Religious Statements PDF Print E-mail

Faith Communities

 

American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.

Until the Gilmore case in 1979, there had been no execution in the United States in 10 years. The ritual taking of life had ceased while debate continued in the courts regarding the constitutionality of capital punishment.

 

Now that death laws in some states have been upheld, over 400 persons nationwide face possible execution by hanging, firing squad, asphyxiation, or electrocution.

The majority of those on death row are poor, powerless, and educationally deprived. Almost 50 percent come from minority groups. This reflects the broad inequities in our society, and the inequity with which the ultimate is applied. This alone is sufficient reason for opposing it as immoral and unjust.

Since further legal actions to stop executions appear unpromising, it is more important than ever that the religious community speak to the moral, religious, and ethical implications of killing by the state. Numerous secular and religious groups have recently taken positions in opposition to capital punishment.

THEREFORE, we as American Baptists, condemn the current reinstatement of capital punishment and oppose its use under any new or old state or federal law, and call for an immediate end to planned executions throughout this country.

We urge American Baptists in every state to act as advocates against the passage of new death penalty laws, and to act individually and in concert with others to prevent executions from being carried out.

We appeal to the governors of each state where an execution is pending to act with statesmanship and courage by commuting to life imprisonment without parole all capital cases within their jurisdiction.

American Baptist Churches in the USA

Valley Forge, Pennsylvania 1982


American Friends Service Committee

The American Friends Service Committee reaffirms its opposition to the death penalty. We base our stand on the Quaker belief that every person has a value in the eyes of God and on Quaker testimonies against the taking of human life.

The US Supreme Court decisions of July 1976 rejected the major constitutional arguments against the death penalty, which had stopped executions in the U.S.A. in the previous decade. These decisions denied that execution is cruel and unusual punishment, citing the passage of death laws by a majority of the states in recent years as evidence that the public does not consider execution to be cruel and unusual. In our view, alleged public support for capital punishment does not diminish the cruelty nor warrant the taking of human life.

The Supreme Court agrees that there is no conclusive evidence that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to crime. It recognized that the continuing demand for capital punishment is in part a manifestation of a desire for retribution. We find it particularly shocking that the Supreme Court would give credence to retribution as a basis for law.

Punishment by death is inflicted most often upon the poor, and particularly upon racial minorities, who do not have the means to defend themselves that are available to wealthier offenders. A minority person convicted of a capital offense is much more likely to pay the extreme penalty than a white person convicted of the same crime. Discretion as to whether to execute continues under the Supreme Courts guidelines, and minority persons will continue to be victims of this discretion. The Supreme Court in its 1976 decision ignores this reality.

The grossly disproportionate number of nonwhites sentenced to be executed and the continuing demand for the death penalty indicate that the death penalty may constitute an outlet for acknowledged racist attitudes. This outlet is now legally sanctioned, but is nonetheless morally unacceptable.

The death penalty is especially abhorrent because it assumes an infallibility in the process of determining guilt. Persons later found to have been innocent have been executed. This will happen again when killing by the state begins anew.

It is bad enough that murder or other capital crimes are committed in the first place and our sympathies lie most strongly with the victims. But the death penalty restores no victim to life and only compounds the wrong committed in the first place.

We affirm that there is no justification for taking the life of any man or woman for any reason.


American Jewish Committee

The American Jewish Committee, adopted at the 66th Annual Meeting, May 6, 1972

WHEREAS capital punishment degrades and brutalizes the society which practices it; and

WHEREAS those who seek to retain the death penalty have failed to establish its deterrent effect or to recognize the fallibility of criminal justice institutions; and

WHEREAS capital punishment has too often been discriminatory in its application and is increasingly being rejected by civilized peoples throughout the world; and

WHEREAS we agree that the death penalty is cruel, unjust and incompatible with the dignity and self respect of man;

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the American Jewish Committee be recorded as favoring the abolition of the death penalty.


Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Resolution Concerning Opposition to the Use of the Death Penalty

WHEREAS, there is currently a significant rise in the number of executions of convicted murderers throughout the United States, and

WHEREAS, public opinion polls suggest that a majority of the American public favor capital punishment for the purpose of deterring crime or for the purpose of retribution for violent acts, and

WHEREAS, the Holy Scriptures clearly mandate that we are not to kill, we are not to render evil for evil, and that we are not to seek retribution with vengeance for the evil done to us, and

WHEREAS, the use of execution to punish criminal acts does not allow for repentance or restitution of the criminal, and

WHEREAS, well documented research clearly shows that capital punishment does not deter crime but may even give sanction to its climate of violence in our society, and

WHEREAS the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) meeting in conventions and General Assemblies has consistently approved resolutions that oppose capital punishment (1957 - F11, 1962 - #43, 1973 - #44, and 1975 - #34);

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) meeting in General Assembly in Des Moines, Iowa, expresses its opposition to the use of the death penalty in the criminal justice system of the United States of America and its various states, and calls for the repeal of all laws and statutes that permit its usage.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that every congregation of the Christian Church be encouraged to utilize educational materials at every possible occasion to facilitate thoughtful discussion regarding the use of capital punishment, that each congregation in those states which have capital punishment statutes contact any elected legislator who is a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) making them aware of current statutes that permit the use of the death penalty, that those congregations communicate to their own Governor their encouragement and personal support of the Governor's use of his/her sentence to life imprisonment should an execution become imminent; and that all appropriate systems of influence be utilized to repeal all federal statutes which permit capital punishment.


