Director’s Blog: The Death Penalty and New Hampshire’s Opioid Crisis

A reminder: This post is written by Rev. Jason Wells and it represents his viewpoint, not necessarily that of the NH Council of Churches, its board members or its member denominations.

Last week, the New Hampshire Senate voted 14-10 to repeal the death penalty. On Monday, the President came to New Hampshire to visit our Safe Stations but also to push for the death penalty for drug dealers. Today, Attorney General Sessions directed federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty for “drug-related cases.”

Pursuing the death penalty is wrong in general and remains wrong in this specific situation. Among all of our member denominations, we are in unanimous agreement that Christians should not support the death penalty, as stated in our Public Policy page. As Executive Director, I explained this agreement further when I testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 12.

In short, Christians believe that all human lives are sacred because they are made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26). No life is exempt from this, including drug dealers and those who do harm to others. The intentional taking of a human life is wrong.

The opioid crisis in New Hampshire is severe. Even so, Operation Granite Shield has made progress in apprehending offenders. Even so, leaders recognize that we cannot arrest our way out of the problem. If incarceration cannot be the only or even the primary tool of resolving the opioid crisis, then the death penalty never can.

(Because it is always wrong, the death penalty cannot be used for the good outcome of resolving the crisis. Christian thought for centuries has affirmed that one cannot do evil that good might result. That is, the ends do not justify the means.)

There are ways Christians in New Hampshire are already addressing the crisis in ways that are faith-based and that respect the dignity of human life. Here are a few:

  • Many churches recognize that Jesus has the power to redeem any life and on this basis lead or support rehabilitation, recovery and re-entry ministries.
  • Many churches recognize that their ministry in prisons, with ex-offenders and with women frequently serve the same at-risk population as direct-service rehabilitation programs.
  • Many churches, especially in Manchester, are partnering with their local fire stations for the successful Safe Station Program. Safe Stations allow addicts the ability to give up their drugs and paraphernalia, seek treatment and be offered amnesty in so doing. Churches have helped take people into recovery programs or even volunteer alongside the Fire Departments as their respond.

In his State of the State address, Governor Sununu said,

Like many states across the country, the opioid crisis in New Hampshire remains our state’s most serious challenge – one that demands great attention and proactive leadership.

Our mission to reverse the terrible effects of this epidemic rests on our ability as leaders to embrace a spirit of cooperation, innovation, and compassion when we craft the solutions to meet the needs of our families and neighbors.

As Christians we should be ready to explain our faith (1 Peter 3:15) by communicating our opposition to the death penalty, especially in relation to the opioid crisis. Then, we can act in the “spirit of cooperation, innovation and compassion” to uphold solutions of prevention, rehabilitation and amnesty that bring the good fruit of abundant life which is God’s gift.

Yours in faith,

Rev. Jason Wells, Executive Director