Passionate Christian activist Claiborne (The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical, 2006, etc.) uses Scripture and societal statistics in an argument for the abolishment of the death penalty.
The author begins by considering the victims of crime involved in death sentence cases. He notes that the death penalty is rarely satisfying to those left in the wake of tragic crimes; instead, it prolongs mental anguish for victims’ families and places the emphasis on the criminal as opposed to the victim. After addressing the needs of victims, Claiborne explores faith issues surrounding the death penalty, arguing that the early Christian church was strictly against its use. The author points to the death of Jesus—“the most famous execution in history”—and notes the irony that his followers would ever support the executions of others. Turning to modern times, Claiborne acknowledges that the death penalty has been dwindling in use worldwide, and in the United States, for decades. He also points out that the U.S. ranks alongside such nations as Saudi Arabia and Iraq in its use of the death penalty, while most nations have banned it or diminished its use. Claiborne finds a tie between the modern use of execution and the history of illegal lynchings in the American South, arguing that the death penalty today continues to be a racially charged issue. After discussing botched executions, the innocent on death row, and the weight of the issue upon executioners themselves, the author offers an alternative viewpoint on how to bring about justice in such cases. Claiborne’s arguments are well-structured and, perhaps necessarily, laced with pleas to emotion. Proponents of the death penalty (among others) may be put off by his localization of the issue as a problem inherent to the Southern states, specifically to Southern evangelicals.
In this often moving and unsettling book, Claiborne provides a meaningful contribution to a deeply fraught topic.