Clergy take theological stance to Capitol steps

The Rev. Kathleen McMurray, associate pastor of Grace UMC Conway, joins a Good Friday vigil at the Arkansas State Capitol in Little Rock to protest planned executions. In the background are the Rev. Rob Holifield, left, associate pastor of First UMC Texarkana, and Karen Clark, right, a member of Pulaski Heights UMC Little Rock.

By Amy Forbus

The use of the death penalty in Arkansas drew national media attention in April, as the state prepared to execute eight death row inmates by lethal injection over the course of 10 days. The death penalty, which had not been carried out in Arkansas since 2005, has garnered much discussion and debate by faithful Christians. United Methodist clergy have been among those speaking out in opposition to the death penalty, in keeping with the official stance of the denomination as found in Paragraph 164G of the 2016 Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church:

The Rev. Stephen Copley, a Church and Community Worker with UMC Global Ministries and chair of the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, speaks at the Good Friday vigil on the steps of the Arkansas State Capitol.

The Death Penalty – We believe the death penalty denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore, and transform all human beings. The United Methodist Church is deeply concerned about crime throughout the world and the value of any life taken by a murder or homicide. We believe all human life is sacred and created by God and therefore, we must see all human life as significant and valuable. When governments implement the death penalty (capital punishment), then the life of the convicted person is devalued and all possibility of change in that person’s life ends. We believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and that the possibility of reconciliation with Christ comes through repentance. This gift of reconciliation is offered to all individuals without exception and gives all life new dignity and sacredness. For this reason, we oppose the death penalty (capital punishment) and urge its elimination from all criminal codes.

A Good Friday vigil on the steps of the state Capitol drew hundreds of death penalty opponents, including a number of United Methodist pastors and laity.

Appeals and court rulings ultimately reduced the eight planned executions to four. At press time, three of the originally scheduled executions had been completed, with one more set for the evening of April 27.

The Rev. Maxine Allen, center, joins death penalty protesters on the steps of the Arkansas State Capitol. Allen is assistant director for mission field engagement for the Arkansas Conference and a board member of the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.