My mother and father were dedicated Christian students of the “Gospel”. Consequently, I was also.
The Sermon on the Mount spoke clearly to me. Foremost among absolutely unacceptable modern behaviors were war, racial animosity, and the death penalty.
Following the formation of my childhood beliefs, I had the opportunity to accompany an American Friends Service Committee tour that included the gas chamber in Raleigh, North Carolina. I have never wavered from my original astonishment that anyone could attempt to justify premeditated murder, but being so close to my state’s mechanism of death cemented in me the reality and the urgency of abolishing the death penalty.
I then took the opportunity to write one of my high school term papers on “The Death Penalty”. My research explored all rationales for how the penalty of death could benefit a society and compared crime and murder rates between nations and between states of the USA that did or did not maintain a legal provision for a death penalty. At that time in the early 1960s, there were polls showing that two-thirds of citizens opposed use of the death penalty. I was convinced that societies without a death penalty were somewhat safer and more law-abiding, that all justifications for state-sanctioned murder, other than revenge, were unsubstantiated, and that every state would abolish the death penalty within the next ten years.
To my deep disappointment, the seventies saw an increase in support for death sentences and return to the death penalty by more states.
I’m grateful to Death Penalty Focus and other organizations, religious and secular, that are faithfully keeping my hope alive. The arc of justice bends slowly — and can sometimes be deflected — but continues to bend toward justice… and mercy.