Death Penalty

I am well aware that I do not have the legal background to argue a case. However, I am a citizen of this world, and my participation in the human family, and its affairs compels me to share my thoughts. As all pastors who are educated in theological and ethical thinking, I want to offer an opportunity to choose and act on values that benefit the whole community.

I am upset over an action by our State Governor, Mr. McGreevey. He has vetoed the bipartisan death penalty study bill on the last day of the legislative term so his veto could not be overridden. Mr. McGreevey sees no reason for a study despite years of statistics indicating the death penalty system is infected by bias and arbitrariness.

I intensely resent his decision not to invest time, energy and financial resources in investigating such a crucial matter.

The results of DNA testing are evident: so many death row inmates are being cleared of their accusations. There is very little evidence that family members of murder victims find healing from the death of another human being. Consider instead the human gain of knowing that a person on death row experiences true justice upon legal acceptance of new evidence introduced to support her innocence.

A study would ensure true justice. Are we so hurried to close cases and keep people on death row for years at taxpayers’ expenses? In terms of better management of our state’s financial resources, couldn’t that money be redirected towards compelling needs? Isn’t it beneficial to know that with more research we have contributed to righting wrongs, promoting life where there was only the shadow of death?

The God of Israel gave the imperative command not to kill. God did not grant exceptions. Thus, can anyone truly do justice to a murder victim by taking another person’s life? It becomes a contradiction in terms. We cannot teach a person not to kill by killing her. The Sumeric rule “an eye for an eye, a life for a life” has been reversed by Jesus’ to love even one’s enemies. Jesus’ God treats all of us with compassion and mercy and invites us to constantly choose life rather than death. To drive the point home, Jesus gave his life and never sought revenge.

I am personally against the death penalty, but at least let us keep the dialogue open about the need for further study.