Christian Reformed Church in North America

Given that human life is sacred, that the magistrate is fallible, that time for repentance is desirable, and that imprisonment will normally satisfy the demand for justice, we conclude that, though judicial executions may sometimes be divinely sanctioned and in society's best interest, it is not desirable that capital punishment be routinely inflicted upon persons guilty of murder in the first degree. Only under exceptional circumstances should the state resort to capital punishment.

Decisions of the Synod of 1981 re Capital Punishment
The synod declares that:
    1. Modern states are not obligated by Scriptures, creed, or principle to institute and practice capital punishment.
    2. The Scriptures acknowledge the right of modern states to institute capital punishment.
    3. The Scriptures require that if capital punishment is exercised, it be exercised only with the utmost restraint.
  1. That synod urges the members of the church, working as individuals and through appropriate organizations, to renounce all motives of revenge, and to encourage their respective governments to adopt criminal justice systems in keeping with the scriptural principles presented in this report.
  2. The synod refers the report and the guidelines it contains to the churches for study and guidance.

Church of the Brethren

Annual Conference, 1959

"We commend current efforts to abolish capital puinishment and call upon Brethren everywhere to use their influence and their witness against it"

Annual Conference, 1975

(The following statement is part of a much larger paper on "Criminal Justice." It is included in a section of recommendations entitled "Reforming the System.")

"...Brethren are encouraged to work for the following changes: that the use of capital punishment be abolished."

General Board, 1979

The Church of the Brethren General Board view with deep concern and alarm the resumption of the use of capital punishment. We affirm the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference Statements of 1957, 1959, and 1975 which uphold the sanctity of human life and personality, oppose the use of capital punishment, and encourage Brethren to work for the abolition of the death penalty.

We encourage Brethren to express their opposition to capital punishment, especially to governors and state legislators in states where capital puinishment has been established or is being considered.

We deplore the taking of human life, whether by the hand of an individual or through the working of the judicial system. We pray, in the spirit of Jesus Christ who calls us to share his ministry of reconciliation, that our society will turn away from the use of capital punishment.

Annual Conference, 1987

The following excerpts are from a position statement which affirms the brethren's opposition to the death penalty and undergirds it by examining the biblical and theological basis as well as practical and social issues involved.

"The death penalty only continues the spiral of violence. Jesus said, 'You have heard that it was said, "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil, but if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.' (Matt. 5:38-39). Do we not believe this to be true? The only real way to deter further violence is to cease our claim to a 'life for a life,' to recognize that life and death decisions belong to God, and to seek mercy and redemption of God's lost children."

"In a broader sense, we Christians must lead the United States in a total commitment to nonviolence as public policy. All violent systems, structures, and ideologies should be challenged at their very core."

"Jesus came with a message of redemption and compassion for life, while the death penalty carries a message of condemnation and death."


Episcopal Church

Statement of the 1979 General Convention

WHEREAS, the 1958 General Convention of the Episcopal Church opposed capital punishment on a theological basis that the life of an individual is of infinite worth in the sight of Almighty God; and the taking of such a human life falls within the providence of Almighty God and not within the right of Man; and

WHEREAS, this opposition to capital punishment was reaffirmed at the General Convention of 1969; and

WHEREAS, a preponderance of religious bodies continue to oppose capital punishment as contrary to the concept of Christian love as revealed in the New Testament; and

WHEREAS, we are witnessing a reemergence of this practice as a social policy in many states; and

WHEREAS, the institutionalized taking of human life prevents the fulfillment of Christian commitment to seek the redemption and reconciliation of the offender; and

WHEREAS, there are incarceration alternatives for those who are too dangerous to be set free in society; therefore be it

RESOLVED, the House of Bishops concurring, that this 66th General Convention of the Episcopal Church reaffirms its opposition to capital punishment and calls on the dioceses and members of this church to work actively to abolish the death penalty in their states; and be it further

RESOLVED, the House of Bishops concurring, that the 66th General Convention instruct the Secretary of the General Convention to notify the several governors of the states of our action.


