A response to the death penalty legislationPosted: May 24, 2014
This past Thursday, May 22, Governor Bill Haslam, signed legislation reauthorizing the use of the electric chair in carrying out the death penalty when drugs are unavailable for lethal injection. Governor Haslam stated that he was simply carrying out the will of the people as represented by the legislature, and felt justified in signing the legislation.
This decision creates a moral conflict for followers of Jesus Christ. When confronted with an opportunity to support capital punishment, Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of John, chapter 8:1-11, teaches that “those who are without sin cast the first stone.” In keeping with the teachings of Jesus, the consistent position of the United Methodist Church has been that the death penalty “…denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore, and transform all human beings.. It is the position of our church that we oppose the death penalty and urge its elimination from all criminal codes (Book Of Discipline ¶164g).
Tom Lee, a layperson at West End UMC, wrote a post on-line earlier today about his experience as an appointee on a legislative committee studying the administration of the death penalty. He said that witness after witness stated that the death penalty was poor public policy as it was inefficient, ineffective, arbitrary, and grossly expensive.
“Those factors alone should cause the death of any government program,” Lee wrote. “But as if that weren’t enough, this program, when carried out, results in the death of people and morally compromises everyone in the process, including those of us as citizens who stand by.”
The problem with the death penalty is not whether lethal injection or the electric chair is more or less cruel. The problem is that it ignores the sacred worth of all human beings, and suggests that there are people unable and unworthy of redemption. For sure, capital crimes are horrific and deserve justice. But rarely are the scars of violence healed by the imposition of more violence. Justice must be offered, but there are means to do so which don’t require others to take the life of another human.
As the bishop of the Nashville Episcopal Area, representing United Methodists across 2/3 of the state of Tennessee, I urge the governor and legislature to call together leaders to examine if there is a better way to exercise justice in the State of Tennessee. Likewise, I urge the people called United Methodist across the state to be in contact with their elected leaders to express our church’s opposition to the death penalty.
Our interest in capital punishment is not political. We worship Jesus Christ, a man put to death at the hands of the state. We also believe that the his resurrection proclaims God’s ability and desire to redeem all things.
May God redeem us all as we seek to live faithfully in following the One who calls us to cast no stones.
May God be with us.