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Faith Leaders Statement on the Death Penalty

Jon Barton - Sunday, January 15, 2017


Statement on the Death Penalty


In Search of God’s Justice



Discussion of the death penalty elicits anger and grief.  Our churches and faith communities include victims and survivors of violent crime; we comfort those who mourn and we bury our dead; we pray for God’s grace to bring peace to their broken hearts. Our churches and faith communities also include murderers and persons who commit violent crimes; we condemn the evil of violence and we pray that God’s grace will lead to repentant hearts and reformed lives.  As we reflect on our mission to pursue God’s justice, and on the witness of Scripture, we are persuaded that the death penalty offers only an illusion of justice.


At the heart of God’s justice is the dignity of the human person, created in the image of God.  The death penalty is an affront to human dignity.  It is not handed down to offenders by a flawless judicial system.  A justice system that allows even one innocent person to be executed by the state is intolerable and unacceptable. The death penalty operates like a lethal lottery, predisposed by one’s ability to afford quality legal services, one’s race and the race of one’s victim, as well as the pressures of public opinion. There is a clear pattern of evidence demonstrating racial inequalities in the charging, sentencing, and implementation of the death penalty. A defendant is still more likely to be sentenced to death if the murder victim is white. This has been confirmed by the findings of various studies that, holding all other aspects constant, the single most reliable predictor of whether someone will be sentenced to death is the race of the victim.


From initial charging decisions to plea bargaining to jury sentencing, African-Americans and minorities are treated more harshly when they are defendants, and their lives are accorded less value when they are victims.


The death penalty is an empty assurance.  It cannot restore lives lost.  It cannot repair shattered relationships.  It leaves no possibility of reform or recompense.  It does not make our streets and homes safer. The death penalty provides only revenge, not justice, leaving us hollow inside with no place to turn for comfort. It is no substitute for the painstaking creation of communities where violence does not flourish: Communities built on respect for human rights, acceptance of personal and social responsibility, and constructive response to conflict.


God’s justice calls us to reject revenge.  In Hebrew scripture and tradition, “an eye for an eye” functions to limit physical retaliation and even to substitute financial compensation (Ex 21:22, Lev 24:20, Dt 19:21).  In the Christians Gospels, Jesus emphatically rejects “an eye for an eye”, commanding instead love of enemies (Mt 5:38).  From the protection of Cain (Gen 4:15) to the conversion of Paul (Acts 9), Scripture testifies that God does not exact life for life.


As leaders in our respective faith communities, we call upon our congregations to pray, study, reflect, and work for a more perfect justice.  Let us build a moral consensus, in our places of worship and in our communities for alternatives to the death penalty.  Let us extend practical help and spiritual healing to victims and survivors of violence. 



The Rt. Rev. Shannon Johnston

Diocesan Bishop

Episcopal Diocese of Virginia


Bishop Sharma D. Lewis

Bishop, Virginia Annual Conference United Methodist Church


The Rev. David K. Shumate

District Executive

Virlina District – Church of the Brethren


Bishop Richard H. Graham

Bishop, Metro DC Synod

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Bishop James F. Mauney

Bishop, Virginia Synod

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Rev. David Chapman

Executive Minister

Baptist General Convention


The Rt. Rev. Mark Bourlakas

Diocesan Bishop

Episcopal Diocese of Southwestern Virginia


Rev. Warren J Lesane Jr.

Synod Executive

Synod of the Mid-Atlantic

Presbyterian Church USA



Rev. Dr. Clyde G. Kratz

Executive Conference Minister

Virginia Mennonite Conference


The Rev. Liza Hendricks

General Presbyter

Presbytery of Eastern Virginia

Presbyterian Church USA


Rev. Larry R. Thompson

Winchester District Superintendent

Virginia Annual Conference United Methodist Church


Rev. J Randy Myers




The Rt. Rev. Susan E. Goff

Bishop Suffragan

Episcopal Diocese of Virginia


The Rt. Rev. Edwin F. “Ted” Gulick

Assistant Bishop

Episcopal Diocese of Virginia


Rev. John Myers


Virginia Council of Churches

Eastern VA Association United Church of Christ




Rev. Melanie Mullen

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church



Rev. Wallace Adams-Riley

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church



Rev. Kate Costa

St. Luke Lutheran Church, Culpeper, VA

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Rev. Lauren Ramseur

Vice President Virginia Council of Churches

Bon Air Presbyterian Church


Rev. Dr. Jonathan Barton

General Minister

Virginia Council of Churches


Ms. Kim Bobo

CEO/President Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy


Rev. Doug Hodges


United Church of Christ of Fredericksburg


Rev. Eric J. Moehring

Christ Lutheran Church, Richmond

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Rev. Charles Swadley


Virginia Annual Conference United Methodist Church


Rev. Cornelia Weierbach

Church of the Spirit



Rev. Cayce Ramey

All Saints Episcopal Church Sharon Chapel


Mr. Edward Rossmoore


Virginia Council of Churches


Rev. Gordon D. Zook


Virginia Mennonite Conference


The Rev. Dr. Ervin R. Stutzman

Executive Director

Mennonite USA


Pastor Rene Hostetter

Big Spring Mennonite Church

Virginia Mennonite Conference


Pastor Harvey Yoder

Family of Hope Mennonite House Church

Harrisonburg, VA 22802


Pastor Mike Metzler

Lead Pastor

Zion Mennonite Church


Rev. Dr. J. Elisha Burke

Director, Health, Wellness, Men & Social Justice

Baptist General Convention of Virginia





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