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Statements On Capital Punishment by Religious Organizations

  Introduction

American Friends Service Committee

American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.

American Ethical Union

The American Jewish Committee

Amnesty International

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Christian Reformed Church in North America

Church of the Brethren

Church Women United

The Episcopal Church

Fellowship of Reconciliation

Friends Committee on National Legislation

Friends United Meeting

The General Association of General Baptists

General Conference Mennonite Church

Lutheran Church in America

Mennonite Central Committee U.S.

The Mennonite Church

The Moravian Church

National Board YWCA of the U.S.A.

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

The Orthodox Church in America

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Reformed Church in America

Unitarian Universalist Association

United Church of Christ

United Methodist Church

U.S. Catholic Conference

 

Introduction

The Death Penalty: The Religious Community Calls for Abolition

Listen to the voices of contemporary prophets:

To continue a search for fair and equal justice through retribution and deterrence can only increase public demand for continued escalation and severity of punishment. This in the long term will increase the sense of meanness and violence in our total society. With the influence of our nation's religious leaders, we could hopefully turn away from severity of punishment as a panacea for reducing crime and violence. As a humane and caring people, we could then concentrate on developing a range of punishments which neither cripple nor destroy.

(Milton G. Rector, President Emeritus, National Council on Crime and Delinquency, in the introduction to Punishment: In the Scripture and Tradition of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.)

The first, and the final, challenges to punishment should be on religious grounds. The rationale we build in the case against punishment and in the case for restoration and reconciliation will come only out of the prayerful probing by the people of faith - prayerful probing into their Scripture, their tradition ' their personal intuitions and convictions and, last but not least, the guidance of the Spirit.

(The Rev. Virginia Mackey, author of Punishment: In the Scripture and Tradition of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.)

Those words were written about the general concept of punishment in the United States criminal justice system. How much more do they apply to the ultimate punishment, the death penalty! And thus how much more deeply do they apply to, and challenge, the religious community and its responsibility to address the issue of capital punishment!

And that challenge has been accepted. Prophets in the wider religious community have been speaking in their own forums and councils and assemblies. New statements by some have emerged as people of faith speak out on subjects they had not addressed in the past. Some statements have been revised as people of faith reassess what they have said in the past and reshape their policies to present realities.

Those present realities are stark: since capital punishment was reinstituted in the United States in 1976 after a ten-year moratorium, more than a hundred people have been executed and more than 2,100 men and women are on death row. Nearly half of them are people of color; a large number are on death row because they could not afford adequate representation at trial; nearly all are poor; many are suffering from a variety of significant mental problems; almost all were victims of abuse as children; a number were minors at the time of their offense. This nation is spending millions of dollars on the processes related to capital punishment - and virtually nothing on care for victims or other ways toward restoration and reconciliation of community.

The religious community is called to become aware of these realities. We must take leadership in abolishing capital punishment if we are to be true to our religious heritage. The education and advocacy statements in this booklet are tools for our awareness and leadership. We pray you will use them for action.

Robert R. Bryan, Esq., Chairperson

National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
Rev. Kathy Lancaster, Chairperson
National Interreligious Task Force on Criminal Justice

October 15,1988

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American Friends Service Committee

Statement on the Death Penalty

November, 1976

The American Friends Service Committee reaffirms its opposition to the death penalty. We base our stand on the Quaker belief that every person has 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 Court's 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 it is nonetheless morally unacceptable.

The death penalty is especially abhorrent because it assumes n infallibility in the process of determining guilt. Persons later und to have been innocent have been executed. This will append 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 Friends Service Committee

1501 Cherry Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19102

 
 

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American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.

Resolution on Capital Punishment

Passed by the General Board of the American Baptist Churches, June 1977

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 con of capital punishment.

Now that the death laws in some states have been upheld, over 400 persons nationwide face possible execution by hanging, firing squad, asphyxiation, or electrocution. Such punishment has been abolished in Canada and most of Europe, where it is seen as morally unacceptable and a form of cruel and unusual punishment inconsistent with religious and/or ethical traditions.

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 within 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 t 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 19482

 
 

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American Ethical Union

Resolution on Capital Punishment

American Ethical Union, adopted September 17, 1976

The American Ethical Union is unalterably opposed to capital punishment. The willful taking of human life is cruel and inhuman punishment and violates our belief in the intrinsic worth of every human being. It is wholly unacceptable, whether imposed to prevent repetition of a crime by an individual, as a deterrent to others, or as social retribution.

The American Ethical Union therefore calls for the abolition of capital punishment. Where the death penalty now prevails, it urges state legislatures to enact statutes abolishing it. States which do not now impose capital punishment are strongly urged not to enact (or reenact) enabling legislation.

