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Latino evangelicals call for end to death penalty. Will others follow?

The National Latino Evangelical Coalition urged their 3,000 member congregations to end capital punishment. They are the first major evangelical association to take this position publicly, but support for the death penalty among Christians is waning. - (Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1G0AfVt)
The National Latino Evangelical Coalition urged their 3,000 member congregations to end capital punishment. They are the first major evangelical association to take this position publicly, but support for the death penalty among Christians is waning. - (Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1G0AfVt)

The National Latino Evangelical Coalition urged their 3,000 member congregations to end capital punishment. They are the first major evangelical association to take this position publicly, but support for the death penalty among Christians is waning. – (Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1G0AfVt)

Days after an Arizona court exonerated Debra Milke, a woman who spent more than two decades on death row, a leading group of Latino evangelicals has called for an end to state-sanctioned capital punishment. In a unanimous vote, the National Latino Evangelical Coalition (NaLEC) urged their 3,000 member congregations to end capital punishment across the country.

“As Christ followers, we are called to work toward justice for all,” NaLEC President Gabriel Salguero said. “And as Latinos, we know too well that justice is not always even-handed.”

The organization is the first national association of evangelical churches to publicly oppose capital punishment. Salguero said the decision came after a years-long discernment process that included prayer as well as dialogue with anti-death penalty groups like Equal Justice USA (EJUSA) since at least 2013.

The National Latino Evangelical Coalition urged their 3,000 member congregations to end capital punishment. Photo courtesy of Heather Beaudoin

The National Latino Evangelical Coalition urged their 3,000 member congregations to end capital punishment. Photo courtesy of Heather Beaudoin

“EJUSA has found that evangelicals are eager to take another look at this issue, reflecting what we’re seeing in the country as a whole,” EJUSA’s Executive Director Shari Silberstein said.

American support for the death penalty has hit the lowest levels in 40 years and a 2014 poll by the Barna Group showed that Christian support is also waning, especially among young adults. According to Barna, only 5 percent of Americans think Jesus would support the government’s ability to execute the worst criminals.

Many religious groups, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, oppose the death penalty but evangelical groups tend to take a more conservative stance. The 16-million member Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant denomination, issued a resolution in 2000 supporting “the fair and equitable use of capital punishment.” The Assemblies of God (AG) denomination states that opinion among their members is “mixed” but that more people associated with the AG favor it for certain types of crimes.

“NaLEC is the first major evangelical association to take this step,” Silberstein said, “but I don’t think they will be the last.”

Her prediction is purely speculation at this point, but with the low public support for these policies, anything is possible. The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), for example, supports the use of capital punishment. But their position hasn’t been updated since 1973 and sources within the NAE say that leadership is considering switching their position in the months ahead.

For now, NaLEC stands mostly alone among their peers, but they are doing so based on principles that they believe every Christian can support.

“The truth is that a fallen system does not mete out justice with equanimity,” Salguero said. “The gospel calls us to speak out for life, and our unanimous decision today to call for the end of capital punishment is part of that commitment.”

About the author

Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He has published more than 2500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Week, Buzzfeed and National Journal. Jonathan is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn, NY.

14 Comments

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  • The unanimous vote suggests that those voting are an insulated nomenklatura with little rapport with their member congregations.

    Days after an Arizona court exonerated Debra Milke, a woman who spent more than two decades on death row,

    The efficacy and probity of fact finding procedures is nearly irrelevant to what penalties to impose.

    What’s with the photograph of the electric chair? A grand total of 11% of all executions since 1975 have been via electric chair, only eight states have a working chair, and those eight states make use of it only under select contingencies (lethal injections being used).

    Maybe one day one of you will surprise me and actually make a good faith argument.

  • Interesting that the “Latino” Evangelicals haven’t read the New Testament. But I guess that’s what happens when you get to involved with the religious culture of the United States.

    Jesus didn’t set free the condemned criminal beside Him on the other cross even after this man recognized Who and What Jesus is.

    He was executed as the death penalty was carried out.

  • That is what happens when you only consult with a deceptive anti death penalty group.

    The Death Penalty: Justice and Saving More Innocents
    Dudley Sharp, 8/2014

    The death penalty has a foundation in justice and it spares more innocent lives.

