Words From the Bishop Jessica Crist - Deepen Faith and Witness: Social Statement on the Death Penalty
"Social statements of our church do not intend to end such diversity by 'binding' members to a particular position. Social statements acknowledge diversity and address members in their Christian freedom."
In 1991, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly approved a social statement on The Death Penalty, amidst significant discussion. In 1972 the US Supreme Court put a moratorium on capital punishment, saying that the state laws regarding the death penalty were inconsistent and potentially discriminatory. Over the years a number of states re-instated the death penalty with laws that were consistent with the Supreme Court's ruling. In 1991, 36 states had the death penalty. In 2016, 31 states have the death penalty in some form or other. Both Montana and Wyoming have the death penalty.
While acknowledging that other opinions exist among our people, the statement strongly opposes the death penalty. The statement lists 3 broad reasons that the church opposed the death penalty.
1 " It is because of this church's ministry with and to people affected by violent crime that we oppose the death penalty." In this section of the statement, it is pointed out that executions focus on the convicted felon, not on the families of victims or anyone else touched by the crime. "Capital punishment focuses on retribution, sometimes reflecting a spirit of vengeance. Executions do not restore broken society and can actually work to counter restoration." The statement goes on to suggest that the death penalty by its very nature perpetuates cycles of violence.
2 "It is because of this church's commitment to justice that we oppose the death penalty."Using language from a predecessor church body's statement, the statement calls for "an assault of the root causes of violent crime," (There is some internal inconsistency here, using violent language to oppose violence.) The statement notes that many nations across the globe have abolished capital punishment, and that we would do well to join them. The statement points out that innocent people have been executed and that the death penalty, once implemented, is irreversible. It also states that race, gender, mental capacity, age and affluence of the accused have a significant role in whether the death penalty is imposed.
3 "It is because of this church's concern regarding the actual use of the death penalty that we oppose its imposition." The statement says: " The practice of the death penalty undermines any possible moral message we might want to 'send.' It is not fair and fails to make society better or safer. The message conveyed by an execution, reflected in the attention it receives from the public, is one of brutality and violence."
The statement ends with some commitments of the ELCA: "As a community gathered in faith, as a community dispersed in daily life, as a community of moral deliberation, and as a church body organized for mission, this church directs its attention to violent crime and the people whose lives have been touched by it." The statement goes on to elaborate each part of that sentence, suggesting action for individuals, congregations and the wider church.
Since this statement was adopted in 1991, the church adopted another social statement on Criminal Justice. You can find all of the social statements at www.elca.org/socialstatements.
In recent years both the Wyoming Association of Churches and the Montana Association of Christians have worked for abolition of the death penalty in our respective states.
If you are interested in having further conversation about this statement on the death penalty, perhaps in preparation for an adult forum, youth conversation or council study, the following colleagues have offered to make themselves available for consultation:
Pastor Peter Erickson, Pastor of Our Savior's, Columbia Falls and former MAC President
Pastor Julie Long, Pastor of Our Savior's, Broadus and former Crime Lab employee
Pastor Rob Nedbalek, Pastor of Freedom in Christ at the Montana State Prison
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
By Tali Folkins | July 14, 2016 [Originally in the Anglican Journal]
Since last September, when the world first saw the body of the little Syrian refugee, Alan Kurdi, washed up on a shore in Turkey, Anglicans in 14 dioceses across Canada have sponsored and resettled 1,750 refugees, members of General Synod heard Tuesday, July 12.
In all, $20 million was raised to support refugee resettlement and sponsorship, William Postma,recently appointed director of The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) said in a presentation to synod, in its last day of meetings here in Richmond Hill, Ontario.
It’s evidence, Postma said, of how the Anglican Church of Canada “punches above its weight” when it comes to refugee work.
“This deserves more than an acknowledgment, but a celebration,” he said.
It was one of many of PWRDF’s accomplishments that had impressed him since assuming his role June 13, Postma said.
“The results of some of our programs are truly astounding,” he said. For example, in three African countries—Burundi, Mozambique and Tanzania—where they run vaccination programs, PWRDF partners have vaccinated 410,000 children under the age of five in three years, he said—an especially high number considering the programs are run in far-flung rural areas, Postma added. In Mozambique, child mortality rates during the same three years decreased from 26% to 5%.
In Canada, PWRDF raised $165,000 in donations for Fort McMurray wildfire relief, he said. The fund has also been placing more importance on support for Indigenous communities, he said—“support that’s respectful, support that’s honourable, support that’s responsive to needs on the ground.”
Among its recent projects for Canadian Indigenous people, he said, is a two-year immersion course in the Mohawk language, in the Mohawk community of Kahnawake, near Montreal.
One thing that’s surprised him since starting at PWRDF, he said, is the enormous network of volunteers it has to draw on—1,600 according to a recent count.
“I have to say, having been with a lot of other organizations, that is a really enviable number,” he said.
General Synod also heard from Zaida Bastos, director of PWRDF’s development partnership program, about its maternal, newborn and child health program. Since the year 2000, she said, there has been a decrease of more than 50% in preventable child death worldwide. However, rates of maternal and child death in sub-Saharan Africa remain very high, Bastos said.
PWRDF’s maternal, newborn and child health program operates, through local community health workers, in 524 villages in five African countries, she said. These community health workers constantly accompany pregnant and new mothers and their children, ensuring they get the medical attention they need to survive and be healthy.
In addition to its actual accomplishments, Postma said he also really liked that PWRDF’s vision is about more than just providing physical aid.
“I’m really excited that PWRDF has that bedrock commitment to rights, human rights…it’s about each and every one of us made in the image of God,” he said.
The Abundant Table is a grassroots, nonprofit organization that seeks to change lives and systems by creating sustainable relationships to the land and local community. Their 5-acre farm in Santa Paula, CA is the land that supports our farm-to-school, agricultural and nutrition education, youth development and faith-rooted initiatives. Proceeds from their community supported agriculture (CSA) vegetable sales support this valued community work. Please look at The Abundant Table’s mission and see how they align with our values here in Montana: to connect land, spirituality and community.
Please visit The Abundant Table's website to watch a short video and learn how this inspiring organization is incorporating their mission based in the Episcopal and Lutheran faiths into every day life on a farm, providing food for people with shortages and school programs. In our agricultural state, perhaps we can find some inspiration to help our fellow Montanans.
Letters & Publications from Faith Leaders Across the State & Region that coincide with MAC's Mission & Work.