Arkansas is set for a mass execution of eight people within a 10 day period, starting April 17.
The rush to kill exists because one lethal injection drug — which has caused multiple botched executions — is about to expire. Replacing these weapons has become challenging since drug companies have increasingly stopped participating.
Why oppose executions? Some experts estimate 1 out of 10 people on death row are innocent, with many exonerated. After executing 62 people, prison guard Jerry Givens turned ardent abolitionist when he realized innocent people are also being killed. Additionally, a 2009 survey of criminologists found 88 percent believe executions are not a deterrent to murders. Moreover, Pope Francis among others find it a cruel torture because of “the terrible suspense between the issuing of the sentence and the execution of the penalty.”
Former California Governor Brown said, “(The death penalty) is primarily inflicted upon the weak, the poor, the ignorant and minorities.” Former Illinois Governor Ryan agreed, saying, “(The) overwhelming majority of those executed are psychotic, (drug addicts) or mentally unstable…raised in an impoverished and abusive environment. Seldom are people with money…convicted of capital offenses, even more seldom are they executed.” Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg also stated, “People who are well represented at trial do not get the death penalty.” According to Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project, all eight people being executed had abysmal representation and five have serious mental illness, which competent lawyers could have used for defense.
Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of advanced democracies abolished the death penalty, including virtually every European country. They consider it barbaric. Primarily, only dictatorships continue executing people.
Since most Arkansans consider themselves Christians, these executions are senseless. In online comments, numerous bloodthirsty “Christians” were cheerleading the killings, chanting “eye for an eye!” Yet, one of the clearest things Jesus overturned was this Mosaic Law.
Jesus said without stutter in Matthew 5:38, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” He also said in Matthew, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…” He proclaimed in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
In this, Jesus made it unlawful for sincere Christians to engage in violent revenge. According to countless Christian luminaries over the last 2,000 years, Christ made violence and war unlawful altogether.
Numerous early Christian leaders believed following Jesus required nonviolence, and conscientious objection to military service. For examples, Tatian once said, “I decline military command…repudiating the madness that is in it.” Tertullian wrote, “One soul cannot be due to two masters—God and Cæsar…how will a Christian man war, nay, how will he serve even in peace, without a sword, which the Lord has taken away?…(The Lord) unbelted every soldier.” Origin also said, “We did not arm ourselves against any nation; we do not learn the art of war; because, through Jesus Christ, we have become children of peace.”
Moreover, Arnobius stated, “(We) have learned from His teaching and His laws that evil ought not to be requited with evil, that it is better to suffer wrong than to inflict it, that we should rather shed our own blood than stain our hands and our conscience with that of another, an ungrateful world is…enjoying a benefit from Christ (in that) the rage of savage ferocity has been softened, and has begun to withhold hostile hands from the blood of a fellow-creature.” Cyprian also declared, “Consider…wars scattered all over the earth (with) bloody horror…The whole world is wet with mutual blood; and murder, which in the case of an individual is admitted to be a crime, is called a virtue when it is committed wholesale.”
The third century Church of Egypt absolutely forbid Christians from military service under promise of excommunication. Many conscripted Christians refused to kill, and were imprisoned or executed for it.
Even after Constantine worked to integrate Christianity with his state violence, pacifist Christians persisted. Martin of Tours declared in 336, “I am a soldier of Christ. I cannot fight.” In the 16th Century, Menno Simons said, “The Scriptures teach that there are two opposing princes and two opposing kingdoms: (one is) the prince of strife (and the other is) The Prince of peace (Jesus); His kingdom is the kingdom of peace, which is His church; His messengers are the messengers of peace; His Word is the word of peace…His children are the seed of peace.”
Continuing this tradition recently, Tolstoy and Dr. King delivered an incredible body of Christian pacifist writing and action, respectively. Examine Tolstoy’s Law of Love, The Kingdom of God is Within, Calendar of Wisdom, etc. Pacifist modern churches also exist, most notably the Brethren, Quakers, and Mennonites. These formed Christian Peacemaker Teams, which work to reduce violence and injustice as seriously as warmakers make war. Other peace churches include the Amish, Chistadelphians, Anabaptists, Doukhobors, Schwenkfelders, Moravians, Shakers, Seventh Day Adventists, and some Pentecostals, among others.
Please join me in spiritually arousing drowsy Christians to the incompatibility of capital punishment with Christianity. Please write letters to newspapers and contact the Governor to stop these premeditated slaughterhouse-style killings, and to abolish this barbaric practice altogether. Peace is possible when violence becomes disgusting to the soul.
“All violence is contrary to love: do not participate in violence.”
Abel Tomlinson is the founder of the Arkansas Nonviolence Alliance. The opinions of this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Free Weekly or its staff.