Execution of innocent people is a familiar topic for Christians. Every week hundreds of Houston Christian pastors, priests, and lay leaders stand before tens of thousands of faithful believers and break bread, reminding us of Jesus body broken on a Roman cross. In broken body and bread state sponsored executions are unmasked for what they are: morally bankrupt. The church’s Eucharist – our central act of worship – points us again and again to this moral depravity, while at the same time offering a counter option: love, forgiveness and peace. Jesus refusal to use violence while being arrested is preceded by this challenge, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Execution of the innocent? As Christians, this is our story.
As Texans, it’s all too likely to be our story as well. Northwestern University School of Law suggests Texas has again, and again, and again executed the innocent. Some twenty three names from Texas are a part of the 39 names on their list of likely suspects of having been executed “in face of compelling evidence of innocence or serious doubt about guilt.” We nearly added another name recently, Anthony Graves. Thankfully, after awaiting execution for 18 long years Graves was exonerated (yes, that means he was innocent) and set free! But it’s quite possible we did execute at least one other person in 2004, Cameron Todd Willingham.
While the possibility of executing an innocent is enough to ask we halt all executions, it’s not why I do it. In fact, whether or not Graves, Willingham, or anyone else is innocent or 100% guilty does little to sway my opinion of the death penalty. Nor do I call for abolition because state sponsored execution is applied capriciously and unjustly targets minorities and the poor, though it does. Nor is my reason rooted in the church’s own terrible history of being both victim and perpetrator of unjust execution.
I believe the death penalty is wrong because I follow Jesus Christ, formally executed and now risen, the prince of peace. Jesus life, teachings, death, resurrection and the early church’s witness about Jesus (what Christians call “The New Testament”) clearly call us to be people of peace, not vengeance.
So join me (and ask your faith community to do so as well!) in praying for Cleve Foster and Cary Kerr, whose lives and families Texas will destroy in coming days, whether they’re innocent or not; and Rick Perry, who holds the power of death or peace in his hands.
Learn more about the Cameron Todd Willingham case and how to work for system change Sunday night, March 6 at a viewing party of Death by Fire, a documentary film about his death and the ongoing issues surrounding it. Click here for info about the event.
Learn more about Jesus, who, “when he was insulted, did not insult in return; when he was threatened, he did not threaten” at a church near you.
Grace to you and peace!
Originally posted on Marty’s Houston Chronicle Belief blog, where I blog as “The Peace Pastor.” houstonbelief.com