Friday, October 14, 2011

An Appeal to End the Death Penalty: Signed by Christian Theologians and Ethicists in the U.S.

There is a new petition online drafted by George Hunsinger and Steffen Lösel, and signed by dozens of the most prominent Christians theologians and ethicists in the U.S., which calls for the end of the death penalty in America in the name of Jesus. It's clear, to the point, and correct. Go join Stanley Hauerwas, Cornel West, Serene Jones, James Cone, Nicholas Wolterstorff, J. Kameron Carter, Carol Newsom, Mark Taylor, Ian McFarland, et al -- and sign it:
We believe that the execution of Troy Davis on September 21, 2011 was a grievous wrong.

We reject the grotesque idea that mere "reasons of state" could ever be more important in death penalty cases than the accuracy of its verdicts.

Powerful and mounting doubts about the accuracy of the verdict against Troy Davis led many observers -- including Amnesty International, the European Union, a UN Special Rapporteur, a former FBI director, a former U.S. president, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Pope Benedict XVI -- to call for a stay of execution. The decision not to grant clemency despite worldwide protests is a terrible stain on our country.

We oppose the death penalty for both principled and pragmatic reasons. In practice death penalty cases have been riddled with misdeeds like prosecutorial misconduct, police coercion of witnesses, misidentification of suspects, and not least racial prejudice -- all of which seem to have played an appalling role in the Davis case, as they have in so many others.

More fundamentally, as Christians, we would call upon our churches and our nation to heed the example of Jesus.

• Jesus rejected the law of retaliation ("an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth") commanding us instead to treat anyone who may have wronged us with a measure of dignity and compassion.

• He intervened to prevent capital punishment when he challenged those who would put to death a woman accused of wrongdoing: "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her."

• Above all, he taught the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

• The One who forgave his enemies while dying for their sins on the cross -- "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do" -- is the One who shows us the way.

• Finally, Christians worship a Savior who died by capital punishment. That puts them at odds with any who think capital punishment is a necessity (for the state).

Those who adopted the slogan "I am Troy Davis" were exactly right. Someone we care about might one day be sentenced to death on the testimony of eyewitnesses who later recanted.

We call for an immediate end to the death penalty in the United States, we ally ourselves with all those who work toward this long overdue goal, and we challenge our churches and church leaders to join in this public witness.

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