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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Sunday, February 08, 2009

"...for Christians vengeance is no virtue."

The following letter was sent to our state legislature last week as deliberations continue about Senate Bill 236, which, if passed, will abolish capital punishment in Montana. The Episcopal Church has long been on record as standing in opposition to the death penalty in this country; General Convention archives contain resolutions to that effect dating back to 1958.


January 23, 2009
To: The Honorable Members of the Montana Legislature
From: The Right Reverend C. Franklin Brookhart, Bishop of Montana
Re: Abolition of the Death Penalty in Montana

As the official spokesperson for The Episcopal Church in this state, allow me to say that my church has on a number of occasions and at the highest level of decision-making affirmed its opposition to the death penalty and called for a moratorium on all executions.

In a more personal tone, three questions come to my mind as I think about this moral, ethical, and legal issue. First, is the death penalty a matter of justice or vengeance? In my conversations over the years with a variety of people, I have heard mostly the language of vengeance and violence. And for Christians vengeance is no virtue.

Second, can our legal system be fair and accurate in administering the death penalty? I am concerned about the large number of reversals in the capital punishment sentences in recent years in light of newly emerging forensic science. It also disturbs me that this penalty is given to so many minority people, that is, people who are without the financial or educational resources to deal with our cumbersome legal system.

Third, does the death penalty serve the common good? I have seen no research that indicates that it acts as a deterrent to violent crime. I cannot see how it makes us a better nation, that is, a more compassionate and fair society. And it clearly does not set a good example for individual conduct or moral maturity.

For these reasons I urge you to abolish the death penalty in this state.


C. Franklin Brookhart
9th Bishop of Montana


Blogger The young fogey said...

I am 99.99 per cent against the death penalty just like the late Pope: some crimes are so heinous the perpetrator forfeits his right to live. It is the taking of a life but not a murder unlike other controversial takings of life on which you and I agree.

Not the most respected source but here is Wikipedia:

Church doctrine is that a death penalty can be necessary at times when a society does not have the means to keep its citizens safe from criminals, but that Catholics are called to oppose the death penalty if the condemned can be successfully kept behind bars to protect society. If, however, the condemned poses a threat to the well-being of society and is not likely to be able to be kept behind bars then under the principle of double effect in order to protect life, the implementation of a death penalty is permissible.

I assume Montana can keep its dangerous people locked up to protect its citizens; in that case you, Bishop Brookhart and I are singing from the same hymnal.

February 08, 2009 9:34 PM  

Blogger Jane Ellen+ said...

I can agree that allowing the death penalty would be preferable to allowing a dangerous person to run free. That said, I know of nowhere in this country that is incapable of incarcerating criminals-- while we have shown ourselves entirely capable of killing people who have been wrongly convicted.

Given a choice between the slim chance of a murderer being allowed to wander free, and the measurably higher risk of sending an innocent person to the electric chair or gas chamber (nothing more than government-sponsored murder), ... I prefer to err on the side of life.

February 09, 2009 9:10 AM  

Blogger dudleysharp said...

The Bishop is in error:

The Death Penalty: Neither Hatred nor Revenge
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below

Death penalty opponents say that the death penalty has a foundation in hatred and revenge. Such is a false claim.

A death sentence requires pre existing statutes, trial and appeals, considerations of guilt and due process, to name but a few.  Revenge requires none of these and, in fact, does not even require guilt or a crime.

The criminal justice system goes out of its way to take hatred and revenge out of the process.  That is why we have a system of pre existing laws and legal procedures that offer extreme protections to defendants and those convicted and which provide statutes and sanctions which existed prior to the crime.
It is also why those directly affected by the murder are not allowed to be fact finders in the case.

The reality is that the pre trial, trial. appellate and executive clemency/commutation processes offer much  greater time and human resources to capital cases than they do to any other cases, meaning that the facts tell us that defendants and convicted murderers, subject to the death penalty, receive much greater care and concern than those not facing the death penalty - the opposite of a system marked with vengeance.

Calling executions a product of hatred and revenge is simply a way in which some death penalty opponents attempt to establish a sense of moral superiority. It can also be a transparent insult which results in additional hurt to those victim survivors who have already suffered so much and who believe that execution is the appropriate punishment for those who murdered their loved one(s).

