Capital Punishment Study Guide

Please note: this study guide accompanies the message to be delivered at Oak Lawn May 6.

What are the moral questions involving the death penalty? How does the Catholic “seamless garment” theology speak to an ethic of all of human life—from conception to childhood poverty to the death penalty? Do you agree with this “gospel of life?”

Does someone who intentionally takes a human life forfeit their own right to live? Why or why not?

Every General Conference since 1956 has opposed capital punishment—this year’s conference had not decided by publication time—yet a majority of United Methodists support the death penalty for murder. Should the church mirror the beliefs of its members?

Connecticut recently became the fifth state in the last five years to abolish the death penalty. California will consider abolition this November. Why are states reconsidering their positions on this issue?

Data from the Pew Research Center on Capital Punishment (September 2010):
Americans continue to express support for the death penalty for persons convicted of murder. Currently 62% favor the death penalty, while 30% oppose it. This is nearly identical to the level of support in 2007 but somewhat lower than earlier in the 2000s and especially the 1990s. In 1996, 78% favored the death penalty and just 18% were opposed.
Support for the death penalty is lower among Democrats than independents or Republicans, but even among Democrats, half (50%) are in favor of it.
There are relatively modest differences in support across religious groups, with majorities of white evangelicals (74%), white mainline Protestants (71%) and white Catholics (68%) favoring capital punishment. But less than half of black Protestants (37%) and Hispanic Catholics (43%) favor the death penalty.

What factors have caused public support of the death penalty to decline 10% recently?

What do the United Methodist Social Principles say about Capital Punishment?
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.