Shane Claiborne, one of the co-directors of the Red Letter Christians movement, has made abolishing the death penalty a major commitment. He not only has drawn up petitions to be signed by likeminded believers who want to declare opposition to capital punishment, but he has done his best to confront those government officials who order executions for capital crimes.
Shane’s fellow graduate of Eastern University, Bryan Stevenson, joined this effort as one of the nation’s top lawyers working to abolish the death penalty. Following his graduation from Harvard Law School (which recently awarded him an honorary doctorate for his leadership as Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative) he established himself as a lawyer who would seek to get men and women off of death row.
To date, Bryan has gotten more than 350 of such convicts delivered from execution and even has gotten some of them freed after proving them to have been unjustly condemned to die.
Bryan tells me that those who he has helped in the face of the death penalty have had one thing in common. They were all poor! Poor people, in all likelihood have had nobody who was really good to speak for them when they have their day in court–“Except, ” says Bryan, “in Montgomery, Alabama! Because in Montgomery, Alabama, ” he says, “I speak for the poor, and I’m good!”
Both Shane and Bryan were students of mine during the 50 years I taught sociology at Eastern University. They are two young leaders who grasp the meaning of those red letters in the Bible that highlight the words of Jesus, who said, “Blessed are the merciful for they should obtain mercy (Matt. 5:7).
Certain religious leaders contend that the Old Testament legitimates capital punishment–and they are right! But we Red Letter Christians declare that the teachings of Jesus transcend and take precedence over the teachings of Moses and the Laws of the Hebrew Bibles. Consider how many times in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus declares concepts of justice as “an eye for an eye” with what he called His “new commandments.”
Jesus was about mercy and grace, and Red Letter Christians know that they should be about the same practices.
“You are my disciples, ” He said, “If you do whatsoever I command you.” That’s what Bryan Stevenson and Shane Claiborne are trying to do! We thank God for them!