To help guide our thinking and acting about how we live in, and are in engaged in ministry in the world, The United Methodist Church has created statements to guide the church in its efforts to create a world of justice.
Photo: Anne Havard (left) and Ingrid McIntyre of Open Table Nashville join a prayer vigil at Legislative Plaza in Nashville, Tennessee, to urge Gov. Bill Haslam to reconsider allowing the state to execute death row inmates using the electric chair. About 50 United Methodists and other Christians joined the protest. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.
The Social Principles are a prayerful and thoughtful effort to speak to the human issues in the contemporary world from a foundation firmly grounded the gospel and as historically demonstrated in United Methodist traditions.
One of these human issues is the death penalty. As part of a series on this issue, we chatted with Rev. Cheryl Smith of Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Huntsville, Texas recently, about her commitment to abolishing the death penalty.
When we asked what it would take for us to care about this issue and move us to action, given the directive in The Social Principles (¶ 164. G.) that say, “. . . the death penalty denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore, and transform all human beings”, this is what she shared with us:
It’s about transformation. People have to be transformed. Our minds and hearts have to be continually renewed to think things through theologically and to see things through the lens of Christ. That means giving up what I call primal responses or knee-jerk reaction. At some level, it is satisfying to think about wiping somebody off the face of the earth because what they did was so awful. We want those people out of our community; we don’t want to spend another dime on them. There’s a certain level of that response feeling natural and pretty good.
I understand that fight or flight response. That’s where many of us start out.
But my understanding of the Christian walk is to move beyond the primal, primitive, knee-jerk and what feels good because we want to punish somebody. I believe we are called to acknowledge it’s a part of us but seek something beyond that. Until we find a way--one person at a time to bring people to thinking about issues with the mind of Christ--we are stuck with primal responses. That’s how frankly, most people reason with this issue. We have to transcend those initial responses to get to a place of reasoning in a different way.
And this is why faith communities could be more active with social issues. Not so we would all agree, but so we could think theologically about issues in our world, and learn to think through the lens of Christ. That’s why I think we don’t have more in the faith community involved. Too many remain thinking at a rather primitive level and it feels good. We have people who drive by and shout at us saying, kill ‘em sooner or kill ‘em all.
As long as we are content to remain at that level of thinking, of course we’re going to kill people. Of course we would. We need to be more in the business of transformation.