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The death penalty provokes many questions involving religious and moral issues. Communities of faith across Colorado take various positions on the issue of capital punishment. Each religious community opposed to the death penalty has arrived at that decision based on the moral, theological and philosophical tenants of their particular faith tradition. The following arguments have been articulated from a variety of religious viewpoints; however they are all in agreement that more deaths are not the answer.

“Executions do not teach that violence is intolerable—violence is not a true deterrence to violence. Execution is an act of violence. It reinforces the idea that violence solves problems. It teaches vengeance.

“Christ commanded us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us—this is not what execution is about. If we want to teach that violence is intolerable, we need to stop responding to violence with violence. To solve the problem of evil, we need to respond with love

“The problem with the death penalty is that in trying to solve the problem of violence, we take up violence as our tool. Christians need to stop the cycles of violence that erode our souls—we need to stop participating in the culture of death. Instead of deterring crime, the culture of death makes all of us more open to evil and violence and crime. I support the abolition of the death penalty because I want to respond to evil with love. It is my hope that every person on death row, indeed every person, will have the opportunity to encounter Jesus Christ, to repent, and to know the Father’s mercy and love.”

Archbishop Aquila, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Denver

“As a Rabbi – as a person of faith, I fear for the soul of our nation. The death penalty, some might argue, is a deterrent. All evidence has shown that it is not.

“The death penalty, some might argue, is the ultimate form of justice. And yet, I cannot understand how one act of violence could possibly be a moral punishment for another act of violence.

“There are those who argue that the Bible does not prohibit Capital Punishment. This is true – to a point.   And yet, Judaism does not only look to the Bible for guidance. We also rely on a 2,000 year tradition of Biblical commentary and legal debate out of which has emerged an aversion to capital punishment. In fact, the ancient Rabbis made it practically impossible to impose the death penalty. In the 50 year history of the State of Israel only one person has ever been executed – Adolph Eichman – the architect of Hitler’s Final Solution, and even that execution was – and continues to be – hotly debated within the courts and around the kitchen tables of every citizen in the Jewish State.

“For me, the central issue revolves not around how we see the most evil elements of society – but how we perceive ourselves. Are we going to allow our fear of crime, our desire for vengeance, our ‘bottom line’ mentality to govern our self-conduct? Capital punishment is a quick fix – it may make some of us feel good – or politicians look good as they get tough on crime – but ultimately, I believe that it lessens our own humanity when we take the life of another person.

“Those who have committed atrocities need to be punished. They cannot be a part of a civilized society. But, I firmly believe that one of the prices of being ‘civilized’ is taking on a responsibility to act in a way that is consistent with our own internal holiness.

“In the book of Genesis we learn that we are all created in the Image of God. There is a divine spark within every human being. All life is holy – even that of the most damaged and evil members of society. When we take a life – whether someone has committed murder or not – we are diminishing the image of God. Yes, the murderer has done the same – but the fact that we claim to be a moral society calls us to rise above our desire for vengeance and understand that one act of murder does not make up for another. “

Rabbi Joe Black, Sr. Rabbi Temple Emanuel, Denver

“The Jewish Passover seder marks the liberation of our people from Egypt slavery over three millenia ago. In Hebrew, Egypt, is known as mitsrayim, from the narrows of the Nile. I write here as a person of faith asking us to deliver ourselves from a narrow place of retribution.

“According to our tradition, we crossed the sea of reeds and experienced the miracle of the seas parting. Rather than focusing in on the victory for the Israelites, Rabbinic commentary is full of concern for the Egyptians. The Midrash says that when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea on dry land and the Egyptian army drowned as the waters came flooding back, the angels in heaven were about to rejoice. But God stopped them and said, The works of My hands are drowning in the sea, and you want to sing? The Bible says, Rejoice not when your enemy falls; be not glad when they stumble (Prov. 24:17).

“We have always valued rehabilitation over retribution as according to our tradition, we are all created in the image of God, b’tselmem elohim.

“As a prison chaplain, yes I’ve seen plenty of recidivism, but I’ve also seen the transformative power of repentance, teshuva.

“We believe in justice, as our scripture teaches, justice justice you shall pursue, tsedek, tsedek tirdof (Deut 16:20). The repetition of the word justice teaches that we must pursue justice in all areas.

“I cannot believe that our system is a just one when we have three Blacks on death row, sentenced under the age of 21 and all living in Arapahoe county, the county that I reside in. This is not justice!

