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Voices of Faith: Is the death penalty wrong?

  • McClatchy News Services
  • Published Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, at 7:24 a.m.

Too many errors

Lama Chuck Stanford, Rime Buddhist Center & Monastery: Nearly all religions consider killing to be wrong. So if killing is wrong, then all killing is wrong. The U.S. is the only Western democracy that still uses the death penalty.

Because there have been a number of mistakes made in applying the death penalty, more and more states are passing moratoriums banning it. Since 1973, 140 death row inmates have been exonerated.

Empirical evidence has shown that the death penalty is not a deterrent to violent crime. In fact, 67 percent of all law enforcement officials agree that the death penalty is not an effective crime-fighting tool. Another problem with the death penalty is its finality. There are several cases where new evidence has been found to exonerate someone only after they were put to death. And, the death penalty does not allow for redemption. Nearly every religion has a belief in redemption. Our minds are infinitely malleable, so it is always possible for someone who has killed (for whatever reason) to turn their life around.

Another false argument for the death penalty is that it is cheaper than housing an inmate for life. Again, empirical evidence has shown that is not the case. On average, the cost of appeals for death row inmates is approximately 70 percent more than housing an inmate for life. In addition, the death penalty is used disproportionately against the poor, minorities and members of racial, ethnic and religious communities.

A proper understanding

The Rev. R.L. Baynham, pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church, Kansas City, Kan.: The death penalty is huge, and it is difficult to really get a handle on it. Society changes its mind so many times that it becomes hard to put a proper understanding in place. We feel that so much is needed to be known. A great number of people vacillate between their religious beliefs and society’s desires to do what is right.

In searching the Bible we find many instances where killing and/or murder was condemned. The first five books of the Old Testament were used to set the standard for moral and religious living. In the New Testament we see the teaching of Jesus identifying with what the Old Testament had determined, with some modifications, was how people should be treated .

We believe that it is immoral to take a life of any person who causes violence to his or her neighbor. We believe that whatever the circumstances are, we don’t have the right to decide the fate of another individual. We believe that even when the evidence is impeccable, there are times when individuals are wrongly sentenced to death. As Christians we feel that we must be loving in our response even when we are being wronged and/or violated.

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