State killing, Christian witnessing


In 1993 Ron Phillips committed a horrendous crime.  He beat, raped, and murdered a three year old child.  Her name was Sheila Marie Evans.  Phillips confessed his guilt and was given the death penalty.  He is scheduled to be executed by the state of Ohio – that’s you and me – tomorrow at 10am.  It will be the first state execution in three and half years.  More details can be read HERE.

There are many reasons to be opposed to the death penalty: It disproportionately targets people of color, with the courts and appeals processes it is more expensive than lifetime imprisonment, it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, sometimes innocent people are killed.

From our beginnings, Mennonites have also taken a moral and spiritual approach to opposing state killing.  Way back in 1556, our namesake Menno Simons wrote this in the context of European Christendom:

“It would hardly become a true Christian ruler to shed blood. For this reason, if the transgressor should truly repent before his God and be reborn of Him, he would then also be a chosen saint and child of God, a fellow partaker of grace, a spiritual member of the Lord’s body…and for such a one to be hanged on the gallows, put on the wheel, placed on the stake or in any manner be hurt in body or good by another Christian who is of one heart, spirit, and soul with him, would look somewhat strange and unbecoming in the light of the compassionate, merciful, example He has commanded all His chosen children to follow. Again, if he remain impenitent and his life be taken, one would unmercifully rob him of the time of repentance of which, in case his life were spared, he might yet avail himself.”

In 1965 the General Conference Mennonite Church passed a resolution called “A Christian Declaration on Capital Punishment.”  That resolution names the Christian vocation as one of following in the “ministry of reconciliation” which Paul names is 2 Corinthians.  It acknowledges the state’s task of maintaining peace and order, but challenges the idea that the death penalty serves this purpose.

Christian opposition to the death penalty is ultimately rooted in the scriptures and Jesus’ life and ministry, extending mercy to outcasts.  There’s also that bit about Jesus himself receiving the death penalty at the hands of the Roman state, and overcoming the power of death in being raised up in resurrection.

We are resurrection people.

The hour is late to speak opposition to tomorrow’s scheduled execution, but Ohioans to Stop Executions is still encouraging people to call Governor Kasich’s office at 614/466-3555 and sign this petition.

Here’s something else we can do as a congregation:

Upon reading this, set your phone alarm for 10am tomorrow, Wednesday, the scheduled time of the execution.  During that hour let’s join together, wherever we are, in prayer for victims of violence like Sheila Marie Evans, and for the family that continues to mourn for her.  Let’s join in prayer for Ron Phillips who will be executed in our name.  Let’s pray that our society shift from a mindset of punitive justice to a mindset of restorative justice.  Let’s pray for an end to the death penalty, and a reform of our criminal justice system.  Let’s pray that we, the church universal and all people of goodwill, can witness to a better way.