General Conference Mennonite Church

In view of our Christian responsibility to give witness to the righteousness which God requires of all men, we are constrained to set forth our convictions concerning capital punishment.

OUR BELIEF

Since Christ through His redemptive work has fulfilled the requirement of the death penalty, and has given the church a ministry of reconciliation, and in view of the injustice and ineffectiveness of capital punishment as a means for the achievement of the purpose of government, we express our conviction that its use should be discontinued. In view of the prophetic commission given to the church, therefore, we appeal to the Parliament of the Dominion of Canada and to the federal and state governments of the United States, to discontinue the use of the death penalty and to set rehabilitation as the ultimate goal in the treatment of the criminal, expressing a positive attitude to the offender, thus further encouraging the peace and order which under the lordship of Christ the state is commissioned to provide.

OUR CONFESSION AND OUR PRAYER

In view of our responsibility as ministers of reconciliation we confess that we have not adequately fulfilled our obligation to work for the abolition of capital punishment or for the reduction of crime in our society. We need to be more faithful in serving persons in prison and in laboring for the reform of prison procedures; for the rehabilitation of released prisoners; and for the improvement of the economic, social, and religious conditions which contribute to the making of juvenile offenders and to the spread of crime. We pray that in our brotherhood the Spirit may deepen each member's conviction and understanding of his obligations to individual criminal offenders, to the government under which he lives, and to Christ. And we pray that God may grant us wisdom, vision, and courage that as a brotherhood we may engage in this ministry as the Holy Spirit gives us direction.

General Conference Mennonite Church
722 Main Street
Box 347
Newton, Kansas 67114-0347


Friends United Meeting

Friends accept the Biblical teachings that every human life is valuable in the sight of God, that man need not remain in his sinful state but can repent and be saved, that God loves the sinner and takes "no pleasure in the death of the wicked," but longs "that the wicked turn from his way and live." (Ezekial 22:11)

We oppose capital punishment because it violates the gospel we proclaim, and promotes the evils of vengeance and injustice through the agencies of government intended to advance righteousness and justice. We believe the Christian way to deal with crime is to seek the redemption and rehabilitation of the offender, promote penal reform and work more diligently at the task of preventing crime.

As capital punishment is abolished, we recognize that society must be protected against release from prison of those unredeemed spiritual life, or whose condition of mental or physical health, would endanger others.

We look with favor upon the renewed efforts in our time to abolish capital punishment, urge our members individually, and our Monthly and Yearly Meetings to unite with others in the task for removing the death penalty from the statute books of the various states, provinces, and central or fedral governments, and the United Nations.

Friends United Meeting
101 Quaker Hill Drive
Richmond, Indiana, 47374
Newton, Kansas 67114-0347


Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

A Climate of Violence

Violent crime is as ancient as the human family. Since Cain slew Abel, the blood of countless victims has cried out to the Lord (Gen 4:10). Our hearts, too, cry out to the Lord who gives life. We grieve with the family and friends of the victim--the violated one.

Violent crime has a powerful, corrosive effect on society. Bonds of trust, the very assumptions that allow us to live our lives in security and peace, break down. Instead of loving, we fear our neighbor. We especially fear the stranger.

The human community is saddened by violence, and angered by the injustice involved. We want to hold accountable those who violate life, who violate society. Our sadness and anger, however, make us vulnerable to feelings of revenge. Our frustration with the complex problems contributing to violence may make us long for simple solutions.

Such are the circumstances under which we, as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, speak to the death penalty. At the request of a number of congregations to synod assemblies, and in response to the memorials of those synods, the 1989 Churchwide Assembly placed the issue of the death penalty on the church's social agenda. Discussions on the death penalty then took place in local churches and at synodical and regional hearings.

Points of View

Members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have different points of view with regard to social issues.[2] While the Spirit makes us one in our faith in the Gospel, we can and do vary in our responses to the Gospel.

While we all look to the Word of God and bring our reason to the death penalty issue, we can and do assess it with some diversity. Social statements of our church do not intend to end such diversity by 'binding' members to a particular position.[3] Social statements acknowledge diversity and address members in their Christian freedom.

This church has not finished its deliberation on the death penalty. Members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America continue the deliberation, upholding together the authority of Scripture, creeds, and confessions; the value of God-given life; and the commitment to serve God's justice. Members continue their discussion, knowing they have in common the goals of justice, peace, and order.

As a church united in resistance to hate (Luke 6:27), we minister to an often vengeful society. As a Church united in joy over the good news of God's healing grace, we minister to a battered society. As a church heeding the call to do justice (Jer 22:3), we minister to a broken society. As a church united for mission, we organize for ministries of restoration.

An Affirmation

On the basis of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions we hold that, through the divine activity of the Law, God preserves creation, orders society, and promotes justice in a broken world. God works through the state and other structures of society necessary for life in the present age.[4]

The state is responsible under God for the protection of its citizens and the maintenance of justice and public order. God entrusts the state with power to take human life when failure to do so constitutes a clear danger to society.

