Saturday, May 4, 2013
Reverend Jim Ryan, Executive Director of the Colorado Council of Churches and I submitted this Op-Ed this past week to the Denver Post. There is no guarantee that it will be published, so I wanted it share it on this forum.
Our Faith Directs Us To Support Clemency for Nathan Dunlap By Rabbi Joseph Black and Reverend Dr. Jim Ryan
Op-Ed submitted to the Denver Post- May 2, 2013
For us, as men of God and leaders of our congregations of Colorado faithful, it is deeply troubling that our state may move forward with the execution of Nathan Dunlap. Our calling to serve God involves a responsibility to seek justice, and we must be especially mindful of our role in supporting the poor and the weak, while advocating for fairness for all. Despite his terrible crime and the suffering he caused, we pray that Mr. Dunlap will receive executive clemency and will serve his life in prison without the possibility of parole.
While our faith compels us to reject violence in all forms, we find the death penalty, an act of violence that is premeditated and carried out in our names, particularly abhorrent. We would be remiss in our spiritual commitment if we did not speak out about our belief that Mr. Dunlap’s life should be spared.
We must acknowledge that Mr. Dunlap committed a terrible crime, which may be understood to be an act of evil. We grieve for all the human suffering his actions caused and pray for those he harmed and their families.
To us, as Christians and Jews, as it is for many faithful people of other spiritual traditions as well, all life is sacred. We believe profoundly in the sanctity of all life, and we understand that through God’s love and generosity, the opportunity for God’s forgiveness, and the ability to find God’s way, is ever present so long any human being may seek it. This possibility for redemption, even for the worst sinners, is one of God’s deepest mysteries and gifts to us.
That we are loved by God despite our sins and errors is the miracle of our faith, which sustains us. God loves us with such generosity that we must be ever mindful of what is asked of us in return, that we act in mercy and fairness towards one another. Because of this, we share concerns with other people of faith about the fairness of capital punishment in Colorado.
While our concerns about the death penalty are primarily moral concerns, we take note of concerns raised by others about the fairness of the death penalty in Colorado. Colorado’s death row is comprised solely of African-American men despite the fact that African-Americans are a racial minority in Colorado, making up less than 5% of our population. Additionally, all the men on death row were prosecuted by a single county, Arapahoe. In fact, they all attended the very same high school.
We wonder about the fairness of Colorado’s use of the death penalty when it is directed so decidedly towards only one group of prisoners. As Colorado, like other states, continues to wrestle with our nation’s history of racial injustice, we must ensure that our desire for justice and our faith in the law are never at odds.
Our moral responsibility to our congregations and to all our fellow citizens is to strive to live in accordance with our own inner holiness. We work to make our society civilized, just, and merciful. We cannot condone or accept the execution of any person in our names. Such an execution would coarsen us and corrode our civic morality.
As men of faith, we are commanded to speak out when we see injustice in our world. Because of this spiritual commitment, we respectfully ask Governor Hickenlooper to commute Nathan Dunlap’s sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. We strongly believe this is the merciful, moral, and just action, which is in accordance with the teachings of our faiths.
Reverend Dr. Jim Ryan is the Executive Director of the Colorado Council of Churches Rabbi Joseph Black is the Senior Rabbi of Temple Emanuel, Denver