Clergy want NH death penalty discussion and change in law
CONCORD — New Hampshire church leaders have issued a call to abolish the death penalty and for clergy to discuss the issue with their congregations.
Bishop James Hazelwood of the New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Right Rev. A. Robert Hirschfield of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, Bishop Peter Anthony Libasci of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester, and the Rev. Gary Schulte, conference minister of the N.H. Conference of the United Church of Christ, are encouraging their clergy to discuss their objections to the death penalty during the weekend of Nov. 23-24.
Bishop Hirschfield called on clergy statewide to participate in a "Preach-In" on the death penalty Nov. 24, coinciding with the Feast of Christ the King Sunday, when the lectionary readings focus on Jesus' own execution.
"When I was informed that our elected representatives would be considering a bill calling for repeal of the death penalty in New Hampshire, it seemed fitting to call on church leaders to urge our people to reflect on this legislation through the lens of Scripture and the tradition of Christian teaching," said Bishop Hirschfield. "Christ the King Sunday, which falls this year on Nov. 24, reminds Christians of the sovereignty of God in all aspects of our lives and society. The execution and resurrection of Jesus remind us of the futility of acts of violence, hatred, retribution and fear as means to establish a just and peaceful society.
"Our churches, for too long divided, have a special opportunity this year to reflect and pray together about how Christian teaching leads us to a society that's closer to the reign of God. It is for this reason that the leaders of so many denominations are joining in this effort," he said.
Bishop Libasci said the Feast of Christ the King is an opportunity for Catholics and other Christians to support victims of crime and their families, while remembering that those who commit crimes are capable of redemption — of coming to know Jesus as we see in the story of Christ's own execution.
"The death penalty neither deters others, nor brings this perpetrator to understanding, but instead, in the worst of ironies, publicly validates the very act of taking a human life," he said.
Bishop Hazelwood said the death penalty has proven to be an ineffective tool for crime deterrence. "In all likelihood it has been applied to persons who later could have been proven innocent and it does not stand the test of the teachings of Jesus. There is no logical, practical or spiritual reason to continue the death penalty in New Hampshire," he said.
The Rev. Gary Schulte said in the Christian tradition we are taught by Jesus that "an eye for an eye" and a "tooth for tooth" — or life for a life — is not the ethical standard by which we should live our lives.
"I also believe this applies to our collective responsibility as citizens of the state of New Hampshire. While we have a responsibility to protect our citizens, vengeance and state-sponsored violence are not the way we make our society safer for all," he said.
This effort is a religious and educational response to bipartisan legislation recently filed in the New Hampshire House to repeal state's death penalty. The New Hampshire Council of Churches is an organizational member of the N.H. Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, which is spearheading the repeal campaign.
Last week, the Supreme Court's upheld the state's death penalty in the case of Michael Addison, convicted of capital murder in the 2006 shooting death of Manchester police officer Michael Briggs. Addison, 33, a former Boston gang member, is the only person on death row in New Hampshire.
His appeal, on the legal issue of proportionality, is still pending before the Supreme Court.