Maryland Bishop Eugene Sutton’s Statement on the Death Penalty

Posted by Kendall Harmon

We applaud and praise Governor O’Malley’s moral courage to place a moratorium on state-sponsored executions in Maryland. We hope and pray that this commission will conclude that the death penalty should be abolished in this great state.

For decades, The Episcopal Church has voiced strong public opposition to capital punishment. Our essential question today is whether, without exception, the death penalty should be imposed on someone convicted of murdering another human being. Our unequivocal answer is “no.” The Christian faith is rooted in both testaments of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. In the Bible, we find that every human being is given life by God, and only God the righteous Judge has the right to deny life. Of course, we understand that the state must seek justice and prosecute wrongdoing, but we cannot condone a decision by the state to pronounce a sentence of death for wrongdoing---no matter how violent and brutal the crime of the perpetrator may have been. Because of our belief in a just and moral God, there is simply no moral justification for the state to execute a child of God in the name of justice.

The Episcopal Church has carefully studied the application of the death penalty in many states. Invariably, in each case, we have concluded that the death penalty is immoral, unjust and ineffective. It is immoral, first of all, because as Christians we are commanded to adhere to the ethics of Jesus who continually forbade violence as a means to solve problems that are caused by evil. Second, the death penalty is unjust because of the hugely disproportionate number of poor and black defendants who receive the death sentence. It is a sad truth that in our society, it is the wealthy are able to “buy” their way out of being executed by the state. As one prominent Episcopalian lawyer in Maryland told me recently, “true justice comes with a price tag---justice paid is justice won.” And third, the death penalty is ineffective in that it has never been shown to have deterred anyone from committing a violent crime, nor has it lowered the murder rate in any state that regularly executes its most violent criminals.

Read the whole thing.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalEpiscopal Church (TEC)TEC Bishops* Culture-WatchCapital Punishment

10 Comments
Posted August 29, 2008 at 8:41 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Katherine wrote:

I respect those who oppose both the killing of innocent children in the womb and the execution of criminals judged guilty of murder, while I don’t necessarily agree with the second in principle.  In practice there are troubling issues.

I cannot respect Episcopal leaders who are able to make statements opposing the death penalty while being comfortable with the church’s membership in a pro-abortion organization.  Has this bishop issued strong anti-abortion statements?

August 29, 9:39 am | [comment link]
2. David Fischler wrote:

Our essential question today is whether, without exception, the death penalty should be imposed on someone convicted of murdering another human being. Our unequivocal answer is “no.”

You know, I oppose the death penalty, but with allies like this I wonder if I’m taking the right position. There is virtually no one who advocates capital punishment for murder “without exception.” That is not the “essential question,” and it is dishonest for Sutton to pretend that it is.

What is it about putting a mitre on that makes so many of these people either stupid or incapable of speaking truthfully?

August 29, 9:40 am | [comment link]
3. Katherine wrote:

Further, I offer this article on whether the death penalty deters murder.  Yes, it’s a conservative opinion piece, but if the reader will scroll down in the article, it offers statistics on the numbers of murders by strangers when the death penalty is in effect and when it’s not.  Briefly, it claims that murders in the course of other crimes (“stranger murders”) drop when criminals know that the murder will subject them to a far more severe penalty than the robbery will.

August 29, 9:48 am | [comment link]
4. Katherine wrote:

Pfui.  Link doesn’t work.  Try again:

http://www.spectator.org/dsp_article.asp?art_id=13433

August 29, 9:49 am | [comment link]
5. Hakkatan wrote:

It is hard to argue that the death penalty is unbiblical when Scripture commands it in a number of places—including God’s charge to Noah after the flood. Paul also implies it in Romans, where he says that the government does not bear the sword in vain.

The death penalty is a legitimate punishment for certain crimes.  I would argue that first degree murder and treason are among those crimes.

On the other hand—I do not think that the American system of jurisprudence is capable of insuring fair trials in all cases, so I am opposed to the death penalty.

August 29, 12:19 pm | [comment link]
6. COLUMCIL wrote:

Using Holy Scripture but only to “proof text” a position.  This is the frustrating and never ending behavior of bishops in TEC.  Yes, I’d like to hear the same passion for the 40,000,000 abortions since Roe v Wade, too, Katherine.  Do you suppose we could get the good bishop’s comments on that issue published?

August 29, 1:16 pm | [comment link]
7. Billy wrote:

The death penalty will never be a deterrent as long as appeals are allowed to run for 10-20 years in state and then federal courts.  That is the reason it is not a deterrent, and one suspects that the bishop knows that but conveniently leaves it out, since it doesn’t help his argument.  I am personally opposed to the death penalty, but I would take predatory criminals, that otherwise would get the death penalty, and put them either in isolation for the rest of their lives (true isolation - no people contact; robotic conveyor belts for food in front of cells with small bottom doors for intake of food tray) or send them to penal colonies on islands from which there could be no escape, and let them take care of themselves.

August 29, 2:08 pm | [comment link]
8. phil swain wrote:

As I understand it the Catholic Church teaches that if a bloodless form of punishment would protect society from a muderer as well as capital punishment then the bloodless(incarceration) should be used.  How ‘bout allowing the sentencing agent, judge or jury, to make a finding whether the convicted murderer would pose an unreasonable risk of physical harm to prison employees or fellow prisoners.  If the finding was that the convicted murderer would pose an unreasonable risk of physical harm then they could impose the death penalty.

August 29, 2:23 pm | [comment link]
9. Katherine wrote:

#6 COLUMCIL, I suspect that Bp. Sutton has made no anti-abortion statements.  TEC’s executive council made it a member of a pro-abortion coalition of liberal Protestants and so far as I know the TEC leadership heartily approves this affiliation.  I would be happy to be proved wrong about Sutton.

August 30, 8:45 am | [comment link]
10. COLUMCIL wrote:

Katherine, and very sad to know that this is true.  Very sad.

August 30, 7:46 pm | [comment link]
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