Faith leaders and faith communities are integral partners in our efforts to reduce use of the death penalty and, ultimately, abolish capital punishment in Texas.
Interfaith Statement of Opposition to the Death Penalty
TCADP partnered with Texas Impact, Texas’ oldest and largest statewide interfaith network, to help Texas faith leaders voice their beliefs and concerns about the death penalty. Nationally and in Texas, faith communities play a critical role in public discussions about capital punishment.
TCADP invites all religious leaders who reside in Texas to sign the Interfaith Statement of Opposition to the Death Penalty. More than 550 faith leaders statewide have endorsed the statement to date. We invite Jewish faith leaders to sign both the Interfaith Statement and a separate statement from Texas Rabbis and Cantors.
Ongoing Religious Engagement on the Death Penalty in Texas
The Case of Melissa Lucio
Faith leaders played an integral role in efforts to stop the execution of Melissa Lucio, which was scheduled by the State of Texas for April 27, 2022. As a part of her clemency application, more than 100 faith leaders across Texas signed a letter urging the Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Abbott to grant her clemency. Read the letter here. The Catholic Conference of Bishops also issued their own letter, which can be found here. Read an article from the Baptist Standard, which detailed Baptist advocacy in the pursuit of justice and clemency for Lucio.
Stephen Reeves, the Executive Director of Fellowship Southwest, wrote a powerful opinion piece on how he came to oppose the death penalty, which ended with a plea to take action on behalf of Lucio. Sojourners, a Christian media outlet, published a piece on Lucio, quoting Cameron Vickrey of Fellowship Southwest.
The Baptist Standard covered Lucio’s stay of execution, which was granted by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on April 25, 2022. The piece quoted Steve Wells, Pastor of South Main Baptist Church, and Stephen Reeves, Executive Director of Fellowship Southwest.
Spiritual Advisors in the Execution Chamber
Faith leaders also have played an important role in advocating for the religious rights of individuals facing execution in Texas. In April 2019, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) changed its Execution Protocol and removed all chaplains from the execution chamber. In response, nearly 200 clergy signed a letter urging TDCJ to reconsider its cruel and inhuman decision to deny all people of faith the right to spiritual comfort in their last moments.
In 2021, TDCJ changed the Execution Procedure again to allow for a TDCJ chaplain or a spiritual advisor of an individual’s choosing to be present in the chamber during the execution. It did not permit them to pray aloud or offer physical comfort during an individual’s last moments, however. In the Fall of 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court considered a challenge to this latest policy in the case of John Ramirez, whose spiritual advisor had been denied his request to lay hands upon him and pray aloud during his execution.
On March 24, 2022, the Court released its 8-1 opinion in Ramirez v. Collier in which it determined that people facing execution in Texas have the right to the free exercise of their religious beliefs. TDCJ now is considering religious requests on a case-by-case basis. Read the 8-1 opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, here and recent coverage by the Texas Tribune to learn more.
Opportunities for Engagement and Discernment
- Host a gathering for faith leaders in your area, such as a breakfast or luncheon with a speaker and opportunities for discussion.
- Organize and mobilize members of your faith tradition or denomination as witnesses against the death penalty, for example, through prayer vigils on the days of execution in Texas.
- Host one of our voices of experience on the death penalty (exonerees, murder victims’ family members, friends and family members of individuals on death row, law enforcement officers).
- Lead a study or watch a film related to the death penalty in your faith community (see recommended resources below).
- Join TCADP’s advocacy efforts with elected officials.
We can provide you with speakers, fact sheets, films, discussion guides, or whatever else you might need to support these initiatives. Contact us with any questions.
Past Events and Outreach
TCADP often partners with the Equal Justice USA Evangelical Network and the Catholic Mobilizing Network in religious outreach initiatives, as well as with state and local religious organizations. In 2021, TCADP established an important partnership with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Texas when they became an Organizational Affiliate. Fellowship Southwest became an Organizational Affiliate in 2022, along with the Friends Meeting of Austin and the Texas Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry. Listed below are other religious groups that are Organizational Affiliates of TCADP. If your group or organization is interested in becoming an Organizational Affiliate of TCADP, please complete and send in this form.
- Advocates for Justice and Peace, Holy Covenant United Methodist Church (Carrollton, Texas)
- Advocates for Social Justice, First United Methodist Church (Arlington, Texas)
- Bethel Community (Fort Worth, Texas)
- Center for Women in Church and Society at Our Lady of the Lake University (San Antonio, Texas)
- Congregation of Divine Providence (San Antonio, Texas)
- Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Texas
- Dallas Friends Meeting
- Dominican Sisters of Houston (Houston, Texas)
- Fellowship Southwest
- First Congregational Church United Church of Christ (Fort Worth, Texas)
- Fort Worth Religious Society of Friends
- Friