It happened again. The third time since August.
In the four decades since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled capital punishment was constitutional in 1976, Tennessee only executed six men.
Now, in a matter of four months, three people have been executed, two by electrocution. Three more executions are scheduled in 2019, and another three in 2020.
Six in 42 years; nine in less than three years.
I have written editorials against the death penalty. I have spoken out against the death penalty in sermons and conversations. I have talked to legislators about my desire to see our state stop capital punishment. I have visited inmates on death row.
Our humanity suffers with capital punishment
I believe to my core that the death penalty goes against the teachings of Jesus and the totality of Scripture. I believe, deep down, we know killing goes against the humanity inside all of us.
I have stated countless times that even if you believe Scripture justifies capital punishment, we cannot carry it out justly. Especially because there are other ways for justice to be done without the taking of another life, even a guilty life.
I want to share three thoughts:
►Opposing the death penalty, for me, has everything to do with honoring the victims and their surviving families. While it is human nature to want revenge, and to want to harm someone who has harmed your family, the death penalty does the opposite.
Read more commentary: What I saw when I watched David Earl Miller die in the electric chair
Death penalty punishes survivors like me
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Instead of providing closure and justice, it forces the family to relive the nightmare over and over for years and decades, causing further emotional scares. I think this is why the Bible tells us that vengeance is God’s alone.
Plus, a better use of the resources spent on capital punishment would be using those resources to help the families with counseling, housing and education. Doing so, I believe, would honor the life of the innocent person.
►Opposition to the death penalty does not mean the guilty are not held accountable for their actions. Being against capital punishment is not the same as being soft on crime. Quite the opposite. Every person I know who stands against the death penalty does so out of their deep conviction to see justice done in our court systems.
Equally as strong is the conviction that continuing violence to show violence is wrong and is not just. Especially when there are other options available for justice to be done.
►Opposing the death penalty is about us and what kind of society we want to be. Fundamentally, one’s view of justice dictates one’s view of the death penalty.
Do we want justice or vengeance?
There are four basic types of justice:
1. Distributive justice, or often referred to as economic justice.
2. Procedural justice — usually seen as a part of economic justice, stressing fairness in the distribution of goods and services.
3. Restorative justice, the idea of restitution.
4. Retributive justice, which is only about punishment.
When it comes to the criminal justice system and the death penalty, the question is: Do you think the purpose of criminal sentencing is locking people up and throwing away the key — or killing them?
Or is it rehabilitation and reconciliation?
To put it another way: Is the purpose punitive or restorative? Simply put, capital punishment leaves no room for restoration, reconciliation and rehabilitation.
Through the prophet Zechariah, God told us, “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.” (Zechariah 7:9)
There are better and more effective ways of administering justice besides the taking of another life. Let us pursue those avenues for a more moral and just society.
The Rev. Kevin Riggs is pastor of Franklin Community Church. This column first appeared in The Tennessean. You can follow him on Twitter: @riggs_kevin.