Why abolishing death penalty should be top priority

2014-07-31T13:43:00Z 2014-07-31T15:20:45Z Why abolishing death penalty should be top priorityBy Rev. Frank Bergen Special to The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

I write as a concerned Arizona voter to candidates aspiring to lead Arizona in statewide office and the Legislature.

I have never been, nor do I anticipate ever becoming, a single-issue voter. However, I want you to know that I do not condone “belief in” or support for the death penalty as a morally acceptable political position.

While in our political climate it may be a prudent — and even an obligatory — position, I can view it as at most a necessary evil, one of those things one must say lest potential supporters be alienated.

If you become one of our state’s leaders, I will urge you as governor to effect a moratorium on executions in this state designed to continue until you in the Legislature introduce, debate and pass legislation to abolish the death penalty.

The death penalty in present day America, even Arizona, serves no utilitarian purpose. A sentence to life in prison without possibility of parole serves to prevent the convicted person from further harming the public at large, even though our penal system may sadly lack the ability to keep inmates or corrections personnel totally safe from the incorrigibly violent among the prison population.

The death penalty is financially unaffordable, which I’m sure you realize even more than I who have never dealt firsthand with governmental budgets.

The death penalty keeps families of victims in a state of suspense for years, even decades, of delayed execution of the sentence of death. It discourages those who grieve from achieving some degree of “closure” and a return to normality in their lives. And I suspect for many the long-awaited killing of the killer does not bring about relief.

One need not be soft-hearted or soft-headed to believe that the person executed 10, 15, 20 or 30 years after having committed what may have been a horrendous act of murder may well be a very different person, perhaps even deserving of forgiveness.

The death penalty continues a tradition and practice of retributive justice which at times verges on plain and simple vengeance.

An eye for an eye, a life for a life may respond to a natural human desire to get revenge for wrongs we have suffered but it does not accord with our better natures, which cry out for a society rooted in concern for one’s neighbor, where correction and restoration of balance outweigh retribution.

The death penalty serves to debase us as a state and a nation and, let us not kid ourselves, makes murderers of us all. And the currently almost universal method of execution, displayed for all the world to see in the slow killing of Joseph Wood, makes us hypocrites as well.

As Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote this week, no method of execution is humane, though we go to great lengths to pretend it is.

Finally, as a minister of the Christian gospel, I’m going to say that the death penalty exists in fundamental opposition to the mind and heart of God, as best we can determine from the life and work of Jesus even though it may have taken much of the Christian world 20 centuries to come to this position.

Rev. Frank Bergen is a mostly retired Episcopal priest, assisting at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Tucson. Email him at fjbergen@comcast.net

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Activate

Latest Fitz Report video

More

Fitz studio: How to draw the President

In this video tutorial, Star cartoonist and columnist David Fitzsimmons teaches you how to draw the Preside…

Latest Newsmakers video

More

Dr. Peter Rhee on mental health

Dr. Peter Rhee discusses mental health and other issues surrounding gun violence.

Featured businesses

View more...