We understand and sympathize with the rising
public anger and frustration over crimes of violence both
to persons and property. We are also deeply concerned for
the victims of crime and hope to see effective measures developed
to redress their sufferings and losses. The Vermont Ecumenical
Council and Bible Society is, however, strongly opposed to
death as a penalty for crimes regardless of the method of
We affirm the responsibility of the State of
Vermont for maintaining civil order and rendering justice.
The state has the right to take the life of a person in self-defense;
however, in Vermont, at the present time, it is impossible
to argue convincingly that convicted criminals need to be
executed as a means of providing for the safety of the public.
Arguments have been put
forward and proposals drafted favoring death as a penalty
on the basis:
- that death as a penalty is necessary for
the protection of society and the maintenance of civil order
- that death as a penalty is just because
it provides fitting retribution and punishment for a crime
against life; and finally
- that death as a penalty will serve as a
deterrent to others who may be moved to murder.
To answer these arguments, we submit that:
- The protection of society and civil order
can be adequately provided for by other means. We do not
need to have the state execute those convicted of murder
to enhance or guarantee the safety of our citizens.
- Retribution and punishment are neither
sufficient nor necessary reasons for the taking of human
life by the state. In spite of a common assumption to the
contrary, "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth"
does not give justification for imposing the penalty of
death. Jesus explicitly repudiated the lex talionis (Matthew
5: 38-39) and the Talmud denies its literal meaning and
holds that it refers to financial indemnities. When a woman
was brought before Jesus having committed a crime for which
the death penalty was commonly imposed, our Lord so persisted
in questioning the moral authority of those who were ready
to conduct the execution, that they finally dismissed the
charges (John 8: 11). It may be that the state legitimately
should seek retribution for the crime committed, but we
submit that imprisonment up to life is sufficient. Further,
capital punishment would show that we have given up hope
for a solution which does not violate the values we hold
most dear - that of reverence for life. Punishment from
a Christian perspective is for the purpose of the reform
of the offender and reconciliation of society and the criminal.
Needless to say, execution does not enhance the possibility
of either reform or reconciliation.
- The evidence is inconclusive that the penalty
of death serves as a deterrent to further crimes of murder.
The United States Supreme Court in Gregg vs. Georgia 428
U.S. 153, in permitting use of the death penalty, conceded
the lack of evidence that the death penalty reduced violent
Further, we would argue that:
- God alone is the author and taker of life,
not the State of Vermont.
- Such an irrevocable act may, in fact, be
mistaken and an innocent person may suffer loss of life.
- Until death comes, we believe there is
the possibility of repentance, rehabilitation and reconciliation;
hence, every person should be granted maximum time for this
to take place. When the state executes a person, their time
is shortened and the possibility of repentance and rehabilitation
- When the state employs death as a means
of retribution, the civil order is thereby promoting the
increased acceptance of revenge as an appropriate means
of achieving justice and securing order. Such behavior is
contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Christian
- When death as a penalty has been used,
we have seen that the poor and disadvantaged members of
our society have had a disproportionately high number of
their people executed. This does not further the end of
For these reasons, we stand strongly opposed
to death as penalty for any crime in the State of Vermont.
This statement has been developed with
reference to the statements on capital punishment by member
denominations of the Vermont Ecumenical Council and Bible