Further, the American Ethical Union encourages its members to work toward these ends in their own states.

American Ethical Union

2 West 64th Street
New York, New York 10023

 

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The American Jewish Committee

Statement on Capital Punishment

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.

The American Jewish Committee

165 E. 56th Street
New York, New York 10022

 

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Amnesty International

Against the Death Penalty

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without reservation. This is part of the total work of the organization whose activities are focused on prisoners:

It seeks the release of prisoners of conscience. These are people detained anywhere for their beliefs, color, sex, ethnic origin, language or religion, who have not used or advocated violence.

It works for fair and prompt trials for al.1 political prisoners and on behalf of such people detained without charge or trial.

Þ It opposes the death penalty and torture or other cruel inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of all prisoners without reservation.

A Violation of Humane Standards

All international human rights declarations, conventions and covenants stipulate that everyone has the "right to life, liberty and security of person."

The official position of the United Nations General Assembly is that in the case of executions imposed by law it is desirable to abolish the death penalty in all countries and that the crimes to which it applies should be progressively reduced.

The international human rights standards that have been adopted by the United Nations and by regional organizations since 1948 prohibit all forms of "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

Amnesty International seeks the abolition of the death penalty on the grounds that it is a punishment that is incompatible with these humanitarian standards. Amnesty International opposes executions under all circumstances whether they are to be carried out in political or criminal cases, whether they result from judicial proceedings or whether they take the form of extra-judicial killings, unexplained disappearances or political murders.

The Death Penalty in Practice

Amnesty International most frequently encounters the death penalty in three instances:

- the execution by law of political dissenters or people convicted of political offenses;

- the execution of political figures or ordinary citizens taking place entirely outside the framework of the rule of law. The killings may be the work of the state security forces or of opposition or pro-government death squads;

-the execution of criminals convicted of violent crimes (in some countries economic and sexual offenses also carry this penalty).

As a method of attempting to eliminate political dissent the use of the death penalty is abhorrent. As a method of protecting society from crime, it has nowhere been shown to have a special deterrent effect.

The brutal suppression of minority groups or social or political movements frequently contributes to political instability, with both government and opposition resorting to violence in order to achieve their objectives or assert their control. In this context both judicial executions and arbitrary killings often precipitate reprisals and add to a legacy of resentment, intolerance and social conflict.

Not a Special Deterrent

In the case of societies faced with the need to combat violent crime, including acts of terrorism, Amnesty International is not aware of any convincing evidence that the use of the death penalty has a special deterrent effect.

Comparisons of crime rates in different countries that have retained or abolished the death penalty do not indicate that the threat of execution has been effective in preventing capital crimes.

Studies on the death penalty indicate that changes in crime rates depend on many factors apart from the existence or use of the death penalty. The fear of death, in itself, does not appear to prevent individuals from committing capital crimes any more than does acquaintance with the victim. European and North American studies, for example, indicate that the majority of murders take place among members of the same family, friends or acquaintances; most take place in the heat of passion. On examination it can be seen that the assailants gave no thought to

the consequences of violent acts, much less to possible penalties.

Unequal, Unjust and Irreversible

Historically the death penalty as a judicial punishment has been seen to bear unequally and unjustly on the poor. on minorities and on oppressed groups within the population.

The vulnerability of all criminal justice systems to discrimination and error must be taken into account. Human factors such as expediency, the exercise of discretion and the influence of public opinions can affect each stage of legal proceedings from indictment through trial and sentencing to punishment and the possible granting of clemency.

In cases where a full medical report is essential, the access of the defendant - and the court - to impartial and professional psychiatric and medical services may vary from individual to individual, depending on the ability to secure such services, and from country to country, depending on the existence and quality of such services under different economic conditions.

When the ability to obtain good legal representation becomes one of the most important factors in determining the outcome of a trial, questions of race, class and poverty can have a considerable effect upon the administration of justice. The wealthy, the politically well-connected and members of dominant racial and religious groups are far less likely to be sentenced to death and even less likely to be executed for offenses of comparable severity than are the poor, supporters of the political opposition and members of unpopular racial or religious groups.

The possibility of judicial error, for whatever reason, assumes even greater importance in cases involving capital crimes because the death penalty is the irreversible punishment. Because it is irreversible the death penalty has always been recognized as qualitatively different from all other forms of punishment. Once carried out it can never be corrected. The imposition of the death penalty negates modern concepts of penology which are based on the theory that rehabilitation of the individual criminal is possible.

