We are one of 85 faith communities in Ohio participating in Death Penalty Abolition Week.
Yesterday was the 40-year anniversary of Ohio’s reinstatement of executions. To mark this Ohioans To Stop Executions organized over 100 folks to meet with state lawmakers urging them to pass HB 183 and SB 103, both bipartisan bills to abolish the death penalty in Ohio. Advocates believe we are closer than ever to this happening.
I was one of a dozen people on a phone conference with aides of Senator Stephanie Kunze. A Presbyterian participant noted that their denomination has opposed the death penalty since 1959. A Catholic social action leader stated that the Roman Catholic church sees death penalty abolition as part of a consistent ethic of life. A Reform Jewish rabbi recalled how rabbinical teaching from the first century onward continually narrowed to the point of eliminating justification for capital punishment. Another speaker detailed the economic costs of the appeal-heavy death penalty process, and another spoke of racial disparities, not just in who gets executed, but the fact that the death penalty is more frequently deemed justified when the victim is white.
I had the opportunity to speak briefly from a Mennonite perspective. Below is what I shared. If you’d like to lend your voice this week you can send a pre-written message through this site.
When Mennonites tell our history we remember our beginnings in 16th century Europe as a group that rejected religious justifications for violence. Early Mennonites saw in the teachings of Jesus an emphasis on mercy and the possibility of transformation of the one who had done harm. Because the church and the state were so closely aligned at the time, Mennonites were seen as suspect for their refusal to give full loyalty to local authorities. For this many of them were hunted, tried, and executed.
In other words, the faith tradition I am part of was the target of capital punishment from our beginnings, and we have been opposed to it ever since.
More recently, denominational delegates in the US and Canada passed resolutions in 1965 and again in 2001 calling for the end of executions on the state and federal levels.
As a Mennonite pastor, I believe true justice is restorative in nature, not punitive, and that afflicting violence to show that violence is wrong is a moral contradiction.
As a citizen in a democracy I am saddened that each time the state of Ohio kills as a punishment for crime, they do so in my name.
Senator Kunze, we can be a society that practices mercy and creates space for the possibility of transformation of the one who has done harm, as terrible as that harm may be.
Today I am urging you to add your voice and vote to ending the death penalty in Ohio.