Evangelicals change official stance on death penalty

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2015/10/20/evangelicals-change-official-stance-on-death-penalty/

One of the nation’s largest groups of evangelical Christians released a resolution Oct. 15 that revises the organization’s position on the death penalty.

Since 1973, the National Association of Evangelicals, a coalition that represents millions of evangelicals throughout the United States, has supported capital punishment.

But in its resolution, the NAE recognized the growing split among believers when it comes to the death penalty. The resolution declared: “Evangelical Christians differ in their beliefs about capital punishment, often citing strong biblical and theological reasons either for the just character of the death penalty in extreme cases or for the sacredness of all life, including the lives of those who perpetrate serious crimes and yet have the potential for repentance and reformation.”

The resolution went on to say that the group “affirm[s] the conscientious commitment of both streams of Christian ethical thought.”

Religion News Service columnist Jonathan Merritt cautiously praised the move.

“The NAE’s capital punishment resolution is a hopeful sign that evangelicals are catching up to the rest of America,” he said, adding: “The death penalty has survived in America, in part, because of evangelicals’ strong support. Evangelicals have often followed, rather than led, on issues of justice and equality in America.”

Previously, the NAE supported the death penalty in cases of crimes that cause physical harm, such as “premeditated murder, the killing of a police officer or guard, murder in connection with any other crime, hijacking, skyjacking, or kidnapping.”

A vast majority – 71 percent – of white evangelicals support the death penalty, according to a 2015 Pew Forum poll. But the numbers mark a drop from 77 percent support in 2011.

Earlier this year the country’s largest Hispanic evangelical group, the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, called for an end to capital punishment.

Another large Protestant organization, the Southern Baptist Convention, has traditionally supported the death penalty. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission – the political arm of the SBC – has offered cautious support for capital punishment but admits that Christians are divided over it.

The American Catholic community also remains divided on the issue.  Although more than half of U.S. Catholics support capital punishment, Pope Francis recently condemned the practice in his speech to Congress last month, noting that “every life is sacred.”

About 45,000 congregations from 40 different denominations are members of the 73-year-old National Association of Evangelicals.

Contact Kara Bettis at [email protected] or @karabettis