However, this does not mean that governments have an unlimited right to take life. Nor does it mean that governments must punish crime by death. We increasingly question whether the death penalty has been and can be administered justly.

Ministries of Restoration

Lutheran theological tradition has maintained that society is ruled by the Law and is influenced and nourished by the Gospel. Renewed by the Gospel, Christians, as salt of the earth (Mat 5:13) [5] and light of the world (Mat 5:14), [6] are called to respond to violent crime in the restorative way taught by Jesus (Mat 5:38-39) [7] and shown by his actions (John 8:3-11). [8]

For the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, following Jesus leads to a commitment to restorative justice. This commitment means addressing the hurt of each person whose life has been touched by violent crime. Restorative justice makes the community safer for all.

It is because of this church's ministry with and to people affected by violent crime that we oppose the death penalty. Executions focus on the convicted murderer, providing very little for the victim's family or anyone else whose life has been touched by the crime. Capital punishment focuses on retribution, sometimes reflecting a spirit of vengeance. Executions do not restore broken society and can actually work counter to restoration.

This church recognizes the need to protect society from people who endanger that society: removing offenders from the general population, placing them in a secure facility, and denying them the possibility of committing further crime (i.e., incapacitating them). Our challenge is to incapacitate offenders in a manner that limits violence, and holds open the possibility of conversion and restoration.

Doing Justice

Christians live in anticipation of the day when "justice roll[s] down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream" (Amos 5:24). In the meantime, God holds governments accountable to ensure justice. In a democracy, where government is by the people, justice is the responsibility of all citizens.

Violent crime is, in part, a reminder of human failure to ensure justice for all members of society. [9] People often respond to violent crime as though it were exclusively a matter of the criminal's individual failure. The death penalty exacts and symbolizes the ultimate personal retribution.

Yet, capital punishment makes no provable impact on the breeding grounds of violent crime. [10] Executions harm society by mirroring and reinforcing existing injustice. The death penalty distracts us from our work toward a just society. It deforms our response to violence at the individual, familial, institutional, and systemic levels. It perpetuates cycles of violence.

It is because of this church's commitment to justice that we oppose the death penalty. Lutheran Christians have called for an assault on the root causes of violent crime, [11] an assault for which executions are no substitute. The ongoing controversy surrounding the death penalty shows the weaknesses of its justifications. We would be a better society by joining the many nations that have already abolished capital punishment.

Executions in the United States

Despite attempts to provide legal safeguards, the death penalty has not been and cannot be made fair. The race of the victim plays a role in who is sentenced to death and who is sentenced to life imprisonment, [12] as do the gender, race, mental capacity, age, and affluence of the accused. The system cannot be made perfect, for biases, prejudices, and chance affect whom we charge with a capital crime, what verdict we reach, and whether appeals will be successful.

Since human beings are fallible, the innocent have been executed in the past and will inevitably be executed in the future. Death is a different punishment from any other; the execution of an innocent person is a mistake we cannot correct.

It is because of this church's concern regarding the actual use of the death penalty that we oppose its imposition. The practice of the death penalty undermines any possible moral message we might want to 'send.' It is not fair and fails to make society better or safer. The message conveyed by an execution, reflected in the attention it receives from the public, is one of brutality and violence. [13]

Commitments of This Church

As a community gathered in faith, as a community dispersed in daily life, as a community of moral deliberation, and as a church body organized for mission, this church directs its attention to violent crime and the people whose lives have been touched by it.

As a community gathered in faith:

 

* we welcome victims of violent crime and their families, standing with them and for them during their times of grief and anger;
* we welcome offenders and their families, supporting them in their recovery;
* we welcome partnership with faith communities within the correctional system, joining them in ministries of restoration;
* we welcome people who work in criminal justice and their families, recognizing the special burden that accompanies such work.

As a community dispersed in daily life:

* we continue to offer ministries of healing and reconciliation to victims of violent crime, to families of victims, and to neighborhoods that have experienced violence;
* we recognize and affirm ministries by those who, in word and action, announce the good news to the imprisoned and their families;
* we encourage the ministries conducted by people through their work in the criminal justice system;
* we seek further opportunity to serve people caught in cycles of violence, and call for training to respond to the fear and anger of individuals, families, and society.

As a community of moral deliberation:

* we invite and encourage moral deliberation on the causes and effects of criminal behavior, the function of punishment, and the role of the criminal justice system--a deliberation grounded in Scripture and informed by reason and knowledge, including the social sciences;
* we shall discuss criminal justice in connection with other issues of concern to this church, such as racism, poverty, abuse, and chemical dependency;
* we ask that available resource materials be distributed, and that a resource specific to the present statement be developed, printed, and distributed.

