Bishop Jones on Capital Punishment

Bishop Scott Jones posted an article outlining his opposition to the death penalty on the Kansas East Conference website. I’m reprinting it in full here. Below the bishop’s article is an excerpt from the United Methodist Book of Discipline that was also posted to the website. I join Bishop Jones in urging you to contact our state legislators and ask them to abolish the death penalty.

From time to time, we United Methodists voice our beliefs about how Christian teaching impacts issues of morality and social justice in our society. We have done this to oppose gambling, smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, racism and sexism. As bishop, I have sometimes used my position to express our church’s teaching when I thought it would make a difference and bring our church together around its core beliefs.

This winter, I will be speaking and writing to our Kansas legislators urging them to abolish the death penalty. Our Social Principles are eloquent about the sanctity of human life and how capital punishment undermines our society’s values. However, I will be adding four additional arguments to what our church officially teaches.

The first is the fact that recent developments in DNA technology have shown that people on death row were wrongly convicted. John Grisham’s “The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town” is a powerful, true story about how police misconduct and jury bias made a mistake that only a federal judge could correct. Killing a convicted person forever removes the possibility of fixing such a mistake. The uncertainty of even our best evidence ought to stop us from delivering a final judgment.

The second argument is about the unfairness of our legal system. Wealthy people get the best legal representation and the fairest trials. Poor people relying on court-appointed attorneys are often poorly represented. The poor are much more likely to be convicted of capital crimes even when all other factors are weighed.

The third argument is economic. Death penalty cases, along with appeals, are incredibly expensive. They consume state money and court time when our state budget is already suffering from an economic downturn. The state budget is reducing the amount of money for senior-citizen care, for K-12 schools and for economic development. To continue spending money for capital punishment is to misplace our priorities.

Fourth, I believe life in prison without parole is an adequate and possibly harsher punishment for the most serious crimes. A lifetime behind bars is both punishment and an opportunity for repentance. It is a punishment because the person lives every day with the wasted opportunities and the drastic limitations of prison life. It is an opportunity because they have time to make their peace with God and commit their lives to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

The people I know who engage in prison ministry have shared with me eloquent stories of how people in prison do occasionally turn their lives around. Retired Bishop Ken Carder recently shared with me a story about how one man spent his prison days ministering to other inmates as they were dying. He will never leave prison but, after his conversion, chose to allow God to use him to ease the suffering of others.

Legislators vote for bills with a variety of motivations. Some want to do the right thing. Some seek to represent the views of their constituents. All of the legislators I know are seeking to balance all of the various factors—moral, political, economic—to help Kansas be the best state it can be.

I urge you to contact your representative and senator and ask them to do the right thing—abolish the death penalty.

Social Principles, “United Methodist Book of Discipline,” 164G, pp. 125-6
We believe the death penalty denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore and transform all human beings. The United Methodist Church is deeply concerned about crime throughout the world and the value of any life taken by a murder or homicide. We believe all human life is sacred and created by God and therefore, we must see all human life as significant and valuable. When governments implement the death penalty (capital punishment), then the life of the convicted person is devalued and all possibility of change in that person’s life ends. We believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and that the possibility of reconciliation with Christ comes through repentance. This gift of reconciliation is offered to all individuals without exception and gives all life new dignity and sacredness. For this reason, we oppose the death penalty (capital punishment) and urge its elimination from all criminal codes.