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Words from the Bishop - Deepen Faith and Witness: Social Statement on the Death Penalty
““Social statements of our church do not intend to end such diversity by ‘binding’ members to a particular position. Social statements acknowledge diversity and address members in their Christian freedom.”
In 1991, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly approved a social statement on The Death Penalty, amidst significant discussion. In 1972 the US Supreme Court put a moratorium on capital punishment, saying that the state laws regarding the death penalty were inconsistent and potentially discriminatory. Over the years a number of states re-instated the death penalty with laws that were consistent with the Supreme Court’s ruling. In 1991, 36 states had the death penalty. In 2016, 31 states have the death penalty in some form or other. Both Montana and Wyoming have the death penalty.
While acknowledging that other opinions exist among our people, the statement strongly opposes the death penalty. The statement lists 3 broad reasons that the church opposed the death penalty.
Several years ago I attended a Jewish-Christian conference in Maryland that included a trip to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. Aside from the impact the museum had on me (I slept for 12 hours), I cannot forget the Jewish woman who stood up and said: please tell your students the difference between being anti-Semitic and being anti-Jewish. Since then I have been teaching that Hitler was anti-Semitic, while Luther and other reformers were anti-Jewish, angry that the Jews would not or could not believe as Christians did.
By the time of the Reformation, most Jews had been chased out of Western Europe. Spain and Italy remained safe havens for Jewish scholars who were instrumental in bringing Hebrew studies to the North. Beginning with Petrarch in Italy, secular scholars called humanists called for a re-examination of texts, both classical and biblical, using primary sources, in an effort to correct faulty translations and misinterpretations. As Pastor Tom Lee explains in his article, the idea was to study a text in its original cultural context. This, of course, necessitated the study of ancient languages, including the Hebrew and Greek of the Bible.
Martin Luther was an Old Testament professor who knew the loving and merciful God through his study of the Psalms, the prophets, and the Book of Genesis. Christian humanists, especially, encouraged church leaders to take another look at Genesis with its emphasis on the goodness and beauty of all creation and human beings made in God’s image.
Pastor Lee points to the rise in popularity of studying Hebrew in order to uncover the same loving and forgiving God in the Old Testament that Christians continue to meet in the New Testament. This is an invitation to take another look at the Old Testament.
Pastor Judy Wozniak
Cochabamba and Futbol