April 11, 2017
Episcopal Church in Western Massachusetts sends letter to Governor Hutchinson
end state-sponsored executions
April 11, 2017 [Springfield, Mass.] – A letter signed by the Rt. Rev. Douglas John Fisher, IX bishop of Western Massachusetts, and the members of the Social Justice Commission will be delivered to Governor Asa Hutchinson’s office tomorrow as part of a national effort to stop the state-sponsored execution of seven men on death row beginning Easter Monday. The letter clearly outlines the Episcopal Church’s condemnation of the death penalty in any circumstance. Episcopal churches in Arkansas have been mobilizing to raise awareness and create opportunities to pray for death row inmates and for the families of their victims. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts does not permit state-sponsored execution but many states still do.
Adding their voices to the cry for mercy, this letter to Little Rock comes with the prayers of the Church in Western Massachusetts. “We understand that each man has been found guilty and sentenced to die in accordance with the laws of Arkansas. We ask that you consider the mercy that Jesus offers all sinners, a mercy transcending human understanding and the inevitably imperfect system of human justice.” The letter, in its entirety, is reprinted below.
April 11, 2017
Tuesday in Holy Week
State Capitol Room 250
Dear Governor Hutchinson,
In the words of Saint Paul, grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We are writing to you as Christians who follow the God of love, mercy, justice, and compassion to ask you to spare the lives of seven men scheduled for execution in Arkansas in the coming weeks: Bruce Earl Wood, Don William Davis, Stacey E. Johnson, Ledell Lee, Jack Harold Jones, Jr., Marcel Williams, and Kenneth Williams. We understand that each man has been found guilty and sentenced to die in accordance with the laws of Arkansas. We ask that you consider the mercy that Jesus offers all sinners, a mercy transcending human understanding and the inevitably imperfect system of human justice.
We write to you as parishioners and clergy of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts. Although we live at a distance, our bond with you is a Christian bond of affection and love. We grieve the enormous suffering endured by the victims of the heinous crimes that were carried out by the prisoners now condemned to die. We know that Jesus, himself an innocent victim, likewise suffered torment before he died, hanging on the cross between two criminals. Jesus responded to the suffering and injustice that he endured with non-violent love. As followers of Jesus, we believe that murder – whether it be carried out by criminals or enacted according to the laws of the state – grieves the heart of the living God.
The Episcopal Church has officially opposed the death penalty for more than half a century, and Church leaders have been working for decades to end capital punishment. We are convinced that murdering murderers – taking “an eye for an eye” – will never lead to the just, fair, and humane society that all of us long to create. What’s more, the Church is painfully aware of the ongoing racial and socioeconomic biases in our legal system, which reflect centuries of prejudice and unjust discrimination against African-Americans and other minorities. We likewise remain concerned about cases of wrongful conviction and the execution of innocent people.
We do not come to you as lawyers or sociologists but as people of faith, immersed in our Holy Week journey toward the cross. We believe that the message of the cross applies to everyone: human beings are capable of depravity and evil, yet God remains with us and will never cease inviting us to repent and change course. Thanks to the resurrection, we believe that God’s love and justice are stronger than sin and death. Executing the children of God during the Easter season is particularly heartbreaking and offensive to us. We pray that you will exercise your wisdom, compassion, and power to spare the lives of these men. Society can hold them accountable for their crimes without carrying out legalized murder.
This Holy Week and in the coming season of Easter joy, we pray for you, your staff, the victims of crime, those who have been murdered, and those condemned to die in the state of Arkansas. May God hear all of our prayers and bless our lives so that we may be living witnesses to the power of Jesus Christ’s resurrection.
The Rt. Rev. Dr. Douglas John Fisher, IX Bishop of Western Massachusetts
Ms. Lee Cheek, Co-Chair (Grace Church in the Southern Berkshires)
The Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill, Co-Chair (St. David’s, Agawam)
Ms. Alexizendria Link (St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Worcester)
The Rev. Dave Woessner (St. Michael’s-on-the-Heights, Worcester)