    The majority populations of all countries, likely, support the death penalty for some crimes (1).

    Why? Justice.

    Anti death penalty arguments are either false or the pro death penalty arguments are stronger.

    No “Botched” Execution – Arizona (or Ohio)
    http(COLON)//prodpinnc.blogspot(DOT)com/2014/08/no-botched-execution-arizona-or-ohio.html

    Anti Victim: Anti Death Penalty Movement
    http(COLON)//prodpinnc.blogspot(DOT)com/2014/04/anti-victim-anti-death-penalty-movement.html

    The Death Penalty: Do Innocents Matter? A Review of All Innocence Issues
    http(COLON)//prodpinnc.blogspot(DOT)com/2013/10/the-death-penalty-do-innocents-matter.html

    The Death Penalty: Fair and Just
    http(COLON)//prodpinnc.blogspot(DOT)com/2013/12/is-death-peanalty-fairjust.html

    New Testament Death Penalty Support Overwhelming
    http(COLON)//prodpinnc.blogspot(DOT)com/2014/01/new-testament-death-penalty-support.html

    THE DEATH PENALTY: SAVING MORE INNOCENT LIVES

    The Innocent Frauds: Standard Anti Death Penalty Strategy
    and
    THE DEATH PENALTY: SAVING MORE INNOCENT LIVES
    http(COLON)//prodpinnc.blogspot(DOT)com/2013/04/the-innocent-frauds-standard-anti-death.html

    OF COURSE THE DEATH PENALTY DETERS: A review of the debate
    and
    MURDERERS MUCH PREFER LIFE OVER EXECUTION
    99.7% of murderers tell us “Give me life, not execution”
    http(COLON)//prodpinnc.blogspot(DOT)com/2013/03/of-course-death-penalty-deters.html

    Saving Costs with The Death Penalty
    http(COLON)//prodpinnc.blogspot(DOT)com/2013/02/death-penalty-cost-saving-money.html

    1) 86% Death Penalty Support: Highest Ever – April 2013
    World Support Remains High
    95% of Murder Victim’s Family Members Support Death Penalty
    http(COLON)//prodpinnc.blogspot(DOT)com/2013/11/86-death-penalty-support-highest-ever.html
    ======

    Victim’s Voices – These are the murder victims
    www(DOT)murdervictims(DOT)com/Voices/voices.html

  • I’ve never understood these kinds of arguments. The idea of Jesus not setting free the criminal next to him runs face first into all sorts of theological problems and seems to miss the point of the text. Also, it takes the descriptive and attempts to make it prescriptive. Just strange.

    And also, the idea that the cross is some sort of justification for the death penalty is just bizarre to me. The New Testament tells the story of an innocent Jesus who was crucified through a broken justice system by power-hungry magistrates and authorities. I honestly don’t know how one moves from the New Testament’s account of any of this to “Ergo, the death penalty is just.”

    I can understand making an argument from Romans 13, for example, but your approach is just mind-bending to me…

  • See Fr. Avery Dulles, SJ’s article addressing this subject in First Things some years back or look at the practice of the courts of the Papal States.

    This isn’t that difficult.

  • God said:
    Num 35:16 And if he smite him with an instrument of iron, so that he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death.
    Num 35:17 And if he smite him with throwing a stone, wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death.
    Num 35:18 Or if he smite him with an hand weapon of wood, wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death.
    Also cursed is he who hangs on a tree (the gallows) and break the neck of an unredeemed ass (type of unbeliever).

  • The Cross is not “a justification” of the death penalty; the Cross actually presumes the justice of the death penalty. The notion of vicarious atonement is that Jesus incurred the penalty that we deserve. Part of that penalty was death.

    Granted, the fact that Christ was unjustly put to death from a human standpoint may be used as an argument against capital punishment. But if you’re a Christian, and thus believe that from a divine standpoint, Christ bore what we deserve, that, again, is consistent with the view of the rightness of the death penalty.

  • Jonathan

    it is not a favorite position for me either.

    There are two important lessons with the two thieves.

    The primary being that it is not the method of our death, but the status of our salvation which matters. one thief was saved, the other maybe not.

    Obviously, God thought execution the proper sanction for sins, as Jesus died for our sins.

    However, I have a very difficult time using Jesus execution to compare to any others And I don’t do it.

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