Open Statement on Capital Punishment from the Most Reverend Edmond L. Browning, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, May 1990

Episcopal News Service. May 24, 1990 [90143]

Today, I am moved to confirm once again the Episcopal Church's opposition to capital punishment. The church has maintained this position since 1958, and reaffirmed it again in 1979. I take this moment to reaffirm it again for the 1990s.

The taking of human life diminishes us as a people. We all hate the crime of a person who would take another life. But in using the death penalty against the one who has taken a life means we end up committing the very act we found so repugnant in the first place. And thus we are diminished, both in the sight of God and one another.

The taking of a human life, for whatever reason, is an affront to God. The Christian community affirms that all persons are made in the image of God, thus making all people holy. The death penalty is an assault on God's purposes in creation.

The recent wave of support for and use of capital punishment troubles me greatly. For the church, an eye-for-an-eye system of justice has no place. Jesus called instead for a love of neighbor, even of one's enemies.

Jesus told us that the greatest gift we could give is to lay down our own lives for another. Conversely, the taking of another life must be viewed as the greatest sacrilege. The heart of the Christian faith is found in Jesus' offering of his own life, taken by use of the death penalty under Roman law.

In these times when violence is so often used as a solution to violence itself, I wish to align myself with those who are today opposing the use of capital punishment. I commend them for their efforts to light a torch of conscience in our nation. I hope our legislators will want to revisit the death penalty issue and question the increasing use of this sad practice.

Of course, legislators will respond to the will of the people. And I pray God that no politician will again be able to gain election on the promise of support for capital punishment. This is not about partisan politics or vote counting. It is about morality, human dignity, and respect for ourselves as people of justice and mercy.

The church's voice must be heard in this national debate. And, without hesitation, I place my voice at the forefront of the Episcopal Church's opposition to any form of capital punishment.