Saturday, June 07, 2008

United Methodist Church death penalty stance singles out Texas

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' stay of execution for a death row inmate on June 3 answered the prayers of many United Methodists keeping a close watch on the case.

Derrick Sonnier received his reprieve 90 minutes before he was scheduled to receive a lethal injection at 6 p.m. The convicted killer would have been the 406th person executed by the state and the first executed in Texas after The United Methodist Church called for an end to the death penalty in the state that leads the United States in executions. (...)

General Conference, the only body that can speak on behalf of The United Methodist Church, stated in its most recent resolution that there can be no assertion that human life can be taken humanely by the state. The assembly said the death penalty "will increase the acceptance of revenge in our society and will give official sanction to a climate of violence."

A new resolution singles out the state of Texas, expressing the church's "deepest appreciation to all those organizations and individuals in … Texas who have valiantly struggled and continue to struggle for a more humane society in which the death penalty is rare or non-existent." (...)

"I have lived in Texas all my life, and Texas puts to death more people than any other state," said McKee, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Hurst. "There are so many concerns about African Americans and Latinos being unfairly sentenced to death, and concerns about innocent people being executed that there should at the very least be a moratorium on all cases. Execution prevents the possibility of redemption and once it is carried out, it is final. If we find we made a mistake and convicted an innocent person, it is too late."

The resolution noted that Texas has executed more than 400 people since 1982, including six who were mentally retarded, 20 who suffered from mental illness and 13 who were juveniles when their crimes were committed.

Notice of the General Conference action was sent to the Texas Legislature, the Texas Pardon and Parole Board, Gov. Rick Perry, the Texas Conference of Churches and the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

The resolution also has been shared with other faith groups and has been helpful in starting conversations about a difficult subject, according to McCuistion.

"If you can't talk about the tough stuff in church, where can you talk about it?" she said. Executions just bring "more pain," said McCuistion, who has spoken with family members of both Sonnier and the victims in his case. (...)

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