Capital Punishment and the Ministry of the Church to the Offender (Mennonite Church, 1965)
A statement presented to [Mennonite Church] General Conference by the Peace Problems Committee and adopted August, 1965.
I. In view of the prophetic commission given to the church as set forth in two recent statements of Mennonite General Conference, A Declaration of Christian Faith and Commitment with Respect to Peace, War, and Nonresistance (1951) and The Christian Witness to the State (1961); in view of the sanctity of human life; and in view of our redemptive concern for the offender, be it
Resolved That we appear to the parliament of the Dominion of Canada and the federal and state governments of the United States, to discontinue the use of the death penalty and that we refer to our conferences and congregations for study and discussion the paper, "A Christian Declaration on Capital Punishment," as prepared by the Peace Problems Committee.
II. In view of our responsibility as ministers of reconciliation, be it further
Resolved That we confess that we have not adequately fulfilled our obligation to the offender nor for the reduction of crime in our society. We need to be more faithful in bringing a Christian witness to persons in prison and in laboring for the reform of prison procedures, for the rehabilitation of released prisoners and for the correction of spiritual, economic, and social conditions which contribute to the making of juvenile offenders and to the spread of crime.
We pray that in our brotherhood the Spirit may deepen each member's conviction and understanding of his obligation to individual criminal offenders, to the government under which he lives, and to Christ. And we pray that God may grant us wisdom, vision, and courage that as a brotherhood we may engage in this ministry as the Holy Spirit gives us direction.
The resolution came at a time when capital punishment had fallen out of favor in North America. Indeed 1967 was the last year for an execution in the United States for almost 10 years. In the mid-1960s less than 50% of U.S. citizens favored the death penalty. In the United States the Supreme Court ruled in 1972 that capital punishment was "cruel and unusual" in the way it was administered. By 1976 a number of U.S. states had written their laws to address these concerns and in 1977 executions resumed with an execution by firing squad in Utah.
In Canada, Parliament banned capital punishment in 1976, though there had been no executions in Canada after 1962.
The original resolution on capital punishment brought to the delegates, "A Christian Declaration on Capital Punishment" was jointly drafted by the Committee on Peace and Social Concerns of the General Conference Mennonite Church as well as the Peace Problems Committee of the Mennonite Church.
The General Conference delegate convention approved the resolution with slight modification by a vote of 1463-102 in July 1965. However in August 1965 The Mennonite Church delegates could not agree on the original resolution and did not vote on it. Instead they approved the above briefer statement hastily drafted overnight and presented by Guy F. Hershberger. Although the minutes do not outline the points of disagreement, likely some delegates on the basis of a "two-kingdom" theology would have defended the state's right to exercise capital punishment.
Minutes 1965: General Conference Mennonite Church (Newton, Kan. : The Conference, 1965): 10, 24-26.
"Should the General Conference adopt this declaration?" The Mennonite 80 (April 27, 1965): 283-284.
"The portable General Conference," The Mennonite 80 (August 17, 1965): 518.
Thirty-fourth Mennonite General Conference, Kidron, Ohio, August 24-27, 1965 (Scottdale, Pa.? : The Conference, 1965): 10-12, 38-43.
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