“Maryland became the 18th state to repeal the death penalty. In Hebrew the number 18 chai equals life. Let us all choose life, uvacharta bachayim, that all may live (Deut 30:19)”

Rabbi Barry Baskins D.Min, Jewish Community Chaplaincy & Rafael Spiritual Healing Center

“The public narrative on the death penalty, as much as there is one, tends to focus on individuals—the victim or victims who were killed, the perpetrator of the violent act and the loved ones left behind to grieve. This makes sense because the circumstances that gave rise to the tragedy and the individual stories are compelling. Maybe it’s easier for me to be against the death penalty because I have been blessed because I have not lost a loved one due to violent crime, and I have not felt the indescribable grief that follows such loss. If I had to face such horror and pain, I think that I would easily feel a desire for revenge swell in my heart. I would want “retributive justice,” or “an eye for an eye.”

“Yet, if I was ever in that situation and as a Christian, I must confront my wants and desires with the moral teachings of Jesus Christ. I am compelled to ask whether or not retribution—by way of the state taking the perpetrator’s life—can really be called “justice.” I am also compelled to ask questions that go beyond me as the individual. Most importantly, what public values are we committed to when we embrace capital punishment? The public conversation seems rather one-sided these days. The debate often congeals around concerns of crime prevention, public safety and security. We need the death penalty, it is argued, because its mere presence in statute makes a would-be murderer think twice about committing that crime.

“All of these considerations are important, but I hope that the death penalty discussion will become more “public” in this way: We must ask ourselves, “What does it mean for us, as a society, to have a death penalty?” Are deterrence and public safety the only things we value in this discussion? With some thorough policy analysis and dialogue on capital punishment, we can build a society where we collectively commit to forgiveness, mercy and redemption as our public values—values that demand the abolition of the death penalty.

Adrian Miller, Executive Director Colorado Council of Churches

“I do not believe in the death penalty because I trust God’s judgment.  In the opening pages of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, we encounter the first premeditated, cold-blooded murder of a human being.  In Genesis 4, Cain lures his younger brother Abel out into a field where he kills him presumably because of the shame he felt when his offering was rejected in favor of what Abel had brought.  The story is short and brutal and the reader is left with little doubt as to Cain’s guilt.  However, the story takes a surprising turn when God, the ultimate arbiter of justice, refuses to respond with “proportional justice” and instead offers Cain grace and a chance at new life.  Then the Lord said to Cain, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. (Gen. 4:15) No one really knows what the “mark” was that God put on Cain but the larger point is that when confronted with the first recorded capital crime in human history; God, the supreme Judge, refused to sentence Cain to death and instead protected him from harm.

“I do not believe in the death penalty because I trust the redemptive narrative arc of the Bible.  The story of Cain and Abel is not the only time in the Bible where God refuses to mete out the death penalty.  Moses was a murderer.  King David was a murderer.  If the Apostle Paul wasn’t himself a murderer, he certainly sanctioned the practice in his days before becoming a Christian.  In each case, God not only refuses to enforce “eye for an eye” justice but goes even further in protecting and using each of these men for God’s purposes in the world.  Such examples should, at a minimum, curb our enthusiasm for “eye for an eye” justice and cause us to ponder a deeper, more authentically Biblical approach to the issue. It is true that God’s law does allow for the death penalty to be meted out in certain specific circumstances. (Gen. 9:6, Ex. 21:12, 23-25)  But God’s own dealings with the aforementioned murderers, his establishment of the “cities of refuge” for those who kill accidentally, and ultimately, God’s own unwillingness to avenge his own death on the cross and instead offer forgiveness, all speak to God’s deeper purposes of redemption.

“I do not believe in the death penalty because I believe in the power of the gospel. Romans 1:16 says, the gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…”  And 1 Timothy 2:4 states, “God desires all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of God’s truth.”  I believe this is as true for first degree murderers as it is for saints like Mother Theresa.  Taking a person’s life potentially robs them of the opportunity for salvation and consigns them to an eternity in hell.  I truly believe there are no human beings who are beyond redemption.  No human beings beyond the reach of God’s grace.  No human beings who “deserve” hell any more than any of us do for all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and so all of us stand in desperate need of the gospel.

Rev. Dr. Doug Resler, Sr. Pastor, Parker Evangelical Presbyterian Church