As a church organized for mission:

* we recognize that the government bears responsibility for protecting people, and give it our support in the exercise of this function;

* we commend public officials, and others, who shape the vision of a just society and work toward it;
* we know the Church is called by God to be a creative critic of the social order, and to speak on behalf of justice, peace, and order;
* we urge the abolition of the death penalty, and support alternative and appropriate punishment for capital crime, including the possibility of life sentence without parole;
* we call for an ongoing reform of the criminal justice system, seeking means of incapacitation that protect citizens while limiting violence and holding open the possibilities for conversion and restoration, and for education for future responsible citizenship in society;
* we direct state public policy offices and the Lutheran Office for Governmental Affairs to work against the death penalty and for alternative and appropriate punishment for capital crime, such as imprisonment for natural life;
* we ask congregations, synods, agencies, and institutions of this church to support the work of state advocacy offices and the Lutheran Office for Governmental Affairs in effecting the abolition of the death penalty;
* we seek ways to work with our ecumenical partners, with other faith groups, and with other organizations with similar goals.

NOTES

1. This social practice statement was adopted by a majority of more than two-thirds of the assembly. Social practice statements "focus on policy guidelines for the ELCA's responsibility in society. They are especially important in defining and developing priorities and directives for this church's advocacy and corporate social responsibility practices. In their use as teaching documents, their authority is persuasive, not coercive" ("Social Statements in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America," adopted by the 1989 Churchwide Assembly).

2. The following are issues reviewed during churchwide deliberation on the death penalty. They are offered here as a summary of points of view presented in the course of developing this statement. Members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America should be aware of them and may find some of them helpful for further discussion.

In Favor of the Death Penalty

Those who support the use of the death penalty often do so on the basis of Scripture, especially "you shall give life for life" (Exod 21:23b) and "let every person be subject to the governing authorities . . . for the authority does not bear the sword in vain" (Rom 13:1-7; cf., 1Pet 2:13-14).

Proponents of the death penalty remind us that the Lutheran tradition has stressed the scriptural distinction between Law and Gospel, maintaining the right of the state under the realm of Law to punish evildoers.

Those who would retain the death penalty testify to the value of the life God has given and the murderer has taken; they assert the value of the victim's life by demanding the offender's death.

Supporters of the death penalty feel it makes society safer by permanently incapacitating convicted murderers.

Proponents argue that states have written death penalty statutes limiting the risk of error and meeting standards set by the United States Supreme Court.

Advocates of the death penalty claim it to have a deterrent effect, causing would be murderers to hesitate before taking actions that could result in the loss of their own lives.

In Opposition to the Death Penalty

Those who oppose the death penalty often do so on the basis of Scripture, arguing that Jesus in his teaching abolished the death penalty in the Law (Mat 5:38-39, assuming the Sermon on the Mount applies not only to Christians but to all peoples) and by example (John 8:3-11).

Opponents of the death penalty note from Scripture and the confessions that God ordained government for the sake of good order, and oppose a practice they believe to be violent, unjust, and, therefore, contrary to good order.

Those who would abolish the death penalty observe that executions violate the sanctity of the offender's life, which God has given and which God values despite the repulsiveness of what the offender has done.

Opponents claim the state need not implement the death penalty to incapacitate safely those who threaten society, as attested by the international movement away from the death penalty and toward alternative and effective means of incapacitation.

Those who would abolish the death penalty assert that it continues to fall disproportionately upon those least able to defend themselves, and to run the risk of an irreparable mistake.

Arguing against the death penalty, people point to the unlikelihood of proving that the death penalty has a deterrent effect, and note that executions contribute to a climate of vindictiveness and violence.

3. For more on social statements, see "Social Statements in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America" (full reference at note 1).

4. "The Church in Society: A Lutheran Perspective," adopted by the 1991 Churchwide Assembly.

5. "You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot."

6. "You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid."

7. "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also."

8. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She said, "No one, sir." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again." (On restoration, see also Mat 5:(21-22) 23-24; Rom 12:19-21; 1Thess 5:15; 1Pet 2:23.)

9. "In Pursuit of Justice and Dignity: Society, the Offender, and Systems of Correction," adopted by the Lutheran Church in America (1972).

10. The body of research on deterrent effect indicates, at best, conflicting evidence. Many proponents of the death penalty have abandoned the deterrence theory altogether, and argue for the death penalty on the basis of incapacitation or just retribution. Many opponents claim the death penalty stimulates crime, a claim for which there is also conflicting evidence.

11. "Capital Punishment," adopted by the Lutheran Church in America (1966) urged "the continued development of a massive assault on those social conditions, which breed hostility toward society and disrespect for the law." "Capital Punishment," adopted by The American Lutheran Church (1972) called for "the correction of conditions, which contribute to crime."

