By Bob Allen
Moderate and progressive Baptists joined nearly 400 Catholic and evangelical leaders issuing a Holy Week call to end the use of the death penalty in the United States.
“We urge governors, prosecutors, judges and anyone entrusted with power to do all that they can to end a practice that diminishes our humanity and contributes to a culture of violence and retribution without restoration,” the group said in a statement released the week Christians around the world commemorate the suffering and execution of Jesus leading up to Easter.
“We especially ask public officials who are Christian to join us in the solidarity of prayer this week as we meditate on the wounds of injustice that sicken our society,” the statement said.
Signers include Sister Helen Prejean, an anti-death penalty advocate portrayed by actress Susan Sarandon in the 1995 film Dead Man Walking, also starring actor Sean Penn.
Baptist signers include Suzii Paynter, executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship; Mercer University ethicist and Baptist News Global columnist David Gushee; and Julie Pennington-Russell, pastor of the flagship CBF First Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga.
One signer, William Coates, pastor of First Baptist of Gainesville, Ga., leads the church where Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal is a member. Several of the names on the statement also appeared on an earlier appeal asking Deal to stop the execution of Kelly Gissendaner, a death row inmate scheduled to die March 2 whose life was spared temporarily due to problems with the drug being prepared for her lethal injection.
Gissendaner, convicted in the 1997 murder of her husband, gained public support from Atlanta clergy who got to know her as a student in a prison theological education program sponsored by a consortium of schools including Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology, which is affiliated with CBF.
Today’s statement mentioned her case, along with Missouri’s recent execution of a prisoner with brain damage and Utah’s passing of a bill to bring back firing squads, as examples of why the signers believe capital punishment is morally wrong.
“It remains a shameful reality that the United States is one of the few developed nations in the world that still executes its citizens,” the statement said. “In this sacred season of suffering, death and new life, we pray that our simple Christian witness is received with open hearts.”