California voters will soon decide the future of the death penalty in our state. The November 8th ballot holds two options, Prop 62 and Prop 66. Prop 62 is simple: Replace our failed death penalty system with a life sentence without parole.
There are practical and financial reasons why Yes on 62 makes so much sense. The death sentence is 18 times more expensive than life in prison without parole, and it has been proven time and time again that the death penalty is ineffective in deterring crime. But the real reason that I am voting for Prop 62 is because my faith and the eye-for-an-eye, retributive justice that the death penalty embodies are fundamentally incompatible.
As Christians, our faith is rooted in the idea that though everyone sins, no one is beyond redemption. Yet, with the death penalty, we are asserting that we, as flawed sinners, can play God and pass judgement on others in matters of life and death.
Even in a perfect legal system, this is a hard sell. But when our legal and criminal justice system is so flawed, there is no way in good conscience that I can support the death penalty. In 2015, five counties in California were responsible for generating 25% of death sentences in the United States. And systemic racism is inherent in our criminal system, with 67% of prisoners sitting on death row of African American or Latino descent.
True justice is blind. What you look like and where you live should have absolutely no bearing on a life sentence without parole versus a death sentence, but for too many people, this is sadly the case.
But this isn’t even the biggest failing of our death penalty system. Studies have suggested that as many 1 out of 25 people sentenced to death are innocent, and over 150 people who were previously on death row have been exonerated due to new evidence and recent advancements in DNA technology.
Bryan Stevenson, an African-American civil rights lawyer and Christian, who spent his career representing death row inmates, put it best when he said: "I say the question is not really, 'Do people deserve to die for the crimes they commit?' The question is, 'Do we deserve to kill if we have this kind of error rate?'"
This should appall us, not just as Christians, but as human beings. We cannot stand idly by and silently condone the execution of innocent people.
Meanwhile, proponents of the death penalty have put forth Prop 66, which ostensibly “fixes” the death penalty, but in reality, would take everything wrong with current system and make it even worse.
Prop 66 would move death penalty hearings and appeals to local courts, instead of in the specialized courts they deserve. Death penalty cases would be prioritized at the top of docket over all other criminal and civil matters. From family hearings to parking tickets, justice would grind to a halt. And Prop 66 recklessly proposes replacing qualified legal counsel with inexperienced and unqualified defense attorneys, greatly increasing the already far too high risk of an innocent person being sentenced to death.
Opponents and supporters of the death penalty both agree the death penalty system has failed in California. What to do about it is now up to us as voters. The Christian community has a strong history of standing for the dignity of life and the inherent rights of God’s creations, and that is why my faith compels me to vote Yes on Prop 62 and No on Prop 66.
Tom Taylor is the Senior Pastor at Vertical Point Church in La Mirada, California. He received his M.Div. from the Graduate Theological Union, and is working on his Doctorate from Talbot University. He is driven by his passion to help hurting people find hope and healing.