The full meaning of the irreversibility of the punishment is underlined in countries that make a practice of condemning political dissenters to death. Imposition of the death penalty in such cases can amount to the carrying out of government policy by courts which are unlikely to have judicial independence. The political crimes for which the death penalty may be imposed under such circumstances can be defined in such a way that virtually any political activity inconsistent with government policy becomes a capital offense.

Amnesty International

322 8th Avenue
New York, NY 1 0001

 

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Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Resolution Concerning Opposition to the Use of the Death Penalty

ADOPTED by the General Assembly - 1985

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 violent crime but may even give sanction to a 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 - Fll, 1962 -#43, 1973 - #44, and 1975 - #34);

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) meeting in General Assembly at Des Moines, Iowa express 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 to 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 statues 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 Church

(Disciples of Christ)
222 South Downey Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46219

 

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Christian Reformed Church in North America

Capital Punishment

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 be 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

1. The synod declare that:

a. Modern states are not obligated by Scriptures creed or principle to institute and practice capital punishment.

b. The Scriptures acknowledge the right of modern states to institute and practice capital punishment.

c. The Scriptures require that if capital punishment is exercised, it be exercised only with utmost restraint.

2. That synod urge 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.

3. The synod refer the report and the guidelines it contains to the churches for study and guidance.

The Christian Reformed Church

2850 Kalamazoo Avenue, S.E.
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49508

 

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Church of the Brethren

Statements on Capital Punishment

Annual Conference, 1959

"We commend current efforts to abolish capital punishment 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 longer 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 views 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 punishment 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 a 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 underlines it by examining 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."

Church of the Brethren

1451 Dundee Avenue
Elgin, Illinois 60120

 

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Church Women United

Capital Punishment

1. Abolition of Capital Punishment (1981)

WHEREAS, Church Women United cannot accept retribution or social vengeance as a reason for taking human life, because it violates our deepest belief in God as the Creator and the Redeemer of humankind.

WHEREAS, although Church Women United is deeply concerned about the present high rate of crime in the United States, and about the value of the life taken in murder or homicide, we also believe the life of the victim is further devalued by the taking of another life as punishment.

WHEREAS Church Women United is convinced that the nation's leaders should give attention to the improvement of the total criminal justice system and to the elimination of social conditions which breed and cause disorder, rather than fostering a false confidence in the effectiveness of the death penalty;

THEREFORE, Church Women United declares its opposition to the retention and use of capital punishment in any form or carried out by any means; we urge the abolition of capital punishment.

FURTHER, the members of the Executive Committee council are urged to write or wire their Senators urging them to oppose the reinstatement of the death penalty in any form.

2. Against the Death Penalty (1985)

It was VOTED: That Church Women United affirms the public witness in Atlanta, affirming the decision of the United States Supreme Court, upholding the value of life.

Church Women United

475 Riverside Drive
New York, New York 101 15

 

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The Episcopal Church

Capital Punishment

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 the 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 this 66th General Convention instruct the Secretary of General Convention to notify the several governors of the states of our action.

The Episcopal Church

815 Second Avenue
New York, New York 10017

 

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Fellowship of Reconciliation

An Appeal to End All Executions

Until 1977, there had been no execution in the United States since 1967. The ritual taking of human 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, gas, or electrocutions. But there is strong and growing opposition to capital punishment, which has been abolished in Canada and most of Europe. It is seen as morally unacceptable and a form of "Cruel and unusual punishment," in contradiction to our religious and ethical traditions and the U.S. Constitution.

The Fellow-ship of Reconciliation and its members are among those who condemn its reinstatement, oppose its use under any and every state or federal law, and call for an end to executions.

The Death Penalty Discriminates

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 within our society and the inequity with which the ultimate penalty is applied. Persons of wealth, status, and education are favored by the realities of our legal system. They enjoy the benefits of able counsel and rarely suffer severe penalties. As the United Church of Christ has observed, the death penalty "has been found to discriminate on the basis of color and economic condition." This alone is sufficient reason for opposing it as immoral and unjust.

We Seek Restoration, Not Retribution

As people of religious and ethical conscience, we seek the restoration and renewal of wrong-doers, not their deaths. Capital punishment makes it possible for human error or prejudice to send innocent persons to their deaths. It eliminates forever the healing possibility of human love and respect. Penal history provides us with examples of innocent persons falsely condemned.

Our Judeo-Christian heritage affirms that for the state to assume the power of absolute judgment is to assume a power that belongs only to God.

The U.S. Supreme Court has noted that there is no conclusive evidence that the death penalty acts as a deterrent.

Capital crimes are often impulsive and unplanned, and neither the presence of the death penalty nor the frequency of execution have been shown to have any significant effect on homicide It serves no purpose in the effort to control crime, and m ??seen as the most brutal, irrational kind of revenge. In the words of the Michigan Catholic Conference, "it is clear that the root causes of crime lie within society itself and their effects will not be eliminated by an act of retribution."

