taking the words of Jesus seriously

In our struggle against capital punishment, Judge Wendell Griffen stands out as a hero.

On April 14, 2017 — as a citizen of the state of Arkansas — he attended a prayer vigil outside the governor’s mansion to protest executions which were immediately at hand. On that same day, he granted a temporary restraining order against the state’s department of corrections to prevent lethal injections that were about to be administered. The basis for his restraining order, he claimed, was that the state had obtained the chemicals (specifically vercuronium bromide) for these capital punishment injections under false pretenses. The company which supplied the drug expressed reservations about the drug’s use for capital punishment, but Judge Griffen ruled the state deliberately failed to tell the company that their drugs would, in fact, be used for executions.

Needless to say, Judge Griffen’s actions have gotten him into trouble with the governor and the state’s attorney general. Action has been taken to remove him from the case related to the drug company. Furthermore, the attorney general issued an order to reassign all cases that involved the death penalty away from the court over which Judge Griffen presides.

All of these actions are only the beginning of long involved legal proceedings, which are likely to have the case end up in the Supreme Court in Washington. What’s at stake is that if a judge can be banned from handling cases involving capital punishment because of a judge’s moral and religious convictions, as in the situation with Judge Griffen, then what is likely to follow is that it will be possible to ban persons opposed to capital punishment from serving on juries dealing with capital crimes. This, I declare, is a blatant violation of religious liberty.

There is now talk in the Arkansas State Legislature about having Judge Griffen impeached and removed from office. The fact that Judge Griffen is the only African American on the bench of the Arkansas Supreme Court leads many of us to think that this case has racist overtones.

The leaders of the Red Letter Christians movement believe that the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 5:7 declares that we are called upon to show mercy. This, we contend, precludes any support for the death penalty. Jesus said that if we want God’s mercy, we must show mercy.

Jesus also declared that the time for “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” kind of justice is over. As followers of Jesus, we certainly should seek ways to protect society from harmful criminals, but our aims are for the restoration of those who do evil — rather than retribution —  and we are called to overcome evil with good. Jesus is clear about these things, and that’s why the death penalty has no place in our policies for justice.

We are going to do what we can to support Judge Griffen — not only because we believe he’s doing the Christian thing, but also because this case has ramifications that could lead to the deaths of convicts all over the country for years to come.

The legal costs for Judge Griffen are already mounting, and if you are willing to help you can contribute by sending a check. Be sure to write “Judge Wendell Griffen Defense Fund” on the memo line, and send your check to:

The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, Inc.
4533 South Lake Park Ave.
Chicago, IL 60653

Let’s be Red Letter Christians not only by what we say, but also by what we do. Sending in a contribution for this defense fund is really crucial in our struggle against the death penalty.

Here’s a chance to get behind a man who is risking his lifetime career by standing up for what is clearly taught in the red letters of the Bible. Let’s all get behind him.

About The Author


Tony Campolo is Professor of Sociology at Eastern University, and was formerly on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania. For 40 years, he founded and led the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, an organization that created and supported programs serving needy communities in the Third World as well as in “at risk” neighborhoods across North America. More recently, Dr. Campolo has provided leadership for the Red Letter Christians movement. He blogs regularly at his own website. Tony and his wife Peggy live near Philadelphia, and have two children and four grandchildren.

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