Nebraska Christians Set Example for the Nation on Death Penalty

dthpnltyIn recent years, the Evangelical world has dramatically changed its thinking on capital punishment, as evidenced by the state of Nebraska just abolishing its death penalty. Evangelical and Christian legislators were at the forefront of the repeal effort there.

“My main objection comes from my pro-life values,” said Sen. Tommy Garrett of Bellevue on the floor of the House during debate on April 16th. “I believe that the state of Nebraska giving itself the power to play God is an affront to my efforts and to the efforts of my conservative brethren to create a culture of life in society.” 

The series of botched executions last year prompted many Evangelicals to accelerate their re-evaluation of the death penalty. In the wake of Oklahoma’s horrifying execution of Clayton Lockett, one of our nation’s top Hispanic Evangelical leaders spoke out against it, the Rev. Gabriel Salguero, President of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition. NaLEC is a member of the National Association of Evangelicals board of directors. Only months later, the NaLEC board of directors voted unanimously to declare their opposition to capital punishment.

“The death penalty is plagued by racial and economic disparities and risks executing an innocent person,” Rev. Salguero said. “Human beings are fallible and there is no room for fallibility in matters of life and death.”

Statements by Evangelical faith leaders, combined with the historic actions of Christian political leaders in Nebraska, have people throughout the Evangelical world taking notice, including news reporters, commentators, and especially Evangelicals on social media where the chatter has been heavy.

The fact is, our nation’s young Christians, like me, are much more likely than their parents to applaud the actions of these Evangelical leaders. Increasingly, Christian youth have been speaking out, calling the death penalty not only unjust and unconstitutional, but also un-Christ-like.

A recent Barna poll shows that millennial Christians (born after 1980) are overwhelmingly against execution.  In fact, fewer than 5-percent of Americans think Jesus would support the death penalty. Many young people are longing for a Christianity that looks more like Christ and they are finding it hard to reconcile executions with the executed and risen Lord, who said, “Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.”

These same young people are also well informed about the failures of capital punishment, not the least of which is their very real concerns about executing innocent people. They know more than 150 people have been released from death rows for wrongful convictions. A recent study from the National Academy of Sciences estimating that 4-percent of America’s current death row inmates are probably innocent just reinforces their fears of irreversible mistakes being made.

Evangelicals throughout the nation are not only taking note of conservative Nebraska getting rid of capital punishment, they are also becoming increasingly aware of one key faith-based reason behind it – the desire to fully embrace a culture of life, from birth to natural death.

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