12. The United States Supreme Court, in McCleskey v. Kemp (1987), acknowledged the findings of the David Baldus study in Georgia, which showed that the murderer of a white victim was more likely to receive a death sentence than the murderer of an African American. The implication--that a white life is considered more valuable than an African American life in the criminal justice system--has been of concern to the United States Congress in the drafting of racial justice legislation.

13. William J. Bowers and Glen J. Pierce, "Deterrence or Brutalization: What is the Effect of Executions?" in Crime and Delinquency 26 (1980), 453-484


The Moravian Church, Northern Province, North America

"Resolved that the Northern Province of the Moravian Church in North America put itself on record that the members of the Moravian Church be urged to work for the abolition of the death penalty."

The Moravian Church
1021 Center Street
P.O. Box 1245
Bethlehem, PA 18016-1245


National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A

In 1968 the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. declared its opposition to capital punishment, reasoning that "economically poor defendants, particularly members of racial minorities, are more likely to be executed than others because they cannot afford exhaustive legal defenses." In 1976 the NCC reasserted "the conviction expressed in the policy statement of 1968 that the death penalty is wrong," observing that "the ultimate sanction continues to fall more heavily on minorities and those who cannot afford extensive legal defense." In 1979 the NCC again acted against capital punishment, asserting that "the penalty of death should not be imposed, in any case, on anyperson as punishment for wrong-doing, nor be part of any state or federal penal code." In its agenda for action it called for the revision "of criminal codes and their application to exclude race, class, and sex bias - including ... the abolition of capital punishment." At the governing board meeting in May, 1987, the Commision on Justice and Liberation brough an issue paper on "Racism and the Dath Penalty" to the Unity and Relationships Cluster and distributed Amnesty International's report, United States of America, the Death Penalty, to the full governing board in order to bring new visibility to the issue.

Many member communions have adopted policies in opposition to the death penalty and have further been involved in the the efforts of the National Coalition to Abolish the Deth Penalty to eliminate state-sanctioned executions in the United States.

There are at present 2,048 men and women on the death rows of 34 states; nearly half of them are people of color. Forty-five of the 98 people executed in between 1977 (when executions resumed in the United States after a ten-year moratorium) and April 1988 were Black or Hispanic; 84 of the 99 victims were white, and no whites were executed for killing a minority person.* In 1987 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in , that the statistical evidence of racial bias against Black defendants and against those whose victims were white is not a violation of the 8th or 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and that racial disparities were not sufficient to render the law unconstitutional.

Legislation to provide for the review of elements of racial injustice in capital sentencing was introduced in 1988 in the United States House of Representatives.** Among other features, the proposed legilation makes it unlawful to impose of implement a death sentence in a racially discriminatory manner and establishes the level of proof required to make a claim of discrimination. It also requires states to maintain data on the charging, disposition, and sentencing patterns for all cases of death-eligible crimes. While work goes forward on a number of strategies for entirely eliminating the imposition of death sentences, this legislation is viewed as an appropriate interim remedy, although not a solution, to the injustice of state-sanctioned executions.

In light of its long-standing opposition to capital punishment, and recognizing the necessity for making incremental efforts to eliminate the death penalty, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. reaffirms its opposition to the death penalty and supports legislation that seeks to eliminate racially biased sentencing. It requests the General Secretary to communicate the concerns of this resolution to members of the United States Congress.

National Council of the Churches also calls upon its member communions, and local and regional ecumenical bodies, to:

inform themselves on the current efforts to abolish the death penalty in the United States, and to encourage members to support the passage of this specific legislation as an interim remedy;

communicate their support of this legislation to elected representatives in the United States Congress and in their individual states; use a variety of other channels of communication to interpret the concerns expressed in this resolution to those beyond the church community; participate in the work of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and its religious-community working group. The National Council of the Churches further expressses its poastoral concern for victims of crimes, for those who are under death sentences and their families, and for all those whose lives are affected by crime and the criminal justice system.

*Data from NAACP Legal Defencse and Educational Fund, Inc., May 1, 1988.
**H.R. 4442, the Racial Justice Act.
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.
475 Riverside Drive
New York, NY 10115


Presbyterian Church

Whereas, the 171st General Assembly (United Presbyterian Church-1959) declared that "capital punishment cannot be condoned by an interpretation of the Bible based upon the revelation of God's love in Jesus Christ ... " and "The use of the death penalty tends to brutalize the society that condones it"; the 177th General Assembly (UPC-1965) called for the abolition of the death penalty; the 106th General Assembly (Presbyterian Church U.S - 1966) proclaimed itself against the death penalty; and the 189th General Assembly (UPC-1977) called upon members to work to prevent executions of persons under sentence of death, to work against efforts to reinstate death penalty statutes, and to work for alternatives to capital punsihment; and

