Wednesday, November 16, 2005

 

Proud of the Catholics!

There are times when being a Catholic has not been easy for me. There have been times when I thought the Church did the wrong things, or, more often, did not do the right things with enough force. But this week was not one of those times!

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops came out of their semi-annual gathering in Washington D.C. to release a new statement against capital punishment! The statement reaffirmed, in ever-strengthening language, that as a Church which expresses an abiding belief in the sanctity of all human life, we can no longer give our support to a policy which so fundamentally denies the dignity of some lives, and called on Catholics across the country to pray, learn, and act to end the death penalty. The statement also repeated what we know to be true: that the death penalty is applied unfairly along racial and economic lines. The bishops affirmed that, as people of faith and conscience, we must look at all these dimensions of the capital punishment system.

All across America, people of faith are beginning to re-examine their positions on the death penalty. Recently, polls have shown that the majority of catholic now do not support capital punishment. Additionally, those who attend mass at least once a week are more likely to oppose the death penalty than those who do not. More and more, we see a polarization of America into liberal and conservative camps. People who attend church regularly tend to fall into the "conservative" camp and vote overwhelmingly Republican. The death penalty is often labeled as a "liberal" cause, which would make one think that the trends for supporting the death penalty would run along the same lines as they do for voting. Fortunately, these numbers tell us that this is not the case. The death penalty is an issue which is not easily boxed or pigeon-holed. When we are talking about killing a human being, people on all sides of the political spectrum, especially from faith communities find that their consciences and beliefs cannot accept the killing of another human being. We are not liberals or conservatives, Democrats or Republicans. We are Abolitionists who believe that life is sacred, that justice is vital. For once the Catholic Church and I completely agree.
Comments :
Why was there not more outrage by the anti-death penalty groups when the 2004 election was taking place and the Catholic churches were throwing their support behind the biggest death penalty supporter of all times - Bush? It seemed rather hypocritical to me that the only thing they were concentrating on was the anti-abortion issue. They literally turned away from John Kerry who is against the death penalty and who does not support abortion but the rights of individuals. I have had a very difficult time reconciling this.
 
I've had the same problems myself. I think that it is a shame that so often we only hear Catholics and the catholic church being vocal about issues of abortion. It is not that I don't think that abortion is an important issue, but when our president and the church continually refer to a "culture of life" it is disingenuous to only refer to unborn life. In fact, I am very sorry that Pro-Life Tennessee insists that they only stand up for "innocent life" thus excluding the obvious connection of a pro-life stance and opposition to the death penalty. In fact, on a recent trip to Giles County the local chapter of Pro-Life Tennessee would not meet with me, and I am sorry about that, because I feel that we share a lot of common values.

I wish I could offer more help in reconciling these positions, but I agree with you that they are basically unreconcilable. I think that this is the reason that people of faith have been at the forefront of the abolition movement. Almost every major faith group in America has taken a position against the death penalty. We just need to hear more about those stands in the pews. 2006 marks the 50th anniversary of the United Methodist Church's statement against the death penalty. Wouldn'tit be great if every congregation heard the position at church at some point during this year?
 
Thanks for your input. I feel better knowing it is not just me feeling this way. I too have attempted to have an indepth conversation with the President of the Right to Life Organization here in Tennessee but, of course, all I received was a canned response regarding "innocent life" and yada, yada, yada! When I attempted to delve into the fact that there are innocents who are now residing on death rows around the country and that there have been over 100 exonerations and releases of death row inmates who were innocent and placed in a position of losing their life, I received no response. I simply ask them where their organization was when these individuals were proven innocent. I ask where their outrage was at the mere thought of an innocent individual being executed. Again, I received nothing from them. I have repeatedly said that you cannot have a "culture of life" when you invoke and promote the use of the death penalty. As many of the organizations state, human life begins at conception and ends at "natural death". I have made mention that there is nothing "natural" about electrocution, or lethal injection but they still refuse to acknowledge how hypocritical they are. I know I am a bit harsh about this but I cannot make any apologies because the lives of so many men and women are at stake. You mentioned the issue about the United Methodist Church. I did some research a few months ago and wrote a letter to the editor regarding the fact that our "born again Christian" President is a devote member of the United Methodist Church (according to his biography) but he is going directly against the teachings of his own church while preaching compassion and a culture of life to the world.

Anyway, thanks again for doing what you do!
 
I do find it odd (understatement of the century) that our president, a practising Methodist who continually refers to his Christianity, can also hold the record for presiding over the most executions. A "culture of life" cannot include capital punishment, and I find it hard to believe that so few people are called on, or even notice these contradictions. Particularly in regards to people of faith, I feel that these are folks that simply have not truly dealt with all the serious moral implication of the issue. I'll admit to sometimes wanting to tear my hair out when I hear basically good religious people say that they support capital punishment. A little while ago a Presbyterian minister told me that he and his congregation did not believe that the death penalty was "unscriptural."

But I still have hope. Recent polls showing that a majority of Catholics, especially the church going, oppose capital punishment are a good start. Peopleof faith are a vast, nearly un-tapped resource for the abolition community. We understand that God is the only judge and that God holds all life sacred. Eventually, with much work, I believe that this will lead even more good church-going folk to stand against state sponsored murder. Sometimes we just get so bogged down in the ones who wrap themselves in a self-righteous religious shield, judging others and not looking inwards, that we forget that the vast majority are truly seeking the path of God, and that path will lead them to abolition.
 
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