The Value of Life is Cheapened

In this regard, we are especially concerned with what the death penalty does to the society that inflicts it. As the United Presbyterian Church has declared, "The use of the death penalty tends to brutalize the society that condones it." In denying the humanity of those we put to death - even those guilty of the most terrible crimes - we deny our own humanity, and life is further cheapened. Nothing is achieved by taking one more life, adding one more victim. By inflicting lethal punishment, society descends to the level of violence and cruelty that it rejects in criminal behavior. We must set an example based on values of compassion, decency, and reconciliation.

We Call for Ecumenical Action

In October 1976, the National Council of Churches called for effective ecumenical action to stop the "avalanche of legal slaughter." Many other peace, religious, human and civil rights groups have called for the abolition of capital punishment. We join our voices with theirs, in the spirit of the prophet Ezekiel: "As I live, says the Lord God, I have no desire for the death of the wicked. I would rather that a wicked man should mend his ways and live." (33:11)

We Appeal to State Governors

We appeal to individuals of conscience to act to prevent the passage of new death penalty laws on the state or federal level, and to intervene to prevent current death laws from being carried out. We call on local, state, and national religious bodies to speak out against capital punishment, and urge the commutation of all death sentences.

We appeal, specifically, to the governors of each state to act with statesmanship and courage by granting clemency in all capital cases without their jurisdiction. To uphold the value of human life and the ideal of justice founded on wisdom and decency, we say to all Americans: end all executions.

Fellowship of Reconciliation

Box 271
Nyack, New York 10960

 

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Friends Committee on National Legislation

Criminal Justice

(Taken from Statement of Legislative Policy dated November 14, 1987)

The objective of criminal law and the criminal justice system should be to promote fair and equitable dealings among individuals in the society, and to prevent violence and destruction. To this end, the criminal justice system should deal fairly with offender, victim, and community by providing equitable and prompt adjudication, effective education, training, or treatment for those convicted, and restitution for the victims of crime. Crime prevention programs must address the complex and pervasive causes of crime, which are often rooted in social and economic injustice. We recommend:

Þ Effective policies and programs for prevention and treatment of juvenile delinquency and crime

Þ Full legal services for those who cannot afford them

Þ Reconciliation of criminal and victim whenever feasible

Þ Enforcement of laws against white-collar crimes, such as perjury, embezzlement, and bribery, with the same degree of vigor as the enforcement of other criminal laws

We seek the abolition of capital punishment, because it violates the sacredness of human life and our belief in the human capacity for change. It is also clear that this irreversible penalty cannot be applied equitably and without error.

Friends Committee on National Legislation

245 Second Street, N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002

 

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Friends United Meeting

Statement of Capital Punishment

Approved at Five Years Meeting of Friends, July 21, 1960.

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." (Ezekiel 22:11.)

We oppose capital punishment because it violates the gospel 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 physical or mental 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 federal governments, and the United Nations.

Friends United Meeting

101 Quaker Hill Drive
Richmond, Indiana 47374

 

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The General Association of General Baptists

Crime and Punishment

Approved by the 1975 General Association.

We believe that it is the duty of governmental agencies to establish and maintain police forces, courts and facilities for the punishment and rehabilitation of offenders. Citizens should be protected from those who would encroach upon personal and property rights. We respect the basic freedom and rights of persons convicted of crimes, but demand their just penalty as directed by impartial jury and law. We support governmental objectives to prevent or reduce crime, and also oppose social conditions that induce crime. We assert that it is the Christian social concern and objective to develop effective means of rehabilitation for those involved in crime. We believe that a part of the mission of the church is to share the message of Christ with those people so they may be restored, rescued, reinstated and rehabilitated as persons profitable to God and society. Views differ among us and laws differ among states concerning the death penalty. Christians must use prayer and the word of God to arrive at a decision on the rightness or wrongness of the death penalty.

The General Association

of General Baptists
100 Stinson Drive
Poplar Bluff, MO 63901

 

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General Conference Mennonite Church

Capital Punishment

The position on capital punishment of the General Conference Mennonite Church as adopted at Estes Park, Colorado, July 16, 1965.

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 obligation 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

 

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Lutheran Church in America

Statement on Capital Punishment

(The following statement is given the status of historical document by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and as with our predecessor documents is now used as guidance until new documents have been developed)

Adopted by the third Biennial Convention, Kansas City, Missouri, June 21-29, 1966.

