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God and the Death Penalty: hear from Tulsa area faith leaders

Posted at 10:35 AM, Dec 15, 2021
and last updated 2022-01-26 16:35:39-05

TULSA, Okla. — When the death penalty resumed in the United States in 1976, Oklahoma became one of several states that started executions again.

Since then 114 inmates have been executed. Oklahoma is the first state to use lethal injection as a method and all of those inmates died by that method. Now, there's questions about the process.

Execution problems

The 2014 execution of Clayton Lockett and the 2015 execution of Charles Warner are both described as not going as planned and led to a years long moratorium on the death penalty and an overhaul of the process and protocol.

Executions resumed in 2021 under Attorney General John O'Connor and the first execution in several years is also described as having problems.

John Grant died by lethal injection on October 27th. Witnesses described him as convulsing and vomiting, but the Oklahoma Department of Corrections said the execution went as planned.

READ MORE: John Grant's execution process questioned

The execution of Bigler Stouffer on December 9 is described as going as planned. Witnesses described him peacefully losing consciousness before dying. No reports of vomiting or convulsing.

Do we have the right to take another person life after they’ve taken a life? It’s a question many people are asking now that Oklahoma resumed capital punishment.

Faith and the death penalty

Reverend David Wiggs is the senior pastor of Boston Avenue United Methodist.

“The United Methodist Church says we oppose the death penalty because we don’t have the right to take another life,” says Wiggs.

He points out the United States justice system is imperfect and needs reform. “Even if someone has committed a crime, then God’s love can redeem anyone, so if we decide as the state or the government to take that life, then we short-circuit God’s work, and so we oppose it for that reason.”

The subject hits close to home for Wiggs.

Richard Glossip is on death row, and he is actually a member of our church because we broadcast. He watches from McAlester, and I have visited him there. He has maintained his innocence from the beginning,” says Wiggs.

Glossip is sentenced to die for setting up the 1997 murder of hotel operator Barry Van Treese. Glossip claims he is innocent. His initial conviction was overturned and Glossip was again found guilty and sentenced to death in 2004. Glossip's case gained international attention, even a four part documentary series about his claims of innocence.

He remains on death row.

Another man of faith with personal ties to the death penalty is Reverend Chris Moore of Fellowship Congregational UCC.

“Using the death penalty removes the possibility of redemption, restoration or any kind of healing,” says Moore.

He said it is still a struggle for his family. “I will tell you that I come from this with personal history. My great grandfather was executed in McAlester in the state prison for murder and it was totally what happened. He did murder somebody. He was guilty of that crime,” says Moore.

Moore says when the state executed his great grandfather, Albert Mathew Harris by electrocution in 1932, it didn’t make anything right and only opened another wound.

“Jesus teaches us to be very considerate about life and to think of all humans as created in God’s image. The death penalty puts that in inappropriate hands,” says Moore.

The topic of the death penalty is cut and dry for Pastor Paul Daugherty of Victory Church.

“It’s hard for me to see Christians that get excited about someone dying for any crime. I think vengeance belongs to the Lord,” says Daugherty. He said he cannot see Jesus giving someone the death penalty, no matter what their crime is.

“When it comes to the ultimate punishment, the capital punishment of death, I think that as a person of faith, it’s hard for me to reconcile that it would be the desire of Jesus,” says Daugherty.

He believes people who commit heinous crimes need to serve time in prison and face the consequences of their actions.

We may or may not know if someone is guilty, and some believe because our justice system is flawed, Reverend David Wiggs says, everyone should be against the death penalty.

This is just a snapshot of the local faith community's reaction on the death penalty. There are those in the faith community who agree with the death penalty.

A rabbi at B'nai Emunah Synagogue sent 2 News this statement:

"While not categorically opposed to capital punishment, Jewish tradition has typically seen the death penalty as such an extreme measure that it renounces the practice except in the rarest cases. Governments have the legitimate power to punish criminals, but they are also obligated to create the highest safeguards to protect the lives of the innocent."

2 News reached out to the Baptist General Convention, B’Nai Emunah Synagogue, and the Islamic Society of Tulsa for their stance on the death penalty and will add them to this coverage as they respond.

Research from the Pew Research Center in 2015 shows very different views across different religious groups.

There are three more men scheduled for execution in Oklahoma in early 2022. A federal trial is scheduled in February 2022 to determine the constitutionality of Oklahoma's method of execution.

WATCH 2 News Oklahoma Wednesday at 10 to see the full story.

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