General Synod Statements: Capital Punishment

During the 2000 General Synod, seven reasons were given to explain the church’s opposition to capital punishment.

  • Capital punishment is incompatible with the Spirit of Christ and the ethic of love. The law of love does not negate justice, but it does nullify the motives of vengeance and retribution by forcing us to think in terms of redemption, rehabilitation, and reclamation. The Christ who refused to endorse the stoning of the woman taken in adultery would have us speak to the world of compassion, not vengeance.
  • Capital punishment is of doubtful value as a deterrent. The capital punishment as a deterrent argument assumes a criminal will engage in a kind of rational, cost-benefit analysis before he or she commits murder. Most murders, however, are crimes of passion or are committed under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This does not excuse the perpetrator of responsibility for the crime, but it does show that in most cases capital punishment as a deterrent won’t work.
  • Capital punishment results in inequities of application. Numerous studies since 1965 have shown that racial factors play a significant role in determining whether or not a person receives a sentence of death.
  • Capital punishment is a method open to irremediable mistakes. The increasing number of innocent defendants being found on death row is a clear sign that the process for sentencing people to death is fraught with fundamental errors—errors which cannot be remedied once an execution occurs.
  • Capital punishment ignores corporate and community guilt. Such factors may diminish but certainly do not destroy the responsibility of the individual. Yet society also bears some responsibility for directing efforts and resources toward correcting those conditions that may foster such behavior.
  • Capital punishment perpetuates the concepts of vengeance and retaliation. As an agency of society, the state should not become an avenger for individuals; it should not presume the authority to satisfy divine justice by vengeful methods.
  • Capital punishment ignores the entire concept of rehabilitation. The Christian faith should be concerned not with retribution, but with redemption. Any method which closes the door to all forgiveness, and to any hope of redemption, cannot stand the test of our faith.

The 2000 General Synod passed a resolution “to urge members of the Reformed Church in America to contact their elected officials, urging them to advocate for the abolition of capital punishment and to call for an immediate moratorium on executions.” (MGS 2000: 450-455)

The synod had previously addressed the issue of capital punishment in 1965 and 1966.