Faith leaders and organizations representing a variety of faiths have spoken in opposition to the death penalty, often calling upon their innate beliefs in human dignity and redemption.
The Death Penalty Information Center has compiled statements from a broad array of faith leaders, highlights the views of those speaking from a faith perspective when the comments relate to a case or controversy involving capital punishment, and features the results of death penalty polls when broken down by particular faiths.
The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty has gathered statements opposition to capital punishment from leaders of faith, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism.
Minister Chazle’ Woodley shares her sermon, Faith & the Death Penalty: Through the Eyes of Jesus.
In 2018, Pope Francis declared the death penalty wrong in all cases, a definitive change in church teaching. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
Today … there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.
Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”, and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.
We are Evangelicals and we recognize that every person is created in the image of God, and therefore all life has immeasurable value. We believe that our justice system should reflect this truth, and that every individual should be treated with respect and dignity.
Our current justice system, and our responses to violence in particular, have not lived up to this vision and instead have delivered further pain and harm to communities. We need new responses to violence that address trauma, advance racial equity, and fulfill the promise of healing, safety, and restoration for all.
Check out Sister Helen Prejean and the Ministry Against the Death Penalty:
The movement to abolish the death penalty needs the religious community because the heart of religion is about compassion, human rights, and the indivisible dignity of each human person made in the image of God.
See Baptist Theologian Roger E Olson on Why Authentic Christians Must Oppose the Death Penalty:
When we take another human life unnecessarily, we usurp God’s prerogative for that person’s eventual salvation or, if they are already saved, for that person’s future service for the Kingdom of God.
For this reason alone, if for no other, Christians must oppose capital punishment. How we oppose it is another question. I know that if I lived anywhere near this state’s death chamber I would join the few opponents of capital punishment that routinely gather for a prayer vigil, often with signs expressing opposition to the death penalty, on the days when prisoners are to be executed.
See the United Methodist Church:
We worship a God who received the death penalty. Jesus was tried, sentenced, and murdered by the state. He died on a cross on a hill between two criminals.
That cross was the symbol of the oppressive power the Roman state. It was the tool the Romans used to keep the population in line. The cross on a hill said, “behave, or you will end up here.”
Jesus took that cross. He died and was buried. On the third day, he rose from the dead. The empty tomb is a God’s proclamation that love and grace triumph over oppression and death.
Christ’s resurrection is a rejection of all that the cross represented.
From the NCADP:
If you do stretch your hand against me to kill me, I shall never stretch my hand against you to kill you, I will not commit the same evil act that you threaten to commit, so that I will not earn the same sin as you, for I fear Allah; the Lord of the all that exists.
-Qur’an, 5:28 (Islamic Holy Book)
The story of Cain and Abel in the Qur’an includes a dialogue between the two brothers. After Cain threatens to take Abel’s life, the latter refuses to inflict harm in self-defense. Abel did not want to shed blood, thereby destroying a life created by God and defiling the divine creation.
From the NCADP:
It is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death.
– Sefer Hamitzvot (Book of the Commandments)
This quote by Moses Maimonides, the great 12th-century Jewish rabbi and scholar, expresses a key element found in most religious traditions – that innocent life has immense intrinsic value. It is far too risky to have capital punishment because of the very real likelihood of executing an innocent person. Such a possibility is anathema to people of faith and others of goodwill.
Since 1959, the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) and the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) have formally opposed the death penalty.
The CCAR resolved in 1979 that “both in concept and in practice, Jewish tradition found capital punishment repugnant” and there is no persuasive evidence “that capital punishment serves as a deterrent to crime.”
The URJ notes that: “We believe that there is no crime for which the taking of human life by society is justified, and that it is the obligation of society to evolve other methods in dealing with crime. We appeal to our congregants and to our co-religionists and to all who cherish God’s mercy and love to join in efforts to eliminate this practice [of capital punishment] which lies as a stain upon civilization and our religious conscience.”
Andre is a practicing Buddhist, and was already teaching meditation and anger management to incarcerated men at Nash Correctional when his son, Peace, was murdered. Losing Peace, he said, makes him even more dedicated to his practice and his teaching.
Some people are still living their loss after seven years, twenty years—they still can’t let it go. What can you do? There is nothing I can do or say. People hear my story of forgiveness, but they don’t see how they could get there or even if they should get there. I thought my daughter would be angry at me for forgiving her brother’s killer but, after a time, she told her mom, I’m not mad at Dad. I am just angry at myself because I can’t get there. You do question yourself and ask, What is wrong with me? Is it because I do not love my son? It is not an easy path.
Learn more about Andre and his work at the Kadampa Center here.
From the NCADP:
Everyone fears punishment; everyone fears death, just as you do. Therefore you do not kill or cause to be killed.
-Dhammapada 10:124 (Teachings of the Buddha)
We are all connected. We oppose the death penalty because you cannot kill the murder without causing a ripple effect of pain that goes beyond the prisoner to his or her family, corrections employees and their families and the community. And the focus on killing the killer detracts focus and resources away from the true work of healing devastated families and our communities.
People of faith must help lead the effort to end capital punishment. Moral force, combined with pragmatic leadership is what it will take to end the death penalty.
And in the 1974 Unitarian Universalist’s General Resolution:
WHEREAS, at this time, even though there has been no execution in the United States for the past seven years, twenty-eight states have already passed legislation seeking to re-establish capital punishment; and
WHEREAS, the act of execution of the death penalty by government sets an example of violence;
BE IT RESOLVED: That the 1974 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association continues to oppose the death penalty in the United States and Canada, and urges all Unitarian Universalists and their local churches and fellowships to oppose any attempts to restore or continue it in any form.