(RNS) It’s 93 degrees in Texas and the Rev. Jeff Hood is walking 200 miles across the state. What would compel somebody to do that? He wants to end the death penalty — and he is not alone.

The Rev. Jeff Hood is a self-described "committed activist, visionary writer and radical prophetic voice to a closed society." He's walking across Texas in support of ending the death penalty.

The Rev. Jeff Hood is a self-described “committed activist, visionary writer and radical prophetic voice to a closed society.” He’s walking across Texas in support of ending the death penalty. Photo courtesy of Mikala Hood.  RNS photo by Shane Claiborne

Hood is a Southern Baptist pastor, deeply troubled by his denomination’s stand on capital punishment and his state’s standing as the most lethal in the U.S. Texas executed 515 people since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, a whopping 37 percent of all U.S. executions.

Hood has been a longtime organizer and board member for the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, a movement that is gaining some serious momentum these days.

Even as Georgia and Missouri executed two inmates earlier this week, a growing number of Texans — and Americans in general — are questioning the death penalty.

A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll shows we are at the tipping point, with more than half of Americans opposed to the death penalty. For some the problem is racial bias — in Texas, it is not uncommon for an African-American to be found guilty by an all-white jury. In fact, in considering “future dangerousness,” a criterion necessary for execution in Texas, state “experts” have argued that race is a contributing factor, essentially that someone is more likely to be violent because they are black — prompting articles such as this New York Times op-ed piece: “Condemned to Die Because He’s Black.”

For others, the problem is economic: Often the decisive factor on execution is not guilt or innocence but whether one is rich or poor. And for others still, the problem is constitutional: Equal justice under the law should mean murderers get the same punishment for a crime committed in Connecticut, which abolished the death penalty, as in Texas.

And more and more folks are feeling the cruelty of it all, wasting so much energy and resources on killing people to show that killing is wrong. The botched Oklahoma execution over a month ago left a man writhing in pain for 45 minutes before he died of a heart attack.

It’s not just liberals anymore, but all sorts of reasonable people (including conservative faith leaders), who are convinced that we can do better than this as a country — and we must.

For Hood, opposition to the death penalty is rooted in his faith.

“The death penalty makes us both killers and victims,” he said. “Only love can heal us.”

He began his journey by meeting with the men on death row, for whom he is a spiritual adviser. As he left the prison he said, “The wind of God is at my back,” and set out on his journey.

We discussed the victims of violence, heroic families like Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation and Journey of Hope – folks traumatized by the 10 years of trials and millions of wasted dollars that go toward executions, and especially the fact that taking another person’s life does not bring back their lost loved ones.

Hood and I also talked about Jesus, the lens through which we read the Bible and the world around us. He is haunted by the way Christianity has been misrepresented when it comes to execution.

“There is a cross on top of the execution chamber in Huntsville,” he said. It’s a contradiction that not enough Christians recognize — Jesus was a victim of the death penalty, not a proponent of it. Hood described his hope that if more and more Christians embraced Jesus’ life and teaching, we would end the death penalty in America, where Bible Belt states constitute the strongest pillars of the practice. He is hopeful, and so am I.

Hood described the gracious hospitality he has received — gifts of water, food and smiles. One of the congregations hosting him is United Methodist, a denomination that declares the death penalty “denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore and transform all human beings.” Amen.

One of his favorite stories is about an encounter with a passer-by who stopped to talk with him, unsure of her stand. He explained how Jesus’ command to love your neighbor as yourself and to love your enemies makes it difficult to execute a person.

“That makes a lot of sense,” she said. Indeed it does.

The gospel is good news. The merciful will be shown mercy. March on, brother Jeff. I hope with every step you take, every mile you walk, we get a little closer to abolishing the death penalty in Texas, in the U.S. and in the world. March on, brother; march on to the Promised Land.

(Shane Claiborne is an author and activist, currently working on a book on the death penalty. You can find him at redletterchristians.org.)

YS/MG END CLAIBORNE

16 Comments

  1. He isn’t a Southern Baptist pastor. He does not have a congregation, but the one he did have fell apart because of his lack of boundaries, manipulation, and lies. Be careful who you’re giving a platform to.

  2. I want to be supportive of anyone who wants to stop the death penalty. I don’t care what their argument is: Christian, Jewish, Islam, OR HUMANITARIAN (which is far better).

    But for the record:
    Jesus has NO INTEREST stopping executions:

    “For Hood, opposition to the death penalty is rooted in his faith.
    ‘The death penalty makes us both killers and victims,’ he said.’Only love can heal us.’ ”

    It is time to stop this nonsense of claiming that Jesus has anything to do with this attitude.

