(NOTE: Below is an editorial I wrote for the Tennessean. It was originally published August 18, 2014, and got quite of bit of attention under comments.)
No matter how hard I try not to be boxed in, people label me. So, let me give you my best shot at who I am, based on labels:
I was born and raised in the South in an ultra-conservative, fundamentalist, Protestant denomination. I am an evangelical. I am not the same person I was 20 years ago, and 10 years from now I will likely be different from who I am today. Why am I telling you this?
Because there is an issue that I want to talk about, and where I land on this issue has been the result of much prayer, study, debate and restless nights. Where I land on this issue is different from where I started and what I was taught in my conservative church and Bible college.
The issue is capital punishment. The reason for bringing it up now is because Tennessee is scheduled to execute 11 inmates over the next two years, the first in October.
Because I spent the majority of my life in favor of capital punishment, I know the arguments and understand the Scriptures used to support it. Today I also know the arguments and understand the Scriptures used to support doing away with it. Both views have their strengths and weaknesses. Both views can be defended from the Bible. However, I now oppose the death penalty, and I want to share at least a couple of reasons why.
First, the way we carry out the death penalty is unjust. Even if you believe it is justifiable for some crimes, it is not too difficult to see the injustice in how our society carries out that punishment. Far too often, who does and does not get the death penalty depends on economics or gender or race (of both the victim and the criminal), the county in which the crime occurred and politics. Furthermore, the amount of time between sentencing and execution is cruel and unjust for the families of the victims. Still, even with such long delays, more than 140 people have been released from death rows nationwide when evidence of their innocence came to light. Innocent people could have been executed. Simply put: Even if capital punishment is just, we are incapable of carrying it out in a just way.
Second, Tennessee has an alternatives to capital punishment; a life sentence. This punishment is less costly to taxpayers, protects the public and allows for the possibility of redemption and reconciliation, even within prison. Also, this alternative does not risk executing an innocent person — a mistake that can never be remedied.
Honestly, I would have to admit that one reason I was pro-death penalty for so long is that the issue simply wasn’t important to me. I didn’t have the time or energy to think about it. I think that is how a lot of people feel. But now is the time for all of us to think and pray about it. I still don’t care for labels, but if you want to label me, you can count me as opposed to the death penalty.