Whereas, we believe that the government's use of death as an instrument of justice places the state in the role of God, who alone is sovereign; and

Whereas, the use of the death penalty in a representative democracy places citizens in the role of executioner: "Christians cannot isolate themselves from corporate responsibility, including responsibility for every execution, as well as for every victim" (UPC-1977); and

Whereas, since between July 2, 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Gregg v. Georgia that capital punishment does not invariably violate the Constitution," and September 30, 1984, 38 states have approved death penalty statutes and have executed 26 persons; and

Whereas, there are presently over 1,400 persons on death row in the U.S., many of whose rights of appeal are rapidly running out:

Therefore, the 197th General Assembly (1985);

Reaffirms the positions of the General Assemblies of the United Presbyterian Church of 1959, 1965, and 1977, and of the Presbyterian Church U.S. of 1966, and declares its continuing opposition to capital punishment.

Calls upon governing bodies and members to work for the abolition of the death penalty in those states which currently have capital punishment statutes, and against efforts to reinstate such statures in those which do not.

Urges continuing study of issues related to capital punishment and commends the use of resources available from the Presbyterian Criminal Justice Program.

Requests the Stated Clerk to notify the President and Congress of the United States, and all the state governors and legislatures, of the action taken.

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
100 Witherspoon Street
Louisville, KY 40202


Reformed Church in America

That in light of the following reasons this General Synod go on record as opposing the retention of capital punishment as an instrument of justice within our several states, encouraging forward looking study in all areas related to criminology; supporting all efforts to improve our penal institutions, crime prevention agencies and policy procedures, and efforts being made to secure provision of adequate staff and budget for prisons, parole boards, and similar institutions:

1.Capital punishment is incompatible with the spirit of Christ and the ethic of love.
2.Capital punishment is of doubtful value as a deterrent.
3.Capital punishment results in inequities in application.
4.Capital punishment is a method to irremediable mistakes.
5.Capital punishment ignores corporate and community guilt.
6.Capital punishment perpetuates the concepts of vengeance and retalitation.
7.Capital punishment ignores the entire concept of rehabilitation.

The Christian faith should be concerned not with retribution, but with redemption.

Reformed Church in America
475 Riverside Drive, 18th Floor
New York, NY 10115


Unitarian Universalist Association

WHEREAS, General Assemblies to the Unitarian Universalist Association have opposed capital punishment by Resolution in 1961, 1966, and 1974; and

WHEREAS, the aforementioned Resolutions have urged complete abolition of capital punishment as inconsistent with respect for human life; for its retributive, discriminatory, and non-deterrent character; and opposed its restoration or continuance in any form; and

WHEREAS, the State of Florida has declared its intent to proceed with the executions of those under capital sentence in Florida prisons, numbering more than one hundred, and having begun with the execution of John Spenkelink on May 26, 1979; and

WHEREAS, the Florida example may be precedent for a new wave of capital punishment in numerous other states;

BE IT RESOLVED: That the General Assembly urges governors of all other states similarly to commute death sentences and to prevent the restoration or continuance of capital punishment; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED: That the General Assembly urges governors of all other states similarly to commute death sentences and to prevent restoration or continuance of capital punishment

Unitarian Universalist Association
25 Beacon Stree
Boston, MA 02108


United Church of Christ

WHEREAS the Seventh, Ninth, and Eleventh General Synods of the United Church of Christ have declared their opposition to the death penalty as a means of restorative justice; and

WHEREAS such opposition is based on our understanding of the Christian Faith and the New Testament call to redemption, love, mercy, and sanctity of life; and

WHEREAS the death penalty has been reinstated in thirty-five states resulting in 520 people being confined to death row - 132 of whom reside in the Florida State Prison; and

WHEREAS it has been demonstrated that the death penalty is applied discriminately toward Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans; and

WHEREAS executions have been resumed recently in Florida; and

WHEREAS we are concerned about possible executions of hundreds of persons in this nation over the next few years; therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED that the Twelfth General Synod of the Unidted Church of Christ reaffirm opposition to the death penalty, and that it call its brother-in-Christ and United Church of Christ member, the Governor of Florida, to cease the authorization of additional executions in Florida, and further call upon governors of all states to refrain from the authorization of executions.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Twelfth General Synod instruct its President to continue to try to communicate directly with the Governor of Florida on its behalf expressing deep pastoral concern and moral anguish over the Governor's role in inspiring the resumption of executions in this country; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that all General Synod delegates and visitors from those states wherein the death penalty currently exists be encouraged to petition their governors and state legislators to reconsider and review those existing statutes which legalize the killing of human beings; and

BE IT ALSO FURTHER RESOLVED that the Twelfth General Synod recognize the faliure of our Church to affect the moral climate of this nation on this matter where polls indicate a majority of the people both endorse and support capital punishment; and that it enable its instrumentalities and agencies to develop additional resources needed to educate and organize the UCC constituency on this issue; and that the Conferences be encouraged to assist local churches and individual members of the United Church of Christ to engage in serious ethical reflection and prayer-guided action toward the eradication of legalized execution and the creation of a more just and humane society. We will continue to offer our prayers on behalf of our brothers-in-Christ and our brothers and sisters on death row in hopes we may end further legalized killing.

