July 1, 2022 Wayne Northey

Why I Oppose the Death Penalty

“The Talking Place: Discussing the Death Penalty” Forum on Capital Punishment, Fairbanks Alaska, March 22, 1997

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WN: I was invited to dialogue with Dr. Richard Land of (later) “The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission” of the Southern Baptist Convention. The dialogue was organized by the Presbyterian Church in Alaska because debate was heating up in a state with no death penalty on the books. (Since the death penalty’s abolition in 1957, there have been several measures to revive the death penalty, but none have been successful.[15]Wikipedia)

The dialogue took place March 22, 1997 at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. It was teleconferenced throughout Alaska including into the Juneau legislature, and also translated simultaneously for the deaf. Questions were posed from the fairly packed university audience and from the teleconferencing sites. There was a professionally produced video of the exchange made available to churches in Alaska. Parts I and II permitted a statement of my opposition to capital punishment. Part III dealt with specific biblical texts used erroneously, I argued, in defence of capital punishment. (You may click on all three below.)

Dr. Land, sadly, went on to become one of the most outspoken American evangelical voices in support of the War on Terror. See his tragic “Land Letter.”

When I was initially invited, it was to a “debate.” I refused to attend. I said that a debate reflects a “winners” and “losers” mentality that is of little use except possibly as entertainment. But I said I would take part if it was a “dialogue.” (I had negotiated earlier a similar tamping down for a comparable forum at Trinity Western University, Langley BC Canada.) The event eventually was called “To the Talking Place,” based on a local Native American tradition of the entire community coming to “The Talking Place” to work out differences respectfully and communally.1

“It involved a morning pre-session by a Religious Studies professor at the University on how to read the Bible. The dialogue was moderated by a local radio host. It was highly tasteful and respectful.

Afterwards, Dr. Land shared with me that he was seventh generation Texan. That growing up white in that state meant profound “unlearning” on racial issues alone. That when his then 18-year-old son, a top university American football draft pick that year as I recall, discussed the “dirty little war” in Vietnam, Dr. Land told me that, contrary to his Southern Baptist preacher-father, he informed his son that if America otherwise was caught up in another war of that sort, he was duty-bound to burn his draft card! (Dr. Land’s father had warned he would be disowned if he ever burned his draft card during the Vietnam War.)

That Land in this light could ever have written such an incredibly anti-Christ missive as the “Land Letter2,  shows the continued truth of Jeremiah 17:9 and deceitful hearts, and of our own desperate need for “truth-telling” challenges throughout our lives. John Alexander observed in Your Money or Your Life that it is the rarest fundamentalist who believes that the inspiration of Scripture actually extends to the words of Jesus… So it seemed borne out once again in the life of Dr. Land.3

Or as Douglas Frank warned in his sweeping historical/sociological/theological study of American Evangelicalism as it merged into the 20th century, entitled Less Than Conquerors: The Evangelical Quest for Power in the Early Twentieth Century:

Whether in auspicious or declining times, as we have seen, we [Evangelicals] display a tenacious commitment to self-deceit. It is true that we are those who like to think we heed Jeremiah’s words, ‘Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord.’ Our history, however, gives evidence of Jeremiah’s wisdom in adding these words: ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?’ (Jer. 17:7, 9). In our very protests of trust in the Lord, we find occasion for our deepest self-deceits (p. 278).

My response to Dr. Land after hearing of his change of view in relation to Blacks, in relation to the Vietnam War, was: perhaps it was time to change “now” about the death penalty.

Sadly, Dr. Land’s “teachable moment” was seemingly entirely lost (except in his private thoughts?), and he only subsequently entrenched further in the great triple Christian West heresies of Just War, Just Deserts, and Just Hell of eternal conscious torment. A personal letter to him in response to the “Land Letter” went unacknowledged, unanswered. There are none so blind as those who will not see. (For us all a sobering spiritual truth repeatedly on the lips of the prophets, of Jesus!)

In 1987 the return of the Death Penalty was put to a free vote in the House of Commons, Ottawa Canada. A widely-used resource was a booklet prepared by the Church Council on Justice and Corrections with the adjacent arresting–and unanswerable!–question.

