5 Reasons Christians Should Oppose the Death Penalty

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As the pandemic continues to spiral out of control, it has consumed news media making little to no room for the fact that the US Justice Department has executed 3 men in the past couple of weeks. In the state of Tennessee, executions resumed in 2018 and has since executed 7 people. This inhuman and barbaric punishment continues to be swept under the rug and ignored while many Christians and Christian political leaders still cling to the practice. But this practice, though complex and complicated by the trauma experienced by surviving murder victims’ families, goes against the fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith.

Here are 5 reasons Christians Should Oppose the Death Penalty:

  1. Christians believe that life overcomes death. Christians hold to the resurrection story of a Savior that overcomes death – a Savior that was sentenced to death and executed on a Roman Cross. We will never know the suffering of the victims of murder, but we can offer needed support to their families and community in the journey towards healing and wholeness without the death penalty. We must ask the questions: Does death bring life? Does death bring healing? 
  2. Jesus was executed by the state. The gospels tell us the story of the death of Christ as one that was among criminals. His trial before Pilate ended with a conviction and a sentence of death – all decisions made by the state. Crucifixion, being nailed to a cross and later suffocating, was a state sanctioned death. Our Savior was on death row. Our Savior was sentenced to the death penalty where he would die, but rise again. This issue is a part of our Christian narrative and faith.
  3. The death penalty is a tool of white supremacy and racism. A person’s race and the race of the victim has a strong impact on a sentence which is itself a sin. According to Equal Justice Initiative, a direct line can be drawn from slavery, to lynching, right up to today’s use of the death penalty. More than 80% of American lynchings between 1889-1918 took place in the South, the same region where 80% of executions have occurred since 1971. This is no coincidence. People of color are more likely to be sentenced to the death penalty especially if the victim is white. The Death Penalty Information Center states, “Earlier in the twentieth century when it was applied for the crime of rape, 89 percent of the executions involved black defendants, most for the rape of a white woman. In the modern era, when executions have been carried out exclusively for murder, 75 percent of the cases involve the murder of white victims, even though blacks and whites are about equally likely to be victims of murder.”
  4. It is financially irresponsible. The death penalty costs a significant amount of resources. Trials, appeals, and retrials add up to extreme price tags that take money away from genuine restorative practices needed in our criminal justice systems. These finances can fund programming that promotes humane treatment and a wholistic approach to justice
  5. Notorious for killing innocent people. Since 1973, 170 individuals have been released from death row across the nation after evidence of their innocence was finally considered. Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty says that factors leading to wrongful convictions include: inadequate defense, police and prosecutorial misconduct, perjured testimony and mistaken eyewitness testimony, tainted jailhouse testimony, suppression of mitigating evidence and misinterpretation of evidence, death qualified juries, and lack of or unreliable eyewitness testimony. In the context of Christianity, Christ was wrongfully charged and sentenced to death. 

Resources used to compile this JustList by Unbound:
Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
Death Penalty Information Center
Equal Justice Initiative
Presbyterian Church USA policy, “Resolution on Restorative Justice”
Presbyterian Church USA policy, “Moratorium on Capital Punishment”
Death Penalty Laws by State

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