    Jesus fully endorsed the death penalty:
    “Bring to me those enemies of mine who would not have me as their King and execute them in front of me.” – Jesus (Luke 19:27)

    Religion is not a reason to avoid killing people. It is an excuse to do so.
    And it doesn’t help that Christian kids grow up thinking there will be some sort of forgiveness when they do evil actions. There is no forgiveness from a ‘god’ and it only creates irresponsible behavior to think there is!

    • Friends, Luke 19:27 is being quoted entirely out of context. These words, “Bring to me those enemies .. execute them …,” are the words of a nobleman, not Jesus, who had hoped to impose his power on a foreign people but was rebuffed. The full NSRV quote is,”‘But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them — bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.'”

      • @Jennifer,

        You are incorrect. The Nobleman IS JESUS.

        “..bring to me those enemies of mine who would not have me as their King and execute them in front of me.” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)

        EVERY INTERPRETATION OF LUKE 19
        SAYS THE NOBLEMAN IS JESUS.

        Catholic Christ Notes – THE NOBLEMAN IS JESUS:
        http://www.christnotes.org/commentary.php?com=mhc&b=42&c=19

        BIBLE GATEWAY – THE NOBLEMAN IS JESUS:
        http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/Luke/Controversy-Jerusalem

        BIBLE STUDY TOOLS – THE NOBLEMAN IS JESUS
        http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/jamieson-fausset-brown/luke/luke-19.html

        MATTHEW HENRY’S COMPLETE COMMENTARY ON THE BIBLE – THE NOBLEMAN IS JESUS
        http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/view.cgi?book=lu&chapter=019

        CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS – THE NOBLEMAN IS JESUS
        http://www.toughquestionsanswered.org/2009/06/09/what-does-the-parable-of-the-minas-mean/

        CATHOLIC BIBLE HUB – THE NOBLEMAN IS JESUS
        http://biblehub.com/commentaries/luke/19-27.htm

        THE MOST IMPORTANT INTERPRETATION IS THE ONE PROMINENT CHRISTIANS GAVE IT!!!

        Hitler:
        OUR Lord Jesus is A Soldier for God

        “My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow my self to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice… And if there is anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly it is the distress that daily grows . For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people.”
        -Adolf Hitler, in a speech on 12 April 1922

        ANY defense of this disgraceful, immoral
        and pathetic JESUS is 2000 years too late!

        • That line is a story from a parable that is not in any way addressing the death penalty. Your use of that as a way to say Jesus was in favor of killing is like picking the most obscure line from a poem and saying that’s what the poem is about.

          Jesus spoke very clearly about retaliation and violence, ““You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.”

          He also said that anyone who fed someone who was hungry or clothed someone who was naked or visited someone in prison was as good as doing all these things to HIM. (Matthew 25)

          The way you have used the Luke 19 quote is disingenuous at best. Please feel free to reject Jesus and Christianity. But try to reject what’s actually there.

  3. Tell Rev. Hood that I’m fully prepared to call for a moratorium on my state’s official Death Penalty, just as soon as the Murderers, Rapists, and Domestic Abusers Guild (Local No. 2384734), passes a proposed moratorium on THEIR official Death Penalty against helpless women and girls.

    Fair and square, wouldn’t you say?

    • @DOC,

      “Fair and square, wouldn’t you say?”

      What happened to “JESUS IS LORD”?
      What happened to your claim that Jesus is our source of morality?
      What happened to your claim that God is real?
      What happened to your claim that Jesus is perfect?
      What happened to you?

      “Forgive not only 7 times but 7 times 70″ – Jesus

      Of course Jesus is immoral to demand all that forgiveness! It is nonsense!
      Of course you are correct that these criminals should be either executed or, EVEN BETTER, left in prison for LIFE without ANY parole.

      ADMIT YOU ARE AN ATHEIST.
      You don’t believe in Jesus and YOU KNOW IT!

  4. Pitbull friend

    Sadly there have been many people murdered by execution who were innocent of their conviction. There has also been many people convicted of multiple murders who do not receive the death penalty. Finally if you believe in redemption that a man has the God given ability to be redeemed we should as Christians give him that opportunity. It may mean ending the death penalty.

    • I like it. Keep them in prison but do not execute.
      Seems like a very humanitarian solution.

      But bringing Jesus into it only destroys the humanity of what you are suggesting.
      Jesus would forgive the killer and let him out of prison.
      That is immoral, disgusting and would only encourage more killing.

      Jesus is the useless part of your argument.

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