Petition 80599

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In Opposition to Capital Punishment (80599-C1-R255)

Delete Resolutions 245, 246, and 247 and incorporate into 255  
The United Methodist Church declares its opposition to the retention and use of capital punishment and urges its abolition. In spite of a common assumption to the contrary, "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," does not give justification for the imposing of the penalty of death. Jesus explicitly repudiated retaliation (Matthew 5:38-39), and the Talmud denies its literal meaning and holds that it refers to financial indemnities. Christ came among us and suffered death. Christ also rose to new life for the sake of all. His suffering, death, and resurrection brought a new dimension to human life, the possibility of reconciliation with God through repentance. This gift is offered to all without exception, and human life was given new dignity and sacredness through it. The death penalty, however, denies Christ's power to transform and restore all human beings. In the New Testament, when a woman having committed a crime was brought before Jesus, He persisted in questioning her accusers, so that they walked away (John 8:1-11). The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church condemn ". . . torture of persons by governments for any purpose," (¶ 164A) and assert that it violates Christian teachings. The church, through its Social Principles, further declares, "we oppose capital punishment and urge its elimination from all criminal codes" (¶ 164A). During the 1970s and 1980s a rapidly rising rate of violent crime and an even greater increase in the fear of crime generated support in some countries and within the North American society, for the institution of death as the punishment for certain forms of homicide. It continues to be wrongly asserted, that capital punishment uniquely deters criminals and protects law-abiding citizens from violent crime.  
Studies conducted over more than sixty years have overwhelmingly failed to support the  
thesis that capital punishment deters homicide more effectively than does imprisonment , and in some cases may actually increase the number of murders (Death Penalty Information Center), . In fact, in the United States “ten of the twelve states without the death penalty have homicide rates below the national average, whereas half of the states with the death penalty have homicide rates above the national average.” (Source: New York Times, September 22, 2000) Careful comparisons of homicide rates in similar states within the United States with and without use of the death penalty have revealed that homicide rates remained the same or slightly greater regardless of the use of the death penalty in those states. Governments that have enacted the death penalty continue to have higher civilian murder rates that those that do not. The five countries with the highest homicide rates that do not impose the death penalty average 21.6 murders per every 100,000 people, whereas the five countries with the highest homicide rate that do impose the death penalty average 41.6 murders every 100,000 people. The United Methodist Church is deeply concerned with the rate of crime throughout the world, and the value of a life taken by murder or homicide. When another life is taken through capital punishment, the life of the victim is further devalued. Moreover, the church is convinced that the use of the death penalty would result in neither a net reduction of crime nor a lessening of the particular kinds of crime against which it was directed. In the 1980s and 1990s, the homicide rate in states with the death penalty had been 48-101% higher than in states without the death penalty.” (Source: New York  
Times September 22, 2000) use of the death penalty in the United States reached almost
unprecedented proportions. The rate of homicide, the crime for which the death penalty has been used almost exclusively, increased very little during the 1980s and declined during the 1990s. Use of the death penalty gradually increased Since until peaking in the late 1990s , ; however, the number of executions has steadily declined in recent years. Also steadily waning is public support for the death penalty as more people support others forms of punishment as alternatives to death. Further developments since 2000 is that a majority of people also no longer believe that the death penalty acts as a deterrent or is administered fairly (Source: Death Penalty Information Center website). As United Methodist Christians, part of our mission is to reform to give attention to the improvement of the total criminal justice system and to the eliminate ion of social conditions which breed crime and cause disorder. , rather than foster a false confidence in the effectiveness of the death penalty to deter crime.  

Sixty-seven percent of law enforcement officials do not think capital punishment decreases the rate of homicide. A poll of police chiefs found that they ranked the death penalty least effective in reducing violent crime. 1 In 1993, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing an innocent person was not "cruel and unusual" if all the proper and legal procedures were followed. The court thus does not have to reopen a case if new evidence, exonerating the defendant, comes to light after a legally established deadline for new information. Between 1972 and 1999 2007 more than seventy one hundred and twenty people have been released from death row as a  
result of being wrongly convicted. On average, for every eight seven people executed,  
one person under a death sentence is found innocent. (Source: Death Penalty
Information Center website)
The United States is the world leader in sentencing children to death. Since 1990 only Iran, Pakistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and the U.S. are known to have executed persons for crimes they committed as children. Of these, the U.S. has executed more juvenile offenders than any other nation. This practice has been condemned in nearly every major human rights treaty. Canada, Italy, and South Africa are among the many countries that abolished the death penalty in the 20th century.
The practice of executing child offenders remains a global problem and has been condemned in numerous human rights treaties. We applaud the United States Supreme Court decision on March 1, 2005 which ruled that executing child offenders is unconstitutional. Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority opinion of the Court, stated that the growing international outrage against the executions of juveniles was a “significant” factor in ruling against its practice in the United States. Therefore, it is our hope that further international outrage against the use of the death penalty for all people might bring about its abolition in the United States and throughout the world. Part of their reasoning was the growing international consensus that child executions are immoral. This reasoning compels us to continue to advocate for the complete abolition of all executions throughout the world.

In 2006, ninety one percent of all known executions in the world were carried out by six nations: China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan, and the United s States of America.
The death penalty falls unfairly and unequally upon marginalized persons including the poor, the uneducated, ethnic and religious minorities, and persons with mental and emotional illnesses. The death penalty is also often used as a method of political repression to eliminate political opponents. In the United States, persons who receive the death penalty are usually convicted of killing middle or upper class white persons, and are almost always poor and unable to afford a lawyer , and often suffer from brain damage associated with previous head injuries, often in childhood . In the U.S. methods for selecting the few persons sentenced to die from among the large number who are sentenced for comparable offenses are entirely arbitrary. What warrants the death penalty and what sentencing options are available vary among the few countries that impose capital punishment and even among the states in the United States. The United States Supreme Court, in Gregg v. Georgia (1976), in permitting use of the death penalty, conceded the lack of evidence that it reduced violent crime, but permitted its use for the purpose of sheer retribution. The United Methodist Church cannot accept retribution or social vengeance as a reason for taking human life. It violates our deepest belief in God as the Creator and the Redeemer of humankind. In this respect, there can be no assertion that human life can be taken humanely by the state. Indeed, in the long run, the use of the death penalty by the state will increase the acceptance of revenge in our society and will give official sanction to a climate of violence.  
Therefore, we call upon United Methodists individually, at the district and conference  

level and through the Council of Bishops, and the general boards and agencies to:  

  • work in collaboration with other ecumenical and abolitionist groups for the abolition of the death penalty in those states which currently have capital punishment statutes, and against efforts to reinstate such statutes in those which do not;  
    • promote the work of United Methodists Against the Death Penalty in mobilizing United Methodists to the work of abolition
      • speak out advocate against the death penalty to state governors, state and federal representatives;  
        • develop education materials on capital punishment; and
  • oppose all executions through prayer and vigils.  
    ADOPTED 2000 See Social Principles, ¶ 164G A .  
    1  Eric Pooley. “Death or Life?” Time Magazine, June 16, 1997.