United Church of Christ
105 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016


United Methodist Church

In spite of a common assumption to the contrary, "an eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth," does not give justification for the imposing of the penalty of death. Jesus explicitly repudiated the lex talionis (Matthew 5:38-39) and the talmud denies its literal meaning, replacing it with financial indemnities.

When a woman was brought before Jesus, having committed a crime for which the death penalty was commonly imposed, our Lord so persisted in questioning the moral authority of those who were ready to conduct the execution, that they finally dismissed te charges (John 8:31).

The Social Principles of the United Methodist Church condemns " ... torture of persons by governments for any purpose," and asserts that it violates Christian teachings. The church also through its Social Principles further declares, "we oppose capital punishment and urge its elimination from all criminal codes."

After a moratorium of a full decade, the use of the death penalty in the United States has resumed. Other Western nations have largely abolished it during the 20th century. But a rapidly rising rate of crime and an even greater increase in the fear of crime has generated support within the American society for the institution of death as the punishment for certain forms of homicide. It is now being asserted, as it often was in the past, that capital punishment would deter criminals and would protect law-abiding citizens.

The United States Supreme Court, in Gregg v. Georgia, in permitting the use of the death penalty, conceded the lack of evidence that it reduced violent crime, but then permitted its use for purposes of sheer retribution.

The United Methodist church cannot accept retribution or social vengeance as a reason for taking human life. It violates our deepest belief in God as the creator and redeemer of humankind. In this respect, there can be no assertion that human life can be taken humanely by the state. Indeed, in the long run, the use of the death penalty by the state will increase the acceptance of revenge in our society and will give official sanction to a climate of violence. The United Methodist Church is deeply concerned about the present high rate of crime in the United States, and about the value of a life taken in murder or homicide. By taking anouther life through capital punishment, the life of the victim is further devalued. Moreover, the church is convinced that the use of the death penalty would result in neither a net reduction of crime in general nor in a lessening of the particular kinds of crime against which it was directed. Homicide - the crime for which the death penalty has been used almost exclusively in recent decades - increased far less that other major crimes during the period of the moratorium. Progressively rigorous scientific studies, conducted over more that forty years, overwhelmingly failed to support the thesis that capital punishment deters homicide more effectively than does imprisonment. The most careful comparison of homicide rates in similar states with and without use of the death penalty and also of the same state in periods with and without it have found as many or slightly more criminal homicides without the use of the death penalty.

The death penalty also falls unfairly and unequally upon an outcast minority. Recent methods for selecting the few persons sentenced to die form among the larger number who are convicted for comparable offenses have not cured the arbitrariness and discrimination that have historically marked the administration of capital punishment in this country.

The United Methodist Church declares its opposition to the retention and use capital punishment in any form or carried out by any means; the church urges the abolition of capital punishment.

The United Methodist Church
Board of Outreach and Society
100 Maryland Avenue, N.E.
Washington, DC 20002


U.S Catholic Conference

The use of the death penalty involves deep moral and religious questions as well as political and legal issues. In 1974, out of a commitment to the value and dignity of human life, the Catholic bishops of the United States declared their opposition to capital punishment. We continue to support this position in the belief that a return to the use of the death penalty can only lead to the further erosion of respect for life in our society.

Violent crime in our society is a serious matter which should not be ignored. We do not challenge society's right to punish the serious and violent offender, nor do we wish to debate the merits of the arguments concerning this right. Past history, however, shows that the death penalty in its application has been discriminatory with respect to the disadvantaged, the indigent and the socially impoverished. Furthermore, recent data from corrections resources definately question the effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent to crime.

We are deeply troubled by the legislative efforts being undertaken under the guise of humanitarian concern to permit execution by lethal injection. Such a practice merely seeks to conceal the reality of cruel and unusual punishment. We find this practice unacceptable.

The critical question for the Christian is how we can best foster respect for life, preserve the dignity of the human person and manifest the redemptive message of Christ. We do not believe that more deaths are the response to the question. We therefore have to seek methods of dealing with violent crime which are more consistent with the Gospel's vision of respect for life, and Christ's message of God's healing love. In the sight of God, correction of the offender has taken preference over punishment, for the Lord came to save and not to condemn.

U.S. Catholic Conference
Committee on Social Development and World Peace
1312 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20005