Saturday, August 01, 2009


Faith statement: Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Call to End Capital Punishment

Presbyterians, guided by Scripture, believe that God has deep concern for those who are held captive or imprisoned. Throughout the Hebrew texts and New Testament, the prophets, and later, Jesus, call attention to those who are languishing in prisons and jails—encouraging followers to visit them, to advocate for them, and to share in their suffering. Presbyterian General Assemblies have demonstrated concern for the imprisoned and those who have been sentenced to death by enacting policy statements over the past forty years beginning in 1959 and continuing in 1977, 1978, and 1985.

Capital punishment is an expression of vengeance which contradicts the justice of God on the cross
--190th General Assembly Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

In 1959, the 171st General Assembly issued the statement, "believing that capital punishment cannot be condoned by an interpretation of the Bible based upon the revelation of God’s love in Jesus Christ," the Assembly called on Christians to "seek the redemption of evil doers and not their death," and noted that the "use of the death penalty tends to brutalize the society that condones it."
In 1977, the General Assembly went farther, calling upon its members to "work to prevent the execution of persons now under sentence of death and further use of the death penalty; work against attempts to reinstate the death penalty in state and federal law, and where such laws exist, to work for their repeal; and to work for the improvement of the justice system to make less radical means available for dealing with persons who are a serious threat to themselves and to the safety and welfare of society."

The Presbyterian Church has held a long-standing belief that capital punishment is wrong because it is contrary to God’s plan for humanity, it cheapens the value of human life, and it is not an effective way to reduce crime and violence.
—Clifton Kirkpatrick, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly

In 1985, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) reaffirmed these earlier positions, declaring, "its continuing opposition to capital punishment." The 212th General Assembly (2000) also reaffirmed the position of the prior assemblies; called for an immediate moratorium on all executions in all jurisdictions that impose capital punishment; and directed the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly to communicate the call for an immediate moratorium and continuing opposition to the death penalty to the President of the United States, representatives in Congress, as well as to governors and legislators of the 37 states with persons awaiting execution.

What You Can Do

  • Pray for victims of crime and their families, those who have been wrongly convicted, and those on death row and their families.
  • Educate people in your congregation and community about the Presbyterian Church’s teachings on capital punishment. Talk to your pastor about your church’s involvement.
  • Advocate by contacting your elected officials and joining together with Presbyterian and other religious and social justice groups.

Groups and resources

Death penalty facts

  • Approximately 3,300 people are on death row in the US; 89 of them in Tennessee.
  • Since executions were reinstated in 1977, over 130 death row inmates have been exonerated; 2 in Tennessee.
  • 90% of Tennessee’s death row inmates could not afford to hire their own defense at trial.
  • Inmates convicted of murdering a white person are more than 3 times as likely to be sentenced to death than those convicted of murdering an African-American.
  • Capital punishment is a far more expensive system than one whose maximum punishment is life without parole, diverting resources from real crime prevention efforts.
  • At least 5-10% of those on death row suffer from severe mental illness while at least 100 of those executed since 1977 suffered from some form of mental illness.
  • A recent survey of former and past presidents of top U.S. academic criminological societies show that 88% of these experts reject the notion that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder.


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