The Russel Moore Show. In this episode, Russell Moore is joined by author and activist Shane Claiborne to discuss the death penalty. Tune in for a gracious and frank discussion on how Christians should think about capital punishment. With thought-provoking insights on the reality of the effects on former executioners, Claiborne describes restorative justice, proposes that “the road of violence is a dead end,” and emphasizes that “we are not made to kill.” Claiborne and Moore wrestle with the similarities between war and capital punishment and ultimately wrestle with a fundamental question: Has Jesus commanded us to kill?
The following films are available on loan from TCADP, unless otherwise noted.
“At the Death House Door.” This documentary film is told through the eyes of Reverend Carroll Pickett, who served as the death house chaplain in the infamous Walls Unit in Huntsville, Texas. During Pickett’s remarkable career and personal journey, he witnessed over 95 executions, including the nation’s first lethal injection. After each execution, he recorded an account of his trip to the death chamber. The film also tells the story of Carlos De Luna, an innocent man on death row who Pickett counseled and whose execution troubled him deeply. 2008. 98 minutes.
“70 X 7: The Forgiveness Equation.” This film thrusts viewers into the turmoil between two sisters, Sue Norton and Maudie Hills, whose responses to the murders of their parents differed significantly. It also relives the Oklahoma City bombing that killed Bud Welch’s daughter, Julie. “70 X 7” derives its title from scripture: “Peter asked Jesus how many times shall I forgive someone who harms me? Seven times?” And Jesus answered, “no Peter, not seven times but 70 X 7 times.” (Mathew 18:21-22). 2008. 36 minutes.
“The Empty Chair.” This film is a balanced and compelling portrayal of four families whose loved ones have been murdered and who must confront their notions of revenge, forgiveness, and healing. It is particularly appropriate for audiences whose members hold differing views on the death penalty and groups that are addressing the issue for the first time. 2003. 52 min.
“Executing the Insane: The Case of Scott Panetti.” This documentary chronicles the case of Scott Panetti, who was sentenced to death in Texas despite a long, documented history of paranoid schizophrenia. It is a compelling portrait of the impact that Panetti’s mental illness – and his death sentence – has had on his family. 2007. 27 minutes.
“Juan Melendez-6446.” Juan Roberto Melendez Colon spent 6,446 days on death row in Florida for a crime he did not commit. Produced both in Spanish and English by the Civil Rights Commission of Puerto Rico, this film provides an excellent opportunity to spark discussion about the legal system and death penalty in the United States. 2008. 49 minutes.
“Just Mercy.” This movie follows Bryan Stevenson, an acclaimed civil rights defense attorney. After taking on the Alabama death penalty case of Walter McMillian, Stevenson becomes embroiled in a labyrinth of legal and political maneuverings and overt and unabashed racism as he fights for Walter, and others like him, with the odds—and the system—stacked against them. The film is adapted from the best-selling memoir of the same name and stars Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan. 2019. 2h 16min.
“The Last 40 Miles.” This film focuses on a Texas inmate’s last journey from death row in Livingston to the execution chamber in Huntsville and his interactions with a compassionate guard along the way. Utilizing several groundbreaking animation techniques, it forces viewers to confront the death penalty from a unique perspective. Approximately 14 minutes.
“Pope Francis’ message on the death penalty from VI World Congress Against the Death Penalty”
On June 21, 2016, Pope Francis addressed the World Congress Against the Death Penalty, during which he reiterated his call for worldwide abolition. More information about this speech can be found here. Video and full text of the speech in Spanish are available here.
Books and Study Guides
A Saint on Death Row: The Story of Dominique Green by Thomas Cahill. Doubleday, 2009. On October 26, 2004, Dominique Green was executed by lethal injection by the State of Texas. Arrested at the age of 18 in the fatal shooting of a man during a robbery outside a Houston convenience store, Green, an African-American man, was sentenced to death by an all-white jury. Despite obvious errors in the legal procedures and over the protests of the victim’s family, he spent the last 12 years of his life on death row. Thomas Cahill visited Dominique in 2003 and joined the fierce fight for his life. He even enlisted Dominique’s hero, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to make a historic visit to death row and to plead publicly for mercy.
Executing Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It’s Killing Us by Shane Claiborne. HarperOne, 2016. In this reasoned exploration of justice, retribution, and redemption, Shane Claiborne, a bestselling author and director of Red Letter Christians, offers a powerful and persuasive appeal for the end of the death penalty. He interviews victims of violent crimes, survivors of death row, lawyers, experts, and an executioner, sharing their stories of horrific pain and heroic grace. Claiborne also explores the contrast between punitive justice and restorative justice, questioning our notions of fairness, revenge, and absolution. In Executing Grace, he reminds us of the divine power of forgiveness, and evokes the fundamental truth of the Gospel that no one, even a criminal, is beyond redemption. Download a study guide.
The Death Penalty in Texas: A study guide for Texas faith communities. Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy, 2014. This guide provides a broad overview of the death penalty in the United States and Texas and includes excerpts from major faith traditions’ stances on the death penalty. Available online.
Jesus on Death Row: The Trial of Jesus and American Capital Punishment by Mark Osler. Abingdon Press, 2009. Mark Osler, a law professor and former prosecutor, challenges Christian support for the death penalty by applying the story of Jesus’ trial and execution to the modern criminal justice system in the United States. Each chapter follows the arc of Christ’s last days and examines their symmetry with aspects of modern criminal trials, such as the use of a paid informant, denial of habeas corpus, and humiliation of the convicted.
Dead Man Walking by Sister Helen Prejean. Random House, 1993. Sister Helen’s powerful memoir of her experiences as the spiritual advisor to two men on death row in Louisiana and her journey through our system of capital punishment. The film of the same name features Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn and is available through Netflix or any other streaming service.
The Biblical Truth About America’s Death Penalty by Dale Recinella. Northeastern University Press, 2004. Recinella, a Catholic lay chaplain in Florida, compares biblical teaching about the death penalty, including such passages as “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life,” with the nation’s current system of capital punishment.
Now I Walk on Death Row by Dale Recinella. Chosen Books, 2011. As one of the most influential finance lawyers in the country, Dale Recinella was living the American dream. With prestige, power, and unthinkable paychecks at his fingertips, his life was perfect. . . at least on paper. But on the heels of closing a huge deal for the Miami Dolphins, Dale’s life took an unfathomable turn. He heard and heeded Jesus’s call to sell everything he owned and follow him. Thus began a radical quest to live out the words of Jesus no matter what the cost. In this quick paced, well-written story, Recinella shares his amazing journey from growing up in the slums of Detroit to racing through “the good life” on Wall Street to finally walking the humble path of God the path of ministry on death row.
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. Spiegel & Grau, 2014. A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time. Download a study guide developed by the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas.