A response to the death penalty legislation

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.

18 Comments on “A response to the death penalty legislation”

  1. Hi, for all time i used to check website posts here early in the
    daylight, for the reason that i love to find out more and more.

  2. […] Antes de la vigilia, Nashville Area Obispo William T. McAlilly escribió una carta abierta al gobernador de Tennessee, Bill Haslam instando al gobernador a reevaluar. El obispo, cuya área incluye las conferencias y Tennessee en Memphis, también publicó un blog sobre la legislación, diciendo que el problema con la pena capital es que “no tiene en cuenta el valor sagrado de todos los seres humanos.” […]

  3. Paul Ellingsen says:

    This is not right! A more accurate translation of the 6th commandment is “Though shalt not murder”. If we let a mass murderer go and he murders again are we not guilty of murder? Even if it’s a prison guard or a fellow prisoner? Are we not charged to protect the innocent? If you use this same logic it would have been wrong to resist the Japanese or the Germans in WW2 or to hide the Jews from the Germans in WW2. (By the way, if you want to see a good movie about hiding the Jews go see “Return to the Hiding Place”) From a Christian point of view the death penalty was never meant to be punishment, but to prevent the murderer from doing it again and to send him to the most just judge ,Jesus, where he will receive righteous judgment. As far as errors in our judicial system that is another matter. You can’t give someone 20 years of their life back either.
    Why not spend your time protesting something clearly unbiblical like homosexual marriage, the adapting of innocent children by homosexuals, the abortion of innocent babies, sexual immorality by Christians, the oppression of Israel by those who would like to wipe Israel of the map.

  4. […] Bishop Bill McAlilly, Nashville Episcopal Area of the UMC, posted to his blog late last week: […]

  5. Jonathan Carle says:

    Thank you for quoting scripture. Scripture has been used to ratify the death penalty over and over again…but the two great commandments to love must govern the rest of the story, for “the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8); and again, “but if you do not forgive others, neither will your father forgive your trepasses” (Matthew 6:14). If we are to overcome this evil we must prove its illegitimacy with both our bodies and time, and the Gospel. Thank you for this leadership and courage. May the One who “gives life to the dead and calls into being tje things that do not exist” continue to guide us in this, the work of the New Creation.

  6. Ed Miller says:

    This Episcopalian thanks Bishop McAlilly for his bold statement. On Tuesday, May 27, I will send a letter to Bishop McAlilly, three Episcopal Bishops, and three Catholic Bishops, in which letter I will asked them to meet and to lead us all in opposing the Death Penalty. As a lawyer who has reached Senior Status this year I can tell all who read this that mistakes are made in the justice system, and we cannot risk executing an innocent person. I am reminded of Pope John Paul II asking the Missouri Governor in 1999 to “Show mercy” for a man who was sentenced to be executed. The Governor commuted the sentence to Life in prison. He did show mercy. We all need to show mercy.

    Ed Miller

  7. Dennis Meaker says:

    Let me offer a basis for opposition not based upon the possible redemption of the offender, but planted solidly in Christian tradition.

    As a licensed attorney who practiced within the Court System for twenty years (all of it Civil) I can state without question that our justice system is not competent to decide questions of life or death, Mistakes WILL happen. The innocent WILL be executed. We cannot have a death penalty with standing before God and proclaiming that the death of some number of innocent people at our own hands is an acceptable price for being able to permanently rid society of some true monsters. In order to have the death penalty we must be willing to accept that cost.

  8. Steve Tippens says:

    Well said, my brother. Calls to question all regulatory decisions by delegates purporting to represent the will of their constituencies. Do we not have some of that within the ranks of United Methodism? If a governor should step out of line, what about a bishop? But, regarding the taking of life, can it ever be justified? If so, under what circumstances? For me, this is a concern well beyond the confines of our penal system. Thank you for expressing the views of many of us. May we raise the bar higher, farther.

  9. Vona Wilson says:

    Thank you for providing spiritual leadership, wisdom and an avenue to connect us as these issues emerge in our daily lives. This teaches and strengthens the church. Prayers and peace.

  10. Tom Gillem says:

    Thank you, Bishop.

  11. Ministries across the Nashville Episcopal Area are advocating in opposition of the death penalty. The TNUMC Committee on Church and Society would like to hear about your Prison Ministry—individuals, small groups, and churches. Let’s gather our voices in prayer and action as our state leaders seek ways to achieve true healing and restorative justice for all those who suffer because of violent crimes.

    For more information, resources and to share your story email us at Outreach@TNUMC.com

  12. Thank you for your stand on this crushing issue. I have visited with, prayed with, attended Bible Study with the men on Death Row at Riverbend Prison. (They like to call it “Life Row!”) These men need our prayers and ACTIONS. Their deep need for love and compassion touches our Christian responsibility. I appreciate your stand for our faith!
    Ann Freeman
    Christ United Methodist Church
    Franklin, TN 37064

  13. Diane Jordan says:

    Thank you for your response. As a Baptist Christian, I couldn’t agree more. Jesus’ way is one of forgiveness and restoration. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”!! There is no excuse for capital punishment in our modern world. It accomplishes nothing of what the proponents hope for and is horribly expensive, not to mention, totally unChristlike.

  14. Becky Waldrop says:

    Thank you so very much, Bishop. As someone who has visited on death row, I deeply appreciate your articulate letter to the governor, and your wisdom and compassion.

  15. Rick Kirchoff says:

    A resounding Amen! Thanks, Bishop

  16. Ken Edwards says:

    Thanks, Bishop!

  17. Charles Johnson says:

    Thank you Bill for your sand on this important issue give my regards to Lynn. Charles Johnson

  18. John Bonson says:

    Thank you, Bishop for standing not only for our Discipline, but also for standing for the values taught to us by Jesus. I will share your letter with my students tomorrow.