October 3, 2011
I’m writing this column two days after the state of Georgia executed Troy Davis.
Thanks to social media, several people provided links to our denomination’s policy statements on capital punishment.
Starting in 1959, the General Assembly, “believing that capital punishment cannot be condoned by an interpretation of the Bible based upon the revelation of God’s love in Jesus Christ,” called on all Christians to “seek the redemption of evil doers and not their death,” and added that “the use of the death penalty tends to brutalize the society that condones it.”
Subsequent assemblies – in 1977, 1978, and 1985 – reaffirmed our continued opposition to capital punishment.
Here’s my question, and I want to acknowledge my friend, the Reverend James Kim, of Lakewood, Wash., who first asked it of me: Why don’t we as a church mobilize on the issue of capital punishment the way we have mobilized around the issues regarding the ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians, or the way we have mobilized around the issues of Israel and Palestine?
Is it because Presbyterians are, in fact, united in opposition to capital punishment, whereas we’re divided on ordination standards and Israel/Palestine? And is it because we’re divided that we spend our time and energy persuading those within the church to agree with us – leaving us with a lack of time and energy to speak to the rest of the world on issues we do agree upon, like capital punishment?
Our prophetic witness on this issue is needed now more than ever – a time when people cheer because Rick Perry says he has no qualms about the number of persons executed in Texas.
Can we provide that prophetic witness?
It is not that ordination standards or Israel/Palestine issues aren’t important. They are.
But Troy Davis is dead. And he is only one of more than thirty people who have been executed this year. Countless others remain on death row.
We have said that the use of the death penalty “tends to brutalize the society that condones it.” What can we do to stop that from happening? What will we do to stop that from happening?
Read the column in Korean. (PDF)