The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland is set to express its outright opposition to the death penalty for the first time.
It has never previously resolved to oppose capital punishment ‘unequivocally’.
At this year’s General Assembly (15 – 21 May) the Church & Society Council will be presenting its deliberations on the death issue, having taken a fresh look at the issue in the light of contemporary international and domestic developments.
The death penalty was briefly discussed at the 2007 General Assembly, insofar as it related to Saddam Hussein. At that time the Church & Society Council expressed disappointment at the lack of condemnation of his execution from politicians in the UK.
The General Assembly has never previously resolved to oppose capital punishment wherever and whenever it occurs, and the Church & Society Council’s report will give it the opportunity to do so this year.
As a part of its wide-ranging deliberations, the Church & Society Council has considered Biblical perspectives on the death penalty, ethical/moral factors and capital punishment in historical and theological perspective, as well as examining what objectives for society we are seeking through the implementation of ‘punishment’.
The Council’s report will welcome the progress that has been made by the worldwide abolitionist movement in the last three decades.
In 1977 only sixteen countries had abolished the death penalty for all crimes. Today the figure stands at ninety. A further eleven are abolitionist for ordinary crimes and thirty-two are abolitionist in practice.
Despite this, between 5 and 10 thousand people were executed worldwide during 2006 – with at least 90% of known executions being carried out in China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan and the USA. In addition, there are between 19 thousand and 25 thousand people who have been condemned and are awaiting the implementation of their sentence.
The report to the Assembly will recognise that, within the Christian denominations of the world, there are “opposing and honestly held” views of whether the death penalty is acceptable.
However, having tried hard to hear all viewpoints, the Church & Society Council’s final judgement – to be put to the General Assembly – is that no system of justice devised and operated by humans is free from error or arbitrariness. The death penalty conflicts with the right to life enshrined in the European Convention in Human Rights, and the possibility of the death penalty has manifestly failed to deter murder, war crimes and genocide. The death penalty brutalises the society which practices it, and alternative sentences for serious crimes exist through which restitution and rehabilitation may be achieved.
The Assembly is set to agree that, at home and abroad, and in all circumstances, the Church of Scotland affirms that capital punishment is always and wholly unacceptable and does not provide an answer even to the most heinous of crimes.