraska Legislature voted for a bill to repeal capital punishment and replace it with life without parole. The governor has promised to veto the legislation, and an override vote is looming. Many of the Christian lawmakers made it clear they cast their votes against the death penalty, in part, to promote a whole life ethic.

The leader of the group is Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln, a Catholic who put his personal reasons for opposing capital punishment into one easily understood phrase.

“I am pro-life,” he said.

Nebraska Lawmakers Vote to Abolish Death Penalty

Photo via Joseph Sohn /

Photo via Joseph Sohn /

Nebraska lawmakers passed a bill May 20 to abolish the death penalty by a big enough margin to override a threatened veto by Gov. Pete Ricketts.

The measure passed 32-15 in the state’s unicameral Legislature. It would replace the death penalty with a sentence of life in prison.

If lawmakers override the expected veto, Nebraska would become the first conservative state to repeal the death penalty since North Dakota in 1973, the Lincoln Journal Star reports.

Death Has Lost Its Sting: Conflicted Response to Tsarnaev's Death Sentence

Boston Marathon Bombing Memorial, by H. Powers on

Boston Marathon Bombing Memorial, by H. Powers on

His guilt is clear. He posted offensive, arrogant messages all over the Internet. He carved a manifesto of revenge into the boat where he hid as police captured him. He flipped a bird at the camera in his jail cell.

The evil he is responsible for is horrific. More than 250 people injured. Seventeen people lost their limbs. Four people died — one of them 8 years old.

It’s no surprise that a jury found him guilty, and still no surprise that they sentenced him to death.

What’s remarkable is the lack of enthusiasm that accompanied Tsarnaev’s death sentence. One person after another had mercy on their lips – from victims of the Boston bombing to the legendary Sr. Helen Prejean who met with Dzhokhar and spoke of his heartfelt remorse.

In Every Human Heart

vectorbest /

vectorbest /

News reports about the trial and the jury’s deliberations spark fury online. Tempers rise as commenters express their opinions about what they believe should be Tsarnaev’s fate. For example, when the Catholic bishops stood in front of the courthouse expressing their opposition to the death penalty, many responded with outrage: “He should be made to suffer as much as he made others suffer.” “Let him fry.” “Torture him and then kill him.” Similarly, when Bill and Denise Richard, the parents of the 8-year-old boy killed by the explosion, wrote a letter expressing their desire to take the death penalty off the table, their views provoked ire.

What motivates these different perspectives? Is justice about vengeance, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth? Is someone who advocates for life imprisonment soft on crime? Is such a person naïve?

Confusing Jesus with Daredevil

Image courtesy Marvel's Daredevil on Facebook

Image courtesy Marvel's Daredevil on Facebook

Like many comic book fans, I spent the weekend binging on Daredevil, Marvel’s newest release. The entire first season was created for Netflix, and it dropped in its entirety on Friday. I waited until Saturday night to dig in (longer than some friends of mine), and I was hooked from the opening scene.

It's a scene that opens with Matt Murdock (lawyer-by-day alter ego of the masked vigilante Daredevil) sitting in a confessional. He begins by telling the priest about his father, a boxer who fought harder than his record could ever show. He ends the conversation by asking not for penance, but for future forgiveness — forgiveness for what he’s about to do. “That’s not how this works,” the priest says.

Yet so much of how Murdock as Daredevil works in this latest iteration of the character is how we want it to work. Based closely on Frank Miller’s writing of the character, Daredevil proves to be someone who deals justice unflinchingly. This isn’t someone who hesitates when the situation allows for a grim, overly firm hand. Contrast this with Batman, a character who struggles to commit severe violence even when it seems to be the only option.

Racial Reconciliation Demands Christians Reconsider the Death Penalty

Photo via California Department of Corrections / RNS

San Quentin death chamber. Photo via California Department of Corrections / RNS

A new report by the Equal Justice Initiative documents in horrific detail the nation’s widespread practice of lynching and points to a link between lynching and a practice that persists today: capital punishment.

In the Jim Crow South, lynching declined as officials turned to executions as an alternative method for killing blacks in disproportionate numbers.

This report challenges us to confront our nation’s legacy of racial violence. Sadly, too many Christians were complicit in this violence, which has prompted Christian denominations to apologize and emphasize racial reconciliation. Last week, the Southern Baptist Convention held a two-day race summit in which it urged pastors to do more to diversify their churches.

These are important steps.

But they only mark time if important actions don’t follow.