Yesterday (June 28, 2022) a video was sent me by Charlie Sullivan, founder of Citizens United for the Reconciliation of Errants (National CURE). There are two powerful, simple and beautiful songs in it, by Gabi Uhl.

Here is more about the artist, and songs:

Source of Pictures: Pixabay

YOUTUBE PUTS ADVERTISING ON THIS CHANNEL AGAINST MY WILL – I DON’T EARN ANYTHING FROM IT, IN FACT I WOULD RATHER PAY YOUTUBE TO REFRAIN FROM ADVERTISING ON MY CONTRIBUTIONS!

LIGHT THE FLAME OF ABOLITION

Not in my name!
Stop Executions NOW!
Light the flame of Abolition –
Make our world a better one!
Make our world a peaceful one! (2x)

Often in our world greed’s winning,
people take from others’ hands,
even life, there’s too much danger –
someone’s killed by any chance.

Suspect is chased and arrested,
maybe guilty, but who knows.
Verdict of a clueless jury:
Death sentence, the bailiff shows.

Not in my name!
Stop Executions NOW!
Light the flame of Abolition –
Make our world a better one!
Make our world a peaceful one!

Feeling with you hurt and grieving,
hardly finding words to say:
How could anyone endure
which destiny you have to pay.

Don’t strike back, don’t be revengeful,
seek forgiveness instead.
Peace and freedom from within needs
breaking circles of the dead.

Not in my name!
Stop Executions NOW!
Light the flame of Abolition –
Make our world a better one!
Make our world a peaceful one!

Light a candle for the victims
both – of crimes and punishment…
Peace and closure can’t be found in
violence being permanent.

Seek for justice, practice mercy.
Stop to execute for crime.
Break the spell of hate and evil.
Abolition – now – it’s time!

Not in my name!
Stop Executions NOW!
Light the flame of Abolition –
Make our world a better one!
Make our world a peaceful one! (2x)

About: Gabi Uhl (*1962) is an activist against the Death Penalty. She has been involved with the subject since 1997, with a focus on Texas and the USA. The teacher of music and religion from Taunusstein near Wiesbaden in Germany has made various friends with Death Row inmates over the years and has witnessed three executions in Texas. She runs various websites, has published books and music on the death penalty, is involved in the Initiative gegen die Todesstrafe e.V. (German Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty) and has given numerous interactive presentations, especially at schools, about her experiences.

That was then, 25 years ago. Dr. Land participated at that time in scapegoating and driving out “Liberals” from the Southern Baptist Convention. The consequent quagmire great swaths of the Southern Baptist Convention–largest denomination of white Evangelical America–is in now, one could hope, might create another teachable moment for my former interlocutor. . . Some of that mess is captured in a few representative posts on this website:

So we pray: Lord, have mercy.

Please click on: Why I Oppose The Death Penalty

Footnotes
  1. My wife and I in 2018 discovered a nearly identical process in Rwanda (we delightfully volunteered there for two months with three post-genocide reconciliation agencies) called Gacaca Courts, used in pre-colonial Rwanda, and revived in response to the 1994 genocide. Please see my “Rwandan Dispatches” (also in Volume Three of my Justice That Transforms series).[]
  2. See footnote 1 here.[]
  3. Incidentally, my two teen-aged boys at the time, upon viewing the video of the dialogue, said I had “won” the “(non)debate” at the point Land informed me that no self-respecting Reformed scholar would ever argue as I do in Part III below. Upon that claim, I walked to my backpack in front of me, pulled out a copy of the Reformed Church of America Acts of Synod 1981, “Report 31: CAPITAL PUNISHMENT STUDY COMMITTEE”, Grand Rapids: Christian Reformed Church in North America, pp. 72-73, 448-91), and told him that six Reformed theologians had been commissioned to present their findings published in that book, and that most of my exegetical points of Part III were taken from that publication. Dr. Land had no response.

    One of the two pastor organizers told me he made up his mind against the death penalty because of the dialogue.[]

Wayne Northey

Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.