By Stephen Dear, March 2016

Like everything, ending the death penalty involves forging relationships, relationships for repeal in your faith community and in your local community, relationships for repeal with your local policy makers. 

A Few Things to Keep in Mind

Imagine your prayers becoming reality. People all over your community and your state are waiting for you to help them help you realize your shared hopes and prayers, turning vision into reality, for abolition.

It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the challenges of organizing for abolition. It’s life and death, after all. Consider how you can keep in this work for the long haul. Take care of yourself. Maintain and respect boundaries. Reflect on how the death penalty is a question of the soul as well as one of public policy. Pray for abolition privately and encourage such communal prayers in your congregation.

As you pursue working for abolition and you encounter other groups, remember that your involvement stems from your belonging to a faith community with a particular language and understanding of the issues around the death penalty. Speak from your experience and impart your language and understanding to others.

It's the 2010s. Gone are the days when we at PFADP would be asking you to focus mostly on reactive actions such as trying to stop pending executions, lobby against expansions of the death penalty, and so on, as important as they still are in some states. Today, the end of the death penalty is coming into sight. Executions and death sentences have fallen sharply. Most death sentences lately come from only a few counties in the United States. Today, the bill for repeal in your state legislature is as likely to be co-sponsored by conservative legislators as progressive ones. This is where you come in. 

Understand that to work for abolition of the death penalty you do not have to be an expert. You just have to have care. You just have to feel it and go from there.

You have more power than you think. As you work for abolition more and more, your sense of empowerment should grow. As you work with others, rooted in your faith and beliefs, share your growing sense of empowerment with them. Get others to do, and you will empower them. Like everything, working for abolition is all about relationships. That’s what these suggestions are based on – building relationships.

Make it fun!

There is hope… and we will win.


The death penalty persisted in large part because many politicians still hold on to the myth that opposing it will hurt their political careers. As more and more states vote to repeal it, that myth has for a long time been empty. So: Call your state representative and senator's offices. Ask to set up a brief meeting either at their legislative office or in your town. Keep it to 15 minutes. 

Lobbying your elected officials is one of the most important actions you can take to end the death penalty. Don’t let the idea of sharing your thoughts with your elected representatives make you feel uncomfortable. You are likely to know more about the death penalty than they do. Learn the fundamentals of how a bill becomes law. Your legislature’s Web site probably has such a description. Your state death penalty group or PFADP can help. Get three or four friends or community leaders, make an appointment, and meet. Be friendly and keep it brief and remember: Be friendly and keep it brief. Listen. Don’t go beyond 15 minutes. Follow up with a thank-you letter and any information to help the legislator understand where you are coming from. Meet again in 90 days. And again 90 days after that. Help your legislator know that you represent constituents who want their vote for repeal. Share what you experienced with your state repeal campaign group and with PFADP; we will all love you for it.

Then have the same kinds of meetings with your local prosecutor, sheriff, and mayor. Ask your prosecutor to come out in favor of repeal. Ask your sheriff to do the same. Ask your mayor to support a resolution for repeal from your town. 

Letters should be brief (fewer than 250 words) and include your name, address, and telephone number. Editors prefer e-mail letters if you have that option. Meet with your local newspaper editors and encourage them to editorialize for repeal more. 

Announce scheduled executions and the protests against them in your congregation's bulletin. Pass this alert along to anyone you know who would be willing to help.

If you would like to organize a protest, an interfaith vigil or prayer service in your community before a scheduled execution, PFADP can assist you with liturgies and publicity. Contact info (at) pfadp (dot) org or (919) 933-7567. 

Remember victims of murder and their families and those on death row in your and your congregation's prayers.