In the wake of the nation's first executions since Oklahoma's botched lethal injection, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has an interesting story on a young Republican concerned about the death penalty:
Late Tuesday, as the clock approached midnight, Marcus Wellons rode to oblivion on a state-inserted needle, his punishment for the rape and murder of a young Cobb County neighbor 24 years ago.
That same day, Marc Hyden, a 30-year-old confirmed conservative Republican from Marietta, hopped a plane for Washington D.C. Today, he will open a booth at the fifth annual gathering of Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition.
Hyden is a national coordinator for Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, a two-year-old, GOP-based group that carries tea party suspicion of government into a new but highly logical arena:
If you don’t trust your government to deliver a piece of mail to your doorstep, how can you trust it to competently decide who lives and who dies?
To its credit, the Journal-Constitution recognizes that religion plays a role in this debate:
An extensive national survey conducted last year by Barna Group showed that 42 percent of Christian baby-boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, agreed that “government should have the option to execute the worst criminals.”
But among those born between 1980 and 2000, the approval rate dropped to 32 percent among self-identified Christians. Among actively practicing Christian millennials, only 23 percent approved of the death penalty.
Then comes this:
The religious connection is important, especially in terms of Georgia politics. An alliance between Southern Baptists and Catholics has been a large part of the success enjoyed by religious conservatives at the state Capitol when it comes to issues such as gay marriage or abortion.
But the death penalty divides the two denominations. Catholics oppose executions. Southern Baptists do not.
That last sentence assumes a lot. Is it really true that Catholics oppose executions, while Southern Baptists do not? Technically, the answer is probably yes.
From a Pew Research Center primer on religious groups' official positions on the death penalty:
Although the Catechism of the Catholic Church sanctions the use of the death penalty as a last recourse, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has repeatedly called for the abolition of capital punishment in the United States in all circumstances.
Southern Baptist Convention
In 2000, the Southern Baptist Convention issued a resolution in support of the fair and equitable use of capital punishment.
But do any Catholics support executions? In my time as religion editor for The Oklahoman, I remember writing about then-Gov. Frank Keating's public clashes with Pope John Paul II on capital punishment.
And do any Southern Baptists oppose executions? A Pew survey report earlier this year noted:
Among most large U.S. religious groups, majorities support capital punishment. Roughly six-in-ten or more white evangelical Protestants (67%), white mainline Protestants (64%) and white Catholics (59%) express support for the death penalty.
By contrast, black Protestants are more likely to say they oppose the death penalty than support it (58% vs. 33%), as are Hispanic Catholics (54% vs. 37%).
Undoubtedly, the Journal-Constitution writer — who covers politics — is referring to official lobbying by denominations.
But IMHO, the blanket statements about Catholics and Southern Baptists don't tell the whole story. It's a bit more complicated.
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