Within recent years, there has been throughout North America a marked increased in the intensity of debate on the question of abolishing the death penalty. This situation has been accompanied by the actual abolition of capital punishment in ten states and two dependencies of the United States, qualified abolition in three states, and in six states a cessation in the use of the death penalty since 1955. Although the issue of abolition has been widely debated in Canada in recent years, a free vote in Parliament on April 5, 1966, failed to end the legality of the death sentence. However, during the last two years or more, death sentences in Canada have been consistently commuted.

These developments have been accompanied by increased attention to the social and psychological causes of crime, the search for improve methods of crime prevention and law enforcement, efforts at revising the penal code and judicial process, and pressure for more adequate methods in the rehabilitation of convicted criminals. There has been a concurrent concern for persons who, because of ethnic or economic status, are seriously hampered in defending themselves in criminal proceedings. It has been increasingly recognized that the socially disadvantaged are forced to bear a double burden: intolerable conditions of life which render them especially vulnerable to forces that incite to crime and the denial of equal justice through adequate defense.

In seeking to make a responsible judgment on the question of capital punishment, the following considerations must be taken into account:

1. The Right of the State to Take Life

The biblical and confessional witness asserts that the state is responsible under God for the protection of its citizens and the maintenance of justice and public order. For the exercise of its mandate, the state has been entrusted by God with the power to take human life when the failure to do so constitutes a clear danger to the civil community. The possession of this power is not, however, to be interpreted as a command from God that death shall necessarily be employed in punishment for crime. On the other hand, a decision on the part of civil governments to abolish the death penalty is not to be construed as a repudiation of the inherent power of the state to take life in the exercise of its divine mandate.

2. Human Rights and Equality Before the Law

The state is commanded by God to wield its power for the sake of freedom, order, and justice. The employment of the death penalty at present is a clear misuse of this mandate because (a) it falls disproportionately upon those least able to defend themselves, (b) it makes irrevocable any miscarriage of justice, and (c) it ends the possibility of restoring the convicted person to effective and productive citizenship.

3. The Invalidity of the Deterrence Theory

Insights from both criminal psychology and the social cause of crime indicate the impossibility of demonstrating a deterrent value in capital punishment. Contemporary studies show no pronounced difference in the rate of murders and other crimes of violence between states in the United States which impose capital punishment and those bordering on them which do not.

In light of the above considerations, the Lutheran Church in America:

Þ Urges the abolition of capital punishment;

Þ Urges the members of its congregations in those places where capital punishment is still a legal penalty to encourage their legislation to abolish it;

Þ Urges citizens everywhere to work with persistence for the improvement of the total system of criminal justice, concerning themselves with adequate appropriations, the improve administration of courts and sentencing practices, adequate probation and parole resources, better penal and correctional institutions, and intensified study of delinquency and crime;

Þ Urges the continued development of a massive assault on those social conditions which breed hostility toward society and disrespect for the law.

(The following paragraph is part of the much longer social statement, "In Pursuit of justice and Dignity: Society, the Offender, and Systems of Correction.")

Adopted by the Sixth Biennial Convention, Dallas, Texas, June 30-July 6, 1972.

In keeping with the social statement, "Capital Punishment," adopted in 1966, the church should work for abolition of capital punishment or oppose its reinstatement where it has been suspended.

Lutheran Church in America

ATTN: Church and Society
231 Madison Avenue
New York, New York 10016
(212) 696-6700
 

Evangelical Lutheran Church

ATTN: Dr. Jerry Folk
8765 West Higgins Road
Chicago, Illinois 60631
(312) 380-2710

 

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Mennonite Central Committee U.S.

Death Penalty

Adopted U.S. Peace Section meeting - December 4, 1982

Movement on both state and federal levels to reinstate and activate the death penalty provides an opportunity and an obligation for the religious community to witness against the use of such punishment as a response to violent crime in our nation. Christ's teachings of love and forgiveness, as well as a recognition of past failures in dealing with capital offenders, guide us to believe that punishment by death is both unproductive and a violation of principle.

We therefore call upon the State to eliminate all death statutes as a means of imposing punishment. We call for the immediate end to planned executions throughout this country. We urge that our society instead look toward constructive alternatives that address the situations of both victims and offenders.

Christian Teaching and Anabaptist Models

The basis for our beliefs comes directly from the Bible. Through the Old as well as New Testaments runs a theme that stresses the sacredness of human life because people are made in the image of God. Thus God's abhorrence of murder is made clear early on. While some allowance for capital punishment is made in the Old Testament, it is modified even there by cities of refuge to which the guilty can flee and by frequent reminders that "vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord."