Far from moral superiority, those who call capital punishment an expression of hatred and revenge are often exhibiting their contempt for those who believe differently than they do. Instead, they might reflect on why others believe it is a just and deserved sanction for the crimes committed.

The pro death penalty position is based upon those who find that punishment just and appropriate under specific circumstances.

Those opposed to execution cannot prove a foundation of hatred and revenge for the death penalty any more than they can for any other punishment sought within a system such as that observed within the US - unless such opponents find all punishments a product of hatred and revenge - an unreasonable, unfounded position

Far from hatred and revenge, the death penalty represents our greatest condemnation for a crime of unequaled horror and consequence. Lesser punishments may suffice under some circumstances. A death sentence for certain heinous crimes is given in those special circumstances when a jury finds such is more just than a lesser sentence.

Less justice is not what we need.

A thorough review of the criminal justice system will often beg this question: Why have we chosen to be so generous to murderers and so contemptuous of the human rights and suffering of the victims and future victims?

The punishment of death is, in no way, a balancing between harm and punishment, because the innocent murder victim did not deserve or earn their fate, whereas the murderer has earned their own, deserved punishment by the free will action of violating societies laws and an individuals life and, thereby, voluntarily subjecting themselves to that jurisdictions judgment.

copyright 2001-2009   Dudley Sharp, Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or in part,  is approved with proper attribution.

Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail  sharpjfa@aol.com,  713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas
Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS , VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.
A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.
Pro death penalty sites 


http://yesdeathpenalty.googlepages.com/home2   (Sweden)

February 09, 2009 11:08 AM  

Blogger Jane Ellen+ said...

Mr. Sharp: Thank you for your comments. I have posted only the first of them, because I find their length overwhelming and excessive for a comment space. Perhaps you could open your own blog and post the others there as entries?

If you would care to submit a short summary, along with a link for those who would like more information, I would be happy to allow that comment to post.

February 09, 2009 11:31 AM  

Blogger dudleysharp said...



Innocents are more protected with the death penalty



Based upon my experience, you are unaware of all of the studies finding for deterrence because neither you nor your staff has ever looked for them.

16 recent studies, inclusive of their defenses, find for deterrence:


US Senate testimony about deterrence



So there is no confusion on deterrence:


February 09, 2009 3:27 PM  

Blogger dudleysharp said...

Jane Ellen:

Thank you for posting that one.

I posted the rest with links. Much shorter.

I, intnetionally, don;t have my own blog and I understnd it when a host doesn't want to post my long posts.

I post at a host's discretion.

Thank you.

February 09, 2009 3:30 PM  

Blogger Benedict Seraphim said...

J S Mill's speech on capital punishment is a mainstay of my ethics courses, and his points remain, I believe valid to this day.

There is no inherent reason to oppose the death penalty per se. Indeed, some forms of legal punishment would be far more heinous and unust than capital punishment. (Cynical aside: capital punishment doesn't change the fact *that* someone will die.)

But Mill makes a cogent point: opposition to capital punishment is valid on process grounds. Assuming that no legal process is perfect, nonetheless are safeguards in place to ensure with as great a degree of rigor as possible that only the guilty (who fit the criteria) will be put to death? If there are significant negatives to that query, then capital punishment must be suspended until the weaknesses are addressed.

I am utterly sympathetic to Mr. Sharp's criticism of the pro-death penalty position. It is frequently little more than a polemical seizing of an appearance of moral superiority.

That said, however, it is utterly legitimate and indeed necessary to focus on procedural safeguards--with appropriate if imperfect rigor--as a means of opposing capital punishment.

February 19, 2009 3:03 PM  

Blogger dudleysharp said...

Dear Benedict:

Because of procedural safeguards and extreme due process, innocents are more protected by death penalty.

Read my Bishop "Secondly", above.

February 20, 2009 8:22 AM  

Blogger The Lovely Wife said...

How you doing with "Change of Heart"?

Fits right in with this. I would love to hear how the author of that book, after all the research that she has done and visiting in the prison system and speaking with wardens of prisons would way in.

February 24, 2009 10:54 AM  

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