The National Association of Evangelicals’ recent resolution on the death penalty didn’t exactly reverse the organization’s 40-year position favoring capital punishment, but it did make a significant change: It now recognizes the growing opposition to the death penalty among believers.
"Evangelical Christians differ in their beliefs about capital punishment, often citing strong biblical and theological reasons either for the just character of the death penalty in extreme cases or for the sacredness of all life, including the lives of those who perpetrate serious crimes and yet have the potential for repentance and reformation," the resolution states. "We affirm the conscientious commitment of both streams of Christian ethical thought."
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, leader of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and a member of the NAE Board of Directors, told Townhall that the death penalty has been a troublesome issue on many fronts, including the inconsistency of a pro-life position that doesn’t advocate for life from the “womb to the tomb.”
Beyond that, the resolution also notes the growing concerns many have with the fallibility of the system and the strain it places on government resources.
“From every single angle the shift in the NAE’s position speaks to the growing trend [against the death penalty], especially in light of some of the egregious things that have taken place in botched executions in the past few years, where even conservative Republican governors have demonstrated they have great angst about the death penalty,” said Rodriguez, who’s been on NAE’s board for the last 12 years.
Indeed, while still high, support among Evangelicals and Americans at large is declining.
White evangelical support for the death penalty has waned recent years, from 77 percent in 2011 down to 71 percent in 2014, according to a March survey from the Pew Research Center.
At the same time, 66 percent of white mainline Protestants and 63 percent of white Catholics favor the death penalty.
Overall, the survey shows American support for the death penalty has dropped from 78 percent in 1996 to 56 percent in 2014.
“Clearly we are seeing growing concerns among the NAE leadership about problems with the death penalty,” Heather Beaudoin, a national coordinator for Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, said in a statement. “These concerns mirror what I have been hearing when I talk to Christians across the country. More of them are questioning their support for the death penalty as they learn about its mistakes and bias. I am overjoyed that the NAE has taken so much leadership in fostering this dialog.”
While Evangelicals may hold different beliefs about capital punishment, the resolution states that all are “united in calling for reform to our criminal justice system.”