The Death Penalty

What does the ELCA Teach about: The Death Penalty?

For the last few months, I’ve been introducing the social justice statements from the ELCA.  A logical extension of the ELCA’s social statement on criminal justice is the statement on The Death Penalty, originally adopted by the churchwide assembly in 1991.  You can read the entire statement on the ELCAs webpage.

The death penalty is still active in the state of Indiana.  According to there are currently 8 individuals on death row and the most recent execution was in 2009. 

Like all ELCA social justice statements, leaders and members may have a variety of points of view.  The social statement is not intended to be “binding” or signal any sort of requirement for membership.  Still, the clarity this social statement is very straight forward: the ELCA opposes The Death Penalty.

While developing the statement, a few core ideas were discussed:

  1. We lament, grieve, and are deeply disturbed by violence that has existed in our world from the time of Cain and Abel.  It is the calling of every Christian to do everything in their power to work for a world without violence.
  2. While it could be argued that God’s Law permits capital punishment for the crime of murder, the brokenness of our world leads us to believe that capital punishment cannot be administered justly.
  3. We believe that capital punishment creates a focus on the perpetrator rather than the victim of a crime or their loved ones.  This further breaks down societal relationships and victimizes those who have been harmed in a crime.

A report from the State of Indiana (,-Indiana.pdf) provides significant information regarding the death penalty in Indiana.  The report highlights some of the worrying issues that call into question if the death penalty has been or can be administered justly.  (1) There seems to be a pattern where crimes against white victims are more likely to be death penalty cases. (2) There have been two individuals sentenced to death who were later acquitted in new trials – one due to witness perjury at the first trial, another due to poor representation.

What can you do?  While a system of “payback” for heinous crimes may feel “fair” consider what the impact of the death penalty is on society.  Research indicates that states with an active death penalty do not have less violent crime.  In Indiana, the cost of a death penalty case is about 10 times more of a life-without-parole case.  Other research shows that social sins of poverty, racism, disability discrimination, etc. put the accused at higher risk to receive the death penalty.  How can you advocate for other sentencing including Life-without-Parole or various forms of Restorative Justice (for information, see  As always, please let me know if you would like to sit down and discuss any of the ELCA’s social statements.

Pr. Sharilyn