Advocacy for Social Justice: The Death Penalty and our Lenten Journey

3/7/2013

The Death Penalty and our Lenten Journey

As we continue our Lenten journey toward Easter, our disciplines of penitence, reflection, devotion and self-denial seem oddly juxtaposed against the backdrop of the present Legislative session progressing rapidly around and within the State House in Montgomery. Within these halls, countless decisions are made daily with substantial implications for justice. Select decisions are chosen to receive significant notice, while most others are allowed to pass with little fanfare. Certainly, there are many hotly debated decisions before the Alabama Legislature worthy of our attention this session and in many cases considerable effort is being exerted to ensure transparency and honesty is maintained around these pivotal issues.

What of the cursory decisions expedience and efficiency demand be made almost automatically? Could it be that within this indomitable slate of bills filed each session justice is hidden in words on pages haphazardly brushed aside? Issues of upmost importance given hardly a passing glance as the status quo is maintained with all vigilance.

Year after year, bills that would attempt to inject justice and humanity into Alabama’s capital punishment system or repeal it entirely have met this fate with almost mechanical certainty; year after year, Alabama’s machine of state sanctioned killing has continued largely undeterred.

The season of Lent urges us to contemplate of our own mortality, “dust you are and to dust you shall return”. We are all merely earthen vessels, and we will all inevitably, one day be returned to the earth. Yet, within each of us emanates the essence of the Divine; into formless dust our Creator breathed His eternal presence. A gift of incomprehensible worth entrusted into jars made of little more than water and clay; life made sacred in its earliest moment by the will of its Creator.

Over 50 years ago, an acceptance of all human life as sacred, compelled the General Conference to proclaim,

“When governments implement the death penalty (capital punishment), then the life of the convicted person is devalued and all possibility of change in that person’s life ends.

We believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and that the possibility of reconciliation with Christ comes through repentance. This gift of reconciliation is offered to all individuals without exception and gives all life new dignity and sacredness.

For this reason, we oppose the death penalty (capital punishment) and urge its elimination from all criminal codes.”

From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church - 2012. Copyright 2012 by The United Methodist Publishing House.

Each subsequent General Conference has chosen to reaffirm this position and it persists within the Social Principles as the official doctrine of the United Methodist Church regarding capital punishment.

In spite of years past, in just over a week, as Methodists, we will be granted the opportunity to uphold this position, joining our voices with those over the last 50 years to proclaim repentance and reconciliation as a more powerful force than vengeance. On March 13th, for the first time, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing to address the capital punishment reform and abolition bills.

Senate Bill (SB) 30 would completely repeal the death penalty for all crimes. SB31 would bring Alabama in line with a 2002 US Supreme Court ruling and exclude those with “mental retardation” from being eligible to be executed and establish standards for this determination to be made. SB32 would end the practice known as “Judicial Override” which allows a trial judge to ignore the recommendation of the jury during the sentencing phase of a trial, a practice unique to Alabama in its application. SB33 would impose a 3 year moratorium on executions, during which an in-depth study could be performed to identify inconsistencies and specific injustices and ascertain if these might be remedied through various reform measures. SB34 would also bring Alabama in line with precedent established by the US Supreme Court prohibiting the execution of minors.

Over the last decade a clear shift has taken place in public opinion as support for, and use of, capital punishment has waned across the country. To date, 17 states have repealed statutes allowing executions and Maryland is expected to become the 18th state within mere weeks. As it stands, it is unlikely that Alabama will join the repeal states this year, however, the March 13th public hearing presents a prime opportunity for the witness of Methodists across the state of Alabama to proclaim the reality expressed by The Social Principles. All life is truly sacred and any action which devalues the Divine nature which rests in the soul of each person stands defiantly in the opposition to the restorative work accomplished by the resurrection of Christ.

What Now?

  • First, we must reconcile our personal perception of capital punishment with the position expressed by The Discipline.
     
  • Second, we have the opportunity to express our individual support for abolition by writing letters to legislators, letters to the editor and by furthering the conversation with fellow Alabamians and Methodists. – This is of particular importance as we prepare for the March 13th hearing.
     
  • A third possible response calls us to remember the individuals on death row as fellow human beings and seek ways to be active participants in Christ’s redemptive work as it relates to these, our brothers and sisters.

Lives truly depend upon our response to this issue. Will you be Christ’s voice for them?

For more information about Alabama’s death penalty visit:

To learn about how you can make your voice heard at the March 13th hearing, email brandon@micahshouse.com

Brandon Fountain
East Lake United Methodist Church

 

The Advocacy for Social Justice Blog is produced by the North Alabama Conference Advocacy for Social Justice Team to help people think about justice issues through the lens of faith. It is intended to be a place where United Methodists can listen and learn from each other with mutual respect and understanding. (For the purpose of this blog see the the post “The work of justice is the work of the church”.) Please join the conversation by adding your comment below. If you have an idea for a blog topic or would like to make a submission to the Advocacy for Social Justice Blog please contact the Team Convenor Rev. R.G. Wilson-Lyons at rg.lyons@umcna.org.


comments powered by Disqus
Discover, Develop and Deploy Spiritual Leaders to Make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.