In the New Testament, the sacrificial expiation of guilt for murder, which was required in the Old Testament, is now met by Christ's death. The cross now abolishes any Old Testament basis for capital punishment. In addition, the teachings of Jesus about revenge and turning the other cheek instruct us to love others despite their wrongs (Matthew 5:30-56). When Christ himself was executed, he set a model response by his dying words: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." And when confronted directly with the question of what to do in a capital case in his own society' Christ responded, "if any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone" (John 8). Christ's model of love, forgiveness and reconciliation does not leave room for the penalty of death.

There has been a long history among Mennonites and Brethren in Christ of objecting to state-sanctioned killings. Our 16th-century Anabaptist heritage emphasizes obedience to Christ, including a reverence for life, and speaks specifically against the use of capital punishment. Menno Simons declared, ". . . it would hardly become a true ruler to shed blood ... if the transgressor should truly repent before his God and be reborn of Him he would then also be a chosen saint and a child of God ... if he remains impenitent, and his life be taken, one would unmercifully rob him of the time of repentance of which, in case his life were spared, he might yet avail himself."

Simonís point is still relevant. If murderers repent and are converted, then like we who have sinned and deserve death (Romans 3:23, 6:23) but have our own penalty of death remitted, they too must be forgiven. If they have not repented, the opportunity for such repentance must not be cut off from them.

Capital Punishment is Ineffective

The major utilitarian argument advanced for capital punishment is that the execution of violent offenders may deter other potential offenders from committing violent acts. Yet the most sophisticated studies have not been able to establish a deterrent effect. If capital punishment is a deterrent, its effect is so minuscule that even the most sophisticated techniques have not been able to measure it. We do not believe that society has the moral right to take so serious a step as ending human life for such a minute and questionable effect.

In fact, it has long been recognized that capital punishment may have the opposite effect upon certain would-be offenders. Numerous studies suggest that some potential offenders may in fact be incited to commit a murder by the example of the death penalty. One study suggests that an execution of an offender may actually cause several additional homicides.

Deterrence theory assumes that potential murderers rationally calculate costs and benefits before committing a violent crime. However, most murders are committed in moments of extreme anger or passion and/or by persons who are psychologically abnormal. A majority involve family members or close acquaintances. Most are hardly situations in which costs and benefits are weighed.

Capital Punishment is Inequitable

Since the Supreme Court handed down its decision in 1972 stating that the current death laws were discriminatory to minorities and the disadvantaged, many states as well as the federal government have sought to reinstate death penalty statutes that eliminate discrimination. The complex and discretionary nature of the criminal justice process, however, makes attainment of the goal highly unlikely. Mny states have reinstated the death penalty and a dramatic number of men and women now await execution. In spite of legal guidelines against discrimination, most of those currently on death row are the poor, the minorities and the uneducated.

Capital Punishment is Irreversible

Neither due process protections nor jury attempts to weigh various mitigating and aggravating factors provide an adequate safeguard against mistaken verdicts. History shows a disturbing number of instances where the innocent have been convicted and even executed. Convictions of innocent persons have been documented as late as 1978. Even with elaborate safeguards, innocent persons may be executed. The taking of human life is far too serious an act to contemplate when there is any possibility of error.

Capital Punishment is Inhumane

It can be argued that the taking of human life is itself an inhumane act. Beyond that, human suffering on death row has been described as a kind of "living death."

America's treatment of serious, violent criminals does not compare favorably to other western nations. The United States is the only nation in North America with the death penalty. The European Parliament has adopted a resolution against member nations extending the death penalty. France, once noted for its liberal application of the guillotine, has abolished capital punishment. Thus virtually all of western Europe is without a death law. At the same time, more authoritarian governments like Iran and South Africa retain active death statutes.

Alternatives

We believe the Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches must act to enhance respect for human life, and that this cannot be done through executions. We recognize the seriousness and emotion with which this issue is considered by many Americans.

We also recognize the difficulty of any simple answers to the issues of violent crimes. In this spirit, the MCC U.S. Peace Section affirms the following directions for alternatives to capital punishment that are aimed at the removal of underlying causes of violence.

1. We must work for a more equitable and just society. The poor and minorities historically have received little understanding and attention. Many crimes step from the needs and frustrations of the poor and their despair and hopelessness. We cannot be satisfied when one part of our society lives comfortably while another part goes hungry. Our most pressing need for today is to work for improvement of the quality of life by addressing poverty, inequality and racial discrimination. This is essential if we are to curb our nation's violence.

We actively seek a nonviolent society. The unrestricted sale of handguns has been a main source of perpetuating violent crime. The focus upon violence in our society through television and militarism has contributed. We will seek to make government more accountable by calling upon it to pass laws restricting the sale and possession of handguns. We identify society's acceptance of corporate violence, institutionalized in national policy and capability for fighting nuclear war, as a taproot of individual violence, and we renounce it.

