OMAHA, Neb. (CNS) — “Journey of Hope … from Violence to Healing,” an organization dedicated to speaking out against the death penalty, hit the road on a 10-day tour of Nebraska to share its members’ stories and spreading the message of “forgiveness and redemption.”
The group is led by the families of murder victims, former death-row inmates who were exonerated and family members of inmates currently on death row. Their July 15-24 tour schedule extended from Omaha to Scottsbluff, stopping in 20 cities along the way.
Religious leaders from a variety of churches helped jump-start the tour, saying that people of faith believe that humans are fallible and that the government does not need to take a life to protect society.
“I know that Nebraskans of faith are greatly concerned about the death penalty and these forums will be a chance for them to learn about the issue and get involved in the effort to retain the repeal of the death penalty,” said Stephen Griffith, a retired United Methodist pastor and executive director of Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
He made the comments in a news release about the group’s tour.
Griffith said the state’s faith communities opposed to the death penalty include the Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian and United Methodist churches, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the American Baptist Conference, the United Church of Christ and members of the Jewish faith.
“Religious leaders across Nebraska are opening their doors to speakers from the ‘Journey of Hope’ … who are sharing their personal stories of forgiveness, redemption and how they have been harmed by the broken death penalty system,” said Griffith.
Jesuit Father Dennis Hamm said the Catholic Church has a deep commitment to ending the death penalty.
Catholic churches, he said, “recognize the importance of informing our parishioners about the failings of Nebraska’s death penalty system, and the church’s teaching that we don’t need to resort to talking life to protect society,” the Omaha priest said.
The Rev. Bill Thornton, director of the Pastoral Ministry Department at Nebraska Christian College in Papillion, said that as an evangelical leader, he believes the death penalty cuts off the chances that those who do not know Jesus Christ could receive his grace.
“I’m not alone. Last year, the National Association of Evangelicals reversed our 40-year position in support of the death penalty,” said Rev. Thornton. “Capital punishment in the U.S. doesn’t bear any resemblance to what the Bible describes. Christians recognize that humans are fallible and ultimate punishment should be reserved for God. As a person of faith, I’m concerned about Nebraska executing an innocent person.”
SueZann Bosler, one of the “Journey of Hope” speakers, described how her father, a minister, was murdered and his attackers attempted to kill her.
“Answering violence with more violence isn’t the solution,” she said. “Nebraska’s death penalty is a false promise to murder victims’ families.”
Shujaa Graham, a former death-row inmate who was exonerated, said, “I am living proof that the system makes mistakes. We can’t guarantee we won’t execute an innocent person.”
Currently Nebraska has 11 inmates on death row.
The state Legislature voted to end capital punishment in 2015 and Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed the measure. Lawmakers had enough votes to overturn he veto, so he had to sign the bill into law. However, it has been put on hold because a referendum campaign gathered enough signatures to put the issue on the November ballot for voters to decide on ending use of the death penalty in their state.