An Appeal to End the Death Penalty-Signed by Christian Theologians and Ethicists in the United States

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An Appeal to End the Death Penalty
Signed by Christian Theologians and Ethicists in the United States
September 2011

We believe that the execution of Troy Davis on September 21, 2011 was a grievous wrong.
We reject the grotesque idea that mere "reasons of state" could ever be more important in death penalty cases than the accuracy of its verdicts.

Powerful and mounting doubts about the accuracy of the verdict against Troy Davis led many observers -- including Amnesty International, the European Union, a UN Special Rapporteur, a former FBI director, a former U.S. president, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Pope Benedict XVI -- to call for a stay of execution. The decision not to grant clemency despite worldwide protests is a terrible stain on our country.

We oppose the death penalty for both principled and pragmatic reasons. In practice death penalty cases have been riddled with misdeeds like prosecutorial misconduct, police coercion of witnesses, misidentification of suspects, and not least racial prejudice -- all of which seem to have played an appalling role in the Davis case, as they have in so many others.

More fundamentally, as Christians, we would call upon our churches and our nation to heed the example of Jesus.

• Jesus rejected the law of retaliation ("an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth") commanding us instead to treat anyone who may have wronged us with a measure of dignity and compassion.

• He intervened to prevent capital punishment when he challenged those who would put to death a woman accused of wrongdoing: "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her."

• Above all, he taught the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

• The One who forgave his enemies while dying for their sins on the cross -- "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do" -- is the One who shows us the way.

• Finally, Christians worship a Savior who died by capital punishment. That puts them at odds with any who think capital punishment is a necessity (for the state).

Those who adopted the slogan "I am Troy Davis" were exactly right. Someone we care about might one day be sentenced to death on the testimony of eyewitnesses who later recanted.

We call for an immediate end to the death penalty in the United States, we ally ourselves with all those who work toward this long overdue goal, and we challenge our churches and church leaders to join in this public witness.

Drafted by George Hunsinger, Princeton Theological Seminary and Steffen Loesel, Candler Scool of Theology

Original Signatories: J. Neil Alexander, diocesan bishop, Episcopal diocese of Atlanta; Richard Amesbury, Claremont School of Theology; Harry Attridge, Dean, Yale University Divinity School; Elizabeth Bounds, Emory University; James J. Buckley, Loyola College in Baltimore; J. Kameron Carter, Duke University Divinity School; Serene Jones, president, Union Theological Seminary in New York; Gregory Ellison II, Emory University; Mark D. Jordan, Harvard University Divinity School; Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., Princeton University; Amy Laura Hall, Duke University Divinity School; Stanley Hauerwas, Duke University Divinity School (emeritus); Brooks Holifleld, Emory University; Deborah Hunsinger, Princeton Theological Seminary; George Hunsinger, Princeton Theological Seminary; Willie Jennings, Duke University Divinity School; Thomas Long, Emory University; Robin Lovin, Perkins School of Theology; Joy McDougall, Emory University; Ian McFarland, Emory University; Mary Elizabeth Moore, dean, Boston School of Theology; Martha Moore-Keish, Columbia Theological Seminary; Steffen Loesel, Candler School of Theology; John A. McGuckin, Union Theological Seminary in New York; Elaine Padilla, New York Theological Seminary; Aristotle Papanikolaou, Fordham University; Peter Paris, Princeton Theological Seminary (emeritus); Luis Rivera-Pagán, Princeton Theological Seminary (emeritus); Yolanda Pierce, Princeton Theological Seminary; Mark Lewis Taylor, Princeton Theological Seminary; Emilie Townes, Yale University Divinity School; Luther Smith, Emory University; William Werpehowski, Villanova University; John Witte, Emory Law School; Nicholas Wolterstorff, Yale University Divinity School (emeritus)