From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Commentary: WWJD about the death penalty?

Date 07 Feb 2001 10:11:31

Feb. 7, 2001 News media contact: Thomas S. McAnally·(615)742-5470·Nashville,
Tenn.     10-71B{061}

NOTE:  A photo is available for use with this commentary.

A UMNS Commentary
By John C. Goodwin*

The bumper sticker asks, "What Would Jesus Do?" Regarding the death penalty,
the answer seems clear. I cannot imagine him saying yes to an execution. In
John 8:1-11 he spoke against the prescribed penalty of death for the woman
caught in adultery. 
"Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at
her," he said (NRSV). Yet there are many persons who profess to be followers
of Christ who also profess to favoring capital punishment. 
The paper trail of Methodist opposition to the death penalty extends at
least to the 1950s, long before United became part of the name. Of the major
Christian denominations in the United States, only the Southern Baptist
Convention supports the death penalty. Here in the Northeast most
denominations clearly oppose capital punishment. 
On Nov.17, 1998, Bishop Alfred Johnson joined nine other New Jersey
Protestant leaders in signing "A Pastoral Statement: the Death Penalty."
Part of the statement reads: "It is time to state our position as clearly
and unambiguously as we can. The death penalty is incompatible with 
Christianity." Soon afterwards, Bishop Johnson established the committee
formally known as The New Jersey Area Church and Society Task Force to
Abolish the Death Penalty and I am privileged to serve as co-convener.
The task force is working to raise the consciousness of 115,000 or more
United Methodists in the Greater New Jersey Area and works with New
Jerseyans for a Death Penalty Moratorium on legislative issues
( Members of the task force hope that United
Methodists will agree with the denomination's position and communicate that
viewpoint to their local, state, and federal legislators. 
New Jersey has 15 persons on death row; New York has six. Neither state has
executed anyone since 1963, but unless the laws are changed, executions
could be resumed within two years. Pennsylvania's death row houses 238
persons. Three have been executed since 1976. My mother, at age 13, was
fascinated and horrified by the 1927 Massachusetts executions of two Italian
immigrants, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. When I was 12 years old, I
was also fascinated and horrified by a double execution, that of Ethel and
Julius Rosenberg in 1953. 
My father felt that my mother's obsessive reaction to the Sacco-Vanzetti
execution contributed to her 1964 suicide. My reaction to the Rosenberg case
certainly was a contributing factor in my 
commitment to end the evil that is the death penalty. Here is my short,
partial, personal list of reasons to oppose the death penalty: 

1. It is wrong. Murder by the state is still murder and is contrary to the
Sixth Commandment . 

2. Killing the killer cannot restore life and will not bring closure to the
living. Increasing numbers of families of murder victims, including many of
those who lost loved ones in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing incident, are
voicing their opposition to the death penalty and are seeking restitution
and reconciliation instead of death. 

3. Executions cause more families to grieve, creating more victims. 

4. I am a citizen of the state. For the state to execute someone in my name
makes me a killer. 

5. Increasing numbers of prison officials, those involved in the actual
carrying out of executions, are experiencing stress disorders. It is unfair
to turn our correctional facility professionals into hired killers. 

6. Studies have shown that the death penalty is not a deterrent. Ten of the
12 states with no death penalty have lower murder rates than the national

7. It is primarily the poor and persons of color who are in danger of
receiving the penalty of death. 

8. Death is irreversible. Innocents have been executed and innocent people
have died of disease while living on death row. The governor of Illinois
declared a moratorium on executions when it was brought to his attention
that innocent prisoners in Illinois have come within days or hours of their

9. Capital punishment is more expensive than life in prison. Studies have
shown that the average cost of incarceration for a life sentence is between
$400,000 and $850,000. The death penalty process costs millions -- an
estimated $22,800,000 annually for New Jersey. 

10. Much of the world, including all of Western Europe, has forsaken use of
the death penalty. There is growing international pressure for the United
States to give up what is considered to be a barbaric practice by much of
the world. 

11. Christian Theology places life and death in the hands of God. The
Christian faith teaches us that it is never too late for a person to repent
of his or her sins. 
#  #  #
*Goodwin is a member of the Demarest (N.J.) United Methodist Church, a lay
member of the 
Greater New Jersey Annual Conference and co-convener of the Church and
Society Task Force to Abolish the Death Penalty of the New Jersey Area.

Commentaries provided by United Methodist News Service do not necessarily
represent the opinions or policies of UMNS or the United Methodist Church.
The United Methodist Church officially opposes capital punishment and urges
its elimination from all criminal codes. See 2000 Book of Discipline, Para.
164A , or the denomination's Web site:

United Methodist News Service
Photos and stories also available at:

Browse month . . . Browse month (sort by Source) . . . Advanced Search & Browse . . . WFN Home