Monday, March 17, 2008

Concerning the Death Penalty

On Monday, March 31, come hear Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, speak at Highlands United Methodist Church, Birmingham at 7 p.m.

There may be sound arguments in favor of the Death Penalty. Unfortunately for us Christians, none of these arguments can be made on biblical or Christian theological grounds. The Social Principles of the United Methodist Church oppose capital punishment. That provision states as follows:

The Death Penalty
We believe the death penalty denies the power of Christ to
redeem, restore and transform all human beings. The United Methodist Church
is deeply concerned about crime throughout the world and the value of any
life taken by a murder or homicide. We believe all human life is sacred and
created by God and therefore, we must see all human life as significant and
valuable. When governments implement the death penalty (capital
punishment), then the life of the convicted person is devalued and all
possibility of change in that person’s life ends. We believe in the
resurrection of Jesus Christ and that the possibility of
reconciliation with Christ comes through repentance. This gift of
reconciliation is offered to all individuals without exception and gives
all life new dignity and sacredness. For this reason, we oppose the death
penalty (capital punishment) and urge its elimination from all criminal
codes.

- From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church--2004.

Based on statistics from the Bureau of Justice, Alabama leads the nation in the rate of new death sentences for the past five years. With a population of 4.5 million people, Alabama imposed 13 new death sentences, greater than the 11 imposed in Texas with a population of 23.5 million.

Senator Hank Sanders from Selma has regularly introduced a bill in the Alabama Legislature for a number of years seeking to declare a moratorium on the death penalty. It has had no success thus far. It has been introduced again this year.

United Methodist, Bill Clark (member of Highlands UMC) has recently presented a resolution to the Alabama Criminal Defense Lawyers Association which calls for a joint resolution of the Governor and the Legislature to direct a study of the death penalty process with a moratorium being declared during that study.

I invite you to join us on March 31 in thinking about and praying for the issue of the Death Penalty in Alabama.

Will Willimon

5 comments:

Bob B said...

The body of Christ, and particularly that part to which I belong, has failed to be Jesus in the world in addressing the death penalty. You said it clearly. It is difficult to find support, much less to avoid the probable condemnation by Jesus, for the idea of taking a life as punishment for a criminal offense.

We have become experts at compartmentalization. We rationalize that surely Jesus would have no problem with the State sanctioned killing of someone who has committed a heinous crime. It makes sense to us. Unfortunately, many of those things that "made sense" to the world which Jesus entered 2000 years ago were those things which Jesus addressed and condemned. And we haven't changed all that much. We console ourselves by rendering unto Caesar those things that are too messy to handle ourselves. That notion should still be fresh on our minds after revisiting the trial and death of Jesus instigated by the religious authorities and acquiesced to by the rest of the people, some of whom had been his followers.
Why don't we hear about the struggle from the pulpit?

Anonymous said...

I guess I am stumbling upon this post a little late, but after reading this post I thought I should at least raise a few questions.
Mr. Willimon, in your post, you said: "There may be sound arguments in favor of the Death Penalty. Unfortunately for us Christians, none of these arguments can be made on biblical or Christian theological grounds."
Do you really mean that? Certainly you are aware of the biblical cases made from Genesis 9, other portions of the Law, and Romans 13. Those who make such biblical and theological do in fact affirm strongly the value and significance of each individual human life. Nor do those who make that case deny the power of Christ to restore, redeem, and transform all human beings.
I found your statement to be incredibly misleading. The difference of opinion concerning the death penalty and the bible seems to me to center on your understanding of God's purpose for government. Furthermore, one can affirm this portion of the statement you quoted from the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church: "We believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and that the possibility of
reconciliation with Christ comes through repentance. This gift of
reconciliation is offered to all individuals without exception and gives all life new dignity and sacredness," and still believe that the death penalty might be an instrument that leads a person to repentance.
Could you comment on these thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous,

I have one question: How can you repent if you're dead?

Anonymous said...

Clearly, one cannot repent when one is dead. My point was that knowing you will be put to death for murdering another might be the very thing that God uses to show you the consequences of sin. This knowledge that makes a person aware of their impending doom might in fact lead them to repentance.
God offers repentance to all, but he does not offer repentance forever.

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