Why do United Methodists oppose the death penalty? Historically it has its roots in that Jesus Christ received the death penalty unjustly and died upon a cross. Through the centuries and even to this day, there are places where the conversion to Christianity is a capital offense.
It is also an economic issue. One execution and the many proceedings associated with it costs as much as $37 million dollars. This money could have put more police officers on the street, put more correctional officers in our prisons and provided needed support services to families of murder victims.
It is true that many times a person is put to death by mistake. The State of Maryland sentenced an innocent person (Kirk Bloodsworth) to death. Many others have been wrongly convicted of crimes that were eligible for the death penalty.
The death penalty delays the healing process of victim’s families as they are made to navigate years of appeals and trials - appeals that are necessary if we are serious about not sending innocent people to death row.
The death penalty is racially biased. Despite the fact that African-Americans make up 75-80 percent of homicide victims in this country, the majority of people who are currently on death row were convicted of killing a white person.
The best reason for joining in the witness against the death penalty is that with life, we are given the opportunity to touch these lives with the restorative Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Social Principles of the UM Church states:
“We believe the death penalty denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore and transform all human beings. The UMC is deeply concerned about crime throughout the world and the value of any life taken by murder or homicide. We believe all human life is sacred and created by God and therefore, we must see all human life as significant and valuable. When governments implement the death penalty (capital punishment) then the life of the convicted person is devalued and all possibility of change in the person’s life ends. We believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and that the possibility of reconciliation with Christ comes through repentance. This gift of reconciliation is offered to all individuals without exception and gives all life dignity and sacredness. For this reason we oppose the death penalty and urge its elimination from all criminal codes.”
As long as there is life, there is hope for a soul to be redeemed by Jesus Christ. Does your local church have an active outreach to those incarcerated near you? I encourage you to seek out ways to be involved in prison ministry. One day we will ask our Lord, “When did we see you in prison and visit you?” When we visit people in prison, we visit Christ.