3. We acknowledge the need to restrain violent offenders and recognize that any alternative to the death penalty will involve such restraint. We urge that that restraint, however, be under more humans conditions which leave room for human growth and change.

4. We wish increasingly to remember the needs of the victim. Often the victim of violent crime becomes victimized once more when society turns its back on the frustration and hurt that the victim faces. We need to broaden our sensitivity to include the affirmation of life of the victim and family as well. If the victim is dead, we will not kill again to show that killing is wrong, nor do we believe that the mating of such vengeance in the long run meets real victim needs, but we urge society to take victims' needs more seriously.

5. We believe that true justice is created through restitution and reconciliation, not retribution. We seek to open avenues for such responses to happen, not just simply with property offenses but with violent offenses as well.

We oppose the death penalty because it violates the teaching and spirit of Jesus Christ. It does not deter crime. It is inevitably inequitable, irreversible and inhumane. In its place we affirm restitution and reconciliation, nonviolence, aid to victims and improvements of social conditions.

Mennonite Central Committee
U.S. Peace Section
21 South 12th Street
Akron, PA 17501

 

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The Mennonite Church

Statement on Capital Punishment

Adopted August, 1965, Kidren, Ohio

In view of the prophetic commission given to the church as set forth in two recent statements of Mennonite General Conference, A Declaration of Christian Faith and Commitment with Respect to Peace, War, and Nonresistance (1951), and The Christian Witness to the State (1961); in view of the sanctity of human life: and in view of our redemptive concern for the offender, be it

RESOLVED That 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 that we refer to our conferences and congregations for study and discussion of the paper, "A Christian Declaration on Capital Punishment," as prepared by the Peace Problems Committee.

In view of our responsibility as ministers of reconciliation, be it further

RESOLVED That we confess that we have not adequately fulfilled our obligation to the offender nor for the reduction of crime in our society. We need to be more faithful in bringing a Christian witness to persons in prison and in laboring for the reform of prison procedures, for the rehabilitation of released prisoners and for the correction of spiritual, economic, and social 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 obligation 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.

The Mennonite Church

528 E. Madison Street
Lombard, Illinois 60148

 

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The Moravian Church

Capital Punishment

Adopted by the Synod, 1961

"Resolved, that the Northern Province of the Moravian Church in North America put itself on record as being opposed to capital punishment and 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, Pennsylvania 18016-1245

 

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National Board YWCA of the U.S.A.

"SOCIAL JUSTICE"

The YWCA has traditionally been concerned with social justice and places a high value on human life. As one of the ways of manifesting this concern we support:

The abolition of capital punishment."

National Board YWCA of the U.S.A.

726 Broadway
New York, New York 10003

 

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

Resolution Opposing Capital Punishment and Racism in Sentencing

Adopted by the Governing Board, May 26, 1988

In 1968 the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. declared its opposition to capital punishment, reasoning in part 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 any person as punishment for wrong-doing, nor be a 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 Commission on justice and Liberation brought an Issue Paper on "Racism and the Death 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 efforts of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty to eliminate state-sanctioned executions in the United States.

There are at present 2,048 men a6d women on the death rows of 34 states; nearly half of them are people of color. Forty-five of the 98 people executed 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 McCieskey v.Kemp, 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 State House of Representatives.** Among other features, the proposed legislation makes it unlawful to impose or 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 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.

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

1. 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;
2. Communicate their support of this legislation to elected representatives in the United States Congress and in their individual states;

3. Use a variety of other channels of communication to interpret the concerns expressed in this resolution to those beyond the church community;

4. Participate in the work of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and its religious-community working group.
The National Council of Churches further expresses its pastoral concern for victims of crimes, for those who are under death sentences and their families, and for all whose lives are effected by crime and the criminal justice system.

*Data from NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., May 1, 1988.

**H.R.4442, the Racial Justice Act.

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

475 Riverside Drive

New York, New York 101 15
 

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The Orthodox Church in America

Resolution on the Death Penalty

August, 1989

WHEREAS Orthodox Christians should be called to go beyond the political, social, and legal issues raised by capital punishment and recognize and address the deeper moral, ethical, and religious questions of the supreme value of human life in a manner consistent with our opposition to abortion and mercy killing, and in all such questions involving life and death the Church must always champion life; and

WHEREAS in an effort to further the respect for all human life and to witness to the redemptive nature of the Gospel of Jesus Christ who Himself prevented the legal execution of a woman (John 8:3-1 1) and realizing that premature death resulting from the application of the death penalty can prevent the rehabilitation, reconciliation, and redemption of the offender; and

WHEREAS, while we recognize the necessity to punish those guilty of violent crime, we also recognize that there is no humane way to execute a human being;

BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Ninth All-American Council of the Orthodox Church in America supports the abolition of the death penalty in this and all countries and does urge our elected and appointed officials in those states where prisoners are still executed to introduce and support appropriate legislation aimed at abolishing the death penalty;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT this Council requests all governors of states where the death penalty is still in force to halt all further executions according to the power of their office, but that legislative provisions be made for life imprisonment without possibility of parole for those subject to the death penalty;

FINALLY, BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the Ninth All-American Council of the Orthodox church in America supports and encourages religious bodies, organizations and human rights groups which seek the abolition of the death penalty.

