The death penalty is a controversial topic, but many Christians believe that their faith guides them to oppose capital punishment. Additionally, the conviction process is imperfect and it’s estimated that at least 4% of inmates sentenced to death are innocent. Across American culture, mindsets are also shifting toward opposing the death penalty as well, and fewer inmates are executed with each passing year.
We wanted to introduce readers to some of the most provoking Christian leaders who are making articulate cases for ceasing capital punishment. Making arguments based on theology, compelling legal cases and logic, these thought-leaders are worth a listen.
Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer, bestselling author and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative. He based his law practice specifically in Alabama because it was the only state which failed to allow poor death row inmates access to defense lawyers. In addition to helping exonerate dozens of innocent men on death row, Stevenson has also focused on eliminating harsh death penalty and life imprisonment without parole sentences for children under 18. Stevenson’s #1 New York Times Bestseller Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, is a compelling and moving book which humanizes both the inmates and the victims of violent crime.
Faith guides Stevenson and he is speaking at churches across the country on the issue. “At the church meeting, I spoke mostly about Walter’s case, but I also reminded people that when the woman accused of adultery was brought to Jesus, he told the accusers who wanted to stone her to death, ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’ The woman’s accusers retreated, and Jesus forgave her and urged her to sin no more. But today, our self-righteousness, our fear and our anger have caused even the Christians to hurl stones at the people who fall down, even when we know we should forgive or show compassion. I told the congregation that we can’t simply watch that happen. I told them we have to be stonecatchers.”
Sister Helen Prejean
Sister Helen Prejean is a Catholic nun who’s dedicated her life and ministry toward standing against the death penalty. She’s the author of Dead Man Walking which was adapted into the 1995 critically-acclaimed hit film, starring Susan Sarandon as Sister Helen Prejean.
Sister Helen Prejean composes articulate arguments against capital punishment. In her book, she explained that “the death penalty costs too much. Allowing our government to kill citizens compromises the deepest moral values upon which this country was conceived: the inviolable dignity of human persons.”
Shane Claiborne is a dynamic evangelical leader, working as a speaker, author and activist through his Philadelphia ministry, The Simple Way. He worked alongside Mother Teresa in Calcutta and developed a radically compassionate worldview along the way.
Claiborne has penned powerful op-eds, inviting Christians to oppose capital punishment. He’s also organized activists in DC to lobby against the death penalty. “It does not take courage to say that slavery is wrong a generation after we have ended it. It takes courage to say that slavery is wrong when it is still legal and socially acceptable. So it is with the death penalty. I believe we will look back at the death penalty a generation from now just like we look back at slavery: with horror and shame, wondering how we ever thought it was OK and how we used the Bible to justify it…. Killing is the problem, not the solution. We cannot kill to show that killing is wrong. And we have ways of protecting innocent people from someone who is dangerous without killing dangerous people.”
Anthony Ray Hinton
When Anthony Ray Hinton’s harrowing memoir The Sun Does Shine was published in 2018, readers were shocked by his story. After serving time on death row for 30 years, Hinton was proven innocent in 2015, represented by Bryan Stevenson himself.
Hinton’s memoir humanizes the death row experience and boldly reveals the incredible injustices that can occur when innocent people are sentenced to death. His faith in Christ offered him hope during his darkest days on death row, but he is an activist working to ensure that innocent people are never again wrongfully convicted to death. He speaks candidly and bravely about his experience. “I was afraid every single day on death row. And I also found a way to find joy every single day. I learned that fear and joy are both a choice.” The Sun Does Shine was so moving that Oprah selected it for her book club and helped elevate the memoir to the bestseller list.