In the midst of a lot of evidence that Americans tolerate all kinds of immorality -- from our sometimes-soul-crushing, exploitive entertainment industry to widespread failures to address issues of poverty, economic justice and quality education for all to having a major political party nominate for president a man who brags about sexually assaulting women -- there is at least one reassuring development that is giving me hope that not everything is going that way.
As this New York Times editorial makes clear, it can't happen soon enough.
"For the first time in nearly half a century," The Times editorial board writes, "less than half of Americans said they support the death penalty, according to a Pew Research poll released last month. While that proportion has been going down for years, the loss of majority support is an important marker against state-sanctioned killing.
"At the same time, executions and new death sentences are at historic lows, and each year they go lower. In 2015 only 49 new death sentences were handed down, the lowest one-year total since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976."
There are several encouraging developments leading to fewer executions, but perhaps the one I find most reassuring of all is that some of the justices on the U.S. Supreme Court seem to be open to abolishing the death penalty as unconstitutional. As The Times notes:
"While capital punishment is used rarely and only in some places, only a definitive ruling from the Supreme Court will ensure its total elimination. How close is the court to such a ruling? In recent dissenting opinions, three of the justices — Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor — have expressed deep misgivings about the death penalty’s repeated failure to meet the requirements of due process and equal protection. Justice Breyer has said it is 'highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment,' and has called for the court to consider whether it is constitutional at all."
The number of states that use the death penalty has shrunk now to 32, with others considering abolishing capital punishment. And some states where the death penalty is still legal haven't used it in years.
It's long past time to quit letting our government sink to the level of convicted criminals by killing them to show that killing is wrong.
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A METHODIST WAY FORWARD
United Methodist Bishops finally have appointed 32 people to serve on a commission designed to find a way forward from the deep divisions in the church over homosexuality. The hope is that this 12-million-member denomination can avoid schism. I hope it can, too, but I am not optimistic. First, the issue rests on how one reads scripture, and that's not easy to give up. Second, 32 people may well be representative of the whole church, but, if so, they simply will reflect the division on this issue already there. Besides, 32 seems an unwieldy number. Finally, the 5 million United Methodists who reside outside the U.S. -- many of them in Africa -- are unlikely to change their position against inclusion of LGBTQ people among clergy, just as many American Methodists are unlikely to be willing to continue keeping LGBTQ people out of leadership. That said, I'd be thrilled if the Holy Spirit could help this commission find a way forward and not simply be a delaying tactic in what inevitably becomes a schism. The right thing to do, if you ask me, is for Methodists to join other Mainline Protestants in agreeing to ordain otherwise-qualified gays and lesbians to ministry. There is no biblical reason not to take that position.