Orthodox Church in America

6850 Route 25A
Syosset, NY 791

 

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Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Continuing Opposition to Capital Punishment

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 punishment; 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):

1 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.

2. 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 rein-state such statutes in those which do not.

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

4.Requests the Stated Clerk to notify the President and the 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 4020
 

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Reformed Church in America

Resolution on Capital Punishment

Reformed Church in America, adopted by the General Synod of 1965

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 retaliation.

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, New York 10115


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Unitarian Universalist Association

Capital Punishment

The following General Resolution was passed by a vote of two thirds or more at the 1979 General Assembly of the 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 25, 1979; and

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

BE IT RESOLVED: That the 1979 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalistic Association urges the Governor of the state of Florida to commute all existing death sentences; and

BE IT FURTHER 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.

Unitarian Universalistic Association

25 Beacon Street
Boston, Massacusetts 02108

 

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United Church of Christ

Death Penalty

Resolution of the 12th General Synod of the United Church of Christ, 1979.

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 redemptive love, mercy, and sanctity of life; and

WHEREAS the death penalty has now 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 80 percent of men and women on death row could not afford an attorney: 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 United Church of Christ reaffirm opposition to the death penalty, and that it call upon 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 failure of the 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, New York 10016

 

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United Methodist Church

Capital Punishment

Adopted by the 1980 General Conference, Indianapolis, Indiana

In spite of a common assumption to the contrary, "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," does not give justification for the imposing of the penalty of death. Jesus explicitly repudiated the /ex 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 the 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 was often 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 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 the 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 another 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 than other major crimes during the period of the moratorium. Progressively rigorous scientific studies, conducted over more than forty years, overwhelmingly failed to support the thesis that capital punishment deters homicide more effectively than does imprisonment. The most careful comparisons 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 with 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 from among the larger number who are convicted or 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 is convinced that the nation's leaders should give attention to the improvement of the total criminal justice system and to the elimination of social conditions which breed crime and cause disorder, rather than fostering a false confidence in the effectiveness of the death penalty.

The United Methodist Church declares its opposition to the retention and use of 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 Church and Society
100 Maryland Avenue, N.E.
Washington, DC 20002

 

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U.S. Catholic Conference

Statement on Capital Punishment

November 19, 1980 (Excerpts)

"Allowing for the fact that Catholic teaching has accepted the principle that the state has the right to take the life of a person guilty of an extremely serious crime, and that the state may take appropriate measures to protect itself and its citizens from grave harm, nevertheless, the question for judgment and decision today is whether capital punishment is justifiable under present circumstances Ö We believe that in the conditions of contemporary American society, the legitimate purposes of punishment do not justify the imposition of the death penalty."

"Ö The infliction of the death penalty extinguishes possibilities for reform and rehabilitation for the person executed as well as the opportunity for the criminal to make some creative compensation for the evil he or she has done. It also cuts off the possibility for a new beginning and for moral growth in a human life which has been seriously deformed."

"Abolition sends a message that we can break the cycle of violence, that we need not take life for life, that we can envisage more humane and more hopeful and effective responses to the growth of violent crime."

"Racist attitudes and the social consequences of racism have some influence in determining who is sentenced to die in our society. This we do not regard as acceptable."

"Our society should not flinch from contemplating the suffering that violent crime brings to so many when it destroys lives, shatters families, and crushes the hopes of the innocent. Recognition of this suffering should not lead to demands for vengeance, but to a firm resolution that help be given to the victims of crime and that justice be done fairly and swiftly."

"It is the special responsibility of the Church to provide a community of faith and trust in which Godís grace can heal the personal and spiritual wounds caused by crime and in which we can all grow by sharing one anotherís burdens and sorrows."

"We believe that abolition of the death penalty is most consonant with the example of Jesus, who both taught and practiced the forgiveness of injustice Ö There is and has been a certain sense that even in those cases where serious justifications can be offered for the necessity of taking life, those who are identified in a special way with Christ should refrain from taking life."

U.S. Catholic Conference

Committee on Social Development and World Peace
1312 Massachusetts Avenue N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20005

 

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