Second Testimony on Death Penalty repeal (SB539)

Pictured: Rev. Gray Fitzgerald of the New Hampshire Conference of the United Church of Christ gives testimony.

On April 4, the NH House Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety regarding SB593, which would replace the state’s death penalty with life in prison without parole. Many Christian voices testified in favor of the bill. All of our member churches agree unanimously that the death penalty is contrary to the Christian witness. Yesterday we either saw or heard from:

  • Rev. Jason Wells (Director, NH Council of Churches)
  • Rev. Tim Roser (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America)
  • Rev. Gray Fitzgerald (United Church of Christ)
  • Deacon Steve Kaneb (Roman Catholic)
  • Bishop Rob Hirschfeld (The Episcopal Church)

Thank you to everyone who gave time and energy for this important witness! It will make a difference for legislators to know where Christians stand in a united front.

Here is the text of the testimony offered by Executive Director Rev. Jason Wells of the NH Council of Churches:

April 4, 2018

Dear Members of the House Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety:

The New Hampshire Council of Churches is an ecumenical Christian body of nine diverse denominations: American Baptist, Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Society of Friends (Quaker), Greek Orthodox, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Church of Christ, United Methodist and Unitarian Universalist. All nine of these denominations unanimously regard the use of capital punishment as problematic and unacceptable.

Our membership, in addition to the membership of the Roman Catholic diocese represents the faith and conscience of about five hundred thousand Granite Staters. To summarize that faith, I’ll offer these points: the sacredness of life, human equality, ending cycles of violence and the core Christian belief in redemption

First, in Genesis 1:26, we read that “God said, ‘Let us make [the human race] in our image, after our likeness.’” Christians believe that every human life is sacred, even when that person denies the dignity of others. We recognize that the sacredness of life is a gift from God, neither earned through good behavior nor lost through terrible acts.

Second, that sacred dignity is found equally in every person since all people have the same divine Creator. Statistics on the death penalty reveal that the United States applies the death penalty unequally as to race, class and other categories. Of course this violates the Constitutional concept of equal protection under the Law. More fundamentally, it violates the equality with which God has imbued the human race in creation.

In New Hampshire we want to believe that these shortcomings do not apply to us here and that we serve justice more impartially than in other parts of the nation. Unfortunately Christians know that human beings are fallible and make poor decisions. We know that we will apply laws unequally. When it comes to capital punishment, we cannot trust our fallible selves to choose between life and death impartially or justly.

Finally, God can redeem any person, no matter their past, and bring them to the forgiveness and mercy of God. The death penalty closes off the possibility of God’s redemption through our presumption that we know better than God.

For these reasons: the sacredness of life, human equality and the core Christian belief in redemption, I urge you all to support Senate Bill 593 and repeal New Hampshire’s death penalty.

With gratitude and hope,

Rev. Jason Wells
Executive Director