Montana and Wyoming are among the states that still have the death penalty on the books. They join a minority of other states and a few of the most repressive and brutal regimes in the world in punishing people by killing them. China, North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia and ISIS are the company we keep in maintaining that it is the right of the state to execute.
People of faith in both states are working to abolish the death penalty. The Wyoming Legislature recently defeated HB 97 (that would have abolished the death penalty) in a 5-4 vote in committee. In Montana the House Judiciary Committee will be hearing testimony on HB 370 (abolition of the death penalty and replacement with life imprisonment without possibility of parole) this Friday, February 13, at 8 AM. I will be there to testify, along with other representatives of MAC and the religious community.
Opposition to the death penalty is not a partisan issue. Both Republicans and Democrats support it. This year’s bill is sponsored by a Republican legislator. In the years that I have gone to the Legislature to testify in favor of abolition, more and more individuals and groups have spoken out against the death penalty. Religious groups, fiscal conservatives, law enforcement, families of victims, former members of the judiciary, human rights groups, death row inmates who were later exonerated, legal scholars—all testified in favor of replacing the death penalty with life in prison without possibility of parole. Different groups bring different reasoning. For some it is a matter of cost—life without parole is cheaper than the death penalty with the lengthy appeals process. For some it is a matter of closure. For some it is a justice issue, and the somewhat arbitrary nature of who gets the death sentence and who does not.
For me, as a Christian, it is a moral issue. Based on prayer, reading and listening, I stand with the ELCA (see the Social Statement on “The Death Penalty”, adopted in 1991) and with other faith communities (see the MAC Position Paper on Capital
Punishment, adopted in 1980 at www.macmt.org ) in condemning the death penalty as barbaric
and unbecoming to a civilized nation. I have great sympathy for innocent victims of crime. (See
the Social Statement on “The Church and Criminal :Justice Hearing the Cries” at
www.elca.org.) But I do not believe that it honors their memory or heals their wounds for the
state to put a criminal, however heinous, to death.
In the ELCA and in the United States we are not of one mind on this issue. I respect that
there are people of faith and character who hold differing positions. I want to let you know
where I stand. As a Christian, and as a citizen, I oppose the death penalty. The Jesus whom I
follow, who guides my life, was executed by the Romans in a brutal act of violence that was
commonplace in those times. I can find no justification for the continuation of state-sponsored
executions. Following the risen Christ, for me, means saying “no” to violence and revenge, and
saying “yes” to life.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA