Our nation has experienced tremendous loss during the past few months. We have witnessed so much death and devastation. Our hearts have been broken over and over again as the COVID-19 pandemic has taken the lives of so many we love and care about.
The country has also been shaken by the most recent tragedies of Black people killed by police, which have exposed once again the unhealed wound of racism.
And in the midst of our grieving, we are confronted with the prospect of yet even more death, this time in the form of scheduled upcoming federal executions.
We have not seen an execution at the federal level in 17 years, and there have only been three since 1988. Yet the Federal Bureau of Prisons, under the Department of Justice, has set four execution dates for July and August.
This is why more than a thousand faith leaders from a diverse range of faith traditions nationwide decided this week that now was the time to sign and send a joint statement to President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr urging them to not resume federal executions.
The statement says in part, “As our country grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, an economic crisis, and systemic racism in the criminal legal system, we should be focused on protecting and preserving life, not carrying out executions.”
Faith leaders coming together to oppose the resumption of federal executions should come as no surprise. There has been a clear trend in Christian faith communities the past several years toward reevaluation and rejection of the death penalty.
Pope Francis has strengthened the Catholic position against the death penalty. The National Association of Evangelicals dropped their pro-death penalty position a few years ago. And numerous Christian denominations with long-held anti-death penalty beliefs continue to fight for an end to capital punishment in America once and for all.
The push by the Trump administration to restart federal executions is out of step with what’s been happening with grassroots Republican leaders, as well as faith leaders. There is actually a nationwide trend of Republican state legislators changing their minds on the death penalty and partly because of their faith—a belief in the sanctity of human life.
In 2016, 10 times as many Republican state legislators sponsored death penalty repeal bills than in the year 2000. Colorado could not have repealed its death penalty a few months ago without the support of three conservative Republican senators who cited their religious beliefs as a contributing factor.
All of these actions demonstrate how faith leaders have seized a place at the table and embraced the responsibility to keep speaking out. They are clearly changing hearts and minds by preaching against a culture of death, a racially biased system that arbitrarily decides who lives and who dies, and one that frequently sentences innocent people to death.
The movement to end the death penalty has been led by people of faith in this country for decades. Our hearts are heavy as the federal execution dates approach, but we will keep fighting and keep faith with our beliefs and principles.
These executions will take our country in the wrong direction. We pray for an intervention and for a system that will recognize the humanity of us all.
Related reading: Executions at Record Low Level Because of COVID-19
Heather Beaudoin is the Senior Manager of the EJUSA Evangelical Network, which promotes a justice system centered on redemption and healing. Heather helped to launch Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty and has worked for the National Republican Congressional Committee in Washington, D.C.