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Official church statements on capital punishment

4/1/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE: This is a sidebar to UMNS story #189.

A UMNS Report By Tom McAnally* By Tom McAnally*

United Methodists have adopted several statements on capital punishment over the years.

The church's Social Principles, found in its 2000 Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions, spell out its opposition to the death penalty. Additional statements in the Book of Resolutions also speak to that issue. The church's top legislative assembly, General Conference, meets every four years to revise the books.

The following passages are from the Social Principles:

Paragraph 164A
Basic Freedoms and Human Rights
"… (We) oppose capital punishment and urge its elimination from all criminal codes."

Paragraph 164F
Criminal and Restorative Justice
"…Most criminal justice systems around the world are retributive. These retributive justice systems profess to hold the offender accountable to the state and use punishment as the equalizing tool for accountability. In contrast, restorative justice seeks to hold the offender accountable to the victimized person, and to the disrupted community. Through God's transforming power, restorative justice seeks to repair the damage, right the wrong, and bring healing to all involved, including the victim, the offender, the families and the community. The Church is transformed when it responds to the claims of discipleship by becoming an agent of healing and systemic change.

These excerpts are from the 2000 Book of Resolutions:

230. Bishops Urged to Uphold Opposition to Capital Punishment
(Pages 575-576)
"…(Be) it resolved that the Council of Bishops be encouraged to honor and uphold the teachings of United Methodism . . . opposing and calling for the abolition of capital punishment, requesting all clergy and lay officials to preach, teach, and exemplify its sacred intent - especially by calling upon governors and state legislators in capital punishment states to commute present death sentences to life imprisonment as historically advocated by The United Methodist Church."

317. Terrorism
(Pages 786-787)
"…(It) is important that we, as United Methodist Christians ... stand against terrorist acts in the forms of retaliation or capital punishment."

231. Capital Punishment
(Pages 576-579)
"The United Methodist Church is convinced that the nation's leaders should give attention to the improvement of the total criminal justice system and to elimination of social conditions that breed crime and cause disorder, rather than foster confidence in the effectiveness of the death penalty.

"The United Methodist Church declares its opposition to the retention and use of capital punishment in any form or carried out by any means; the church urges the abolition of capital punishment.

"The international portions of the United Methodist Church are deeply grieved by the use of the death penalty in the United States. United Methodists in central conferences and people in autonomous Methodist churches deplore this fact and are embarrassed by the immoral practice in many states in the United States. The international conscience is mobilizing to condemn this cruel practice and targets the United States as 'an enemy of civilized people' in their protests."

238. In Opposition to Capital Punishment
(Pages 594-597)
"The United Methodist Church declares its opposition to the retention and use of capital punishment and urges its abolition."

"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 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 Redeemer of humankind."

"We call upon United Methodists ... 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;
· speak out against the death penalty to state governors, state and federal representatives;
· develop educational materials on capital punishment; and
· oppose all executions through prayer and vigils."

242. Seek Moratorium on Capital Punishment
(Pages 611-612)
"…(The) General Conference of The United Methodist Church calls upon the government to enact an immediate moratorium on carrying out the death penalty sentence."
# # #
*McAnally, former director of United Methodist News Service, resides in Nashville, Tenn.

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