Resources for Preaching on the Death Penalty

If you are a pastor or minister looking for material to preach on the death penalty issues, the Faith Initiative Group has collected the following materials from different sources as ideas and resources for developing sermons.

Interfaith Resources

Read the Statement Against the Death Penalty from Christian Leaders in NH.

As leaders of Christian churches in New Hampshire, we are compelled by our ordinations and by our faith to interpret the Gospel and to stir up the conscience of our people.  The recently submitted bill to repeal the death penalty represents an important moment for us to come together in our witness to work for a more holy and just society.

Download Religious Groups’ Official Positions on Capital Punishment.

Catholic Resources

Download the Death Penalty Bulletin for Catholics.

Episcopal Resources

The Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire has a list of resources available for preaching on the death penalty.

Download A Pastoral Letter to the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire on the Death Penalty from the Rt. Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld.

“To take another life out of a need for retribution is not justified by our faith. As we are  committed to learning the teachings and example of Jesus Christ, we believe that killing a human life for the sake of retribution is equal to what Jesus called the unforgivable sin, that of ‘grieving the Holy Spirit.’ This is because the death penalty precludes any possibility for the offender to repent, to amend his or her life, to seek God’s forgiveness and those most affected by their crime. Faith tells us that we are always to hold up the possibility of this Spirit-led change of heart, perhaps even especially, in the face of all evidence to the contrary when remorse seems impossible and not forthcoming from the convicted. In a society that is increasingly marked by anger, hatred, revenge and violence, to hold out the possibility for repentance and forgiveness is hard– even offensive. Yet, for the Christian, to hold out such hope is the Way of the Cross.”

Read Marti Hunt’s Reflection for Christ the King Sunday.

The Episcopal Church through its General Conventions has been opposed to the death penalty since 1958. The resolution has been affirmed in subsequent years and as early as 1979 called on dioceses and members of the church to work actively to abolish the death penalty in their states.

Although I believe that the death penalty is a terribly flawed public policy and I am happy to speak with you about that, my underlying opposition is based on my religious understandings. I have three main understandings that are relevant for me: the value of each human life to God, the possibility of repentance, redemption and reconciliation, and the call to forgiveness.

Read An Opportunity to Testify by Rev. Susan Langle of Trinity Episcopal Church in Claremont, NH.

You probably know about Michael Addison, a rampaging criminal who gunned down a Manchester police officer. Last week his appeal was decided by the NH Supreme court and the proceedings of the trial court were affirmed. He has one last issue to be decided by the New Hampshire Courts, and then possibly an appeal to the Federal Courts. For now he sits on Death Row in Concord, waiting for his time to run out. There is no doubt this man is dangerous and needs to be off the streets forever. But is killing him the answer?

You probably don’t know about John Brooks, a very rich man, and a rampaging criminal who hired three men to kill a handyman with whom Brooks had a dispute. Brooks was tried and convicted of capital murder, about the same time as Michael Addison. Different Jury. Different New Hampshire Court room. Brooks the rich man arranged for the killing of a nobody. Different lawyers. Different level of press attention. Different outcome. Brooks was sentenced to life in prison. Extenuating circumstances? Perhaps. A shorter criminal career? Perhaps. But the fact that Brooks is Caucasian, is white, and Addison is African American, is black, cannot be ignored.

Lutheran Resources

Read The Jesus Equation, a sermon by Pastor Jonathan Hopkins of Concordia Lutheran Church in Concord, NH.

As people of faith this I think is an essential part of what it means to be a spiritual person. We have hope that no situation is completely hopeless or lost. We believe that every day and every moment there is a chance of redemption, of grace, of forgiveness. Lots of times when we talk about the death penalty we talk about the worst cases. We talk about people whose acts are reprehensible, makes our stomachs turn, and who do just plain evil things. Can God work with such a person?

United Church of Christ Resources

Read Margaret Hawthorn’s Sermon at First Church, Jaffrey, NH; Romans 12:17-19.

Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-19)

Whatever the specific reference, the intent is clear. We are to treat our enemies with kindness and leave vengeance to God. And the hard part is, there’s no promise God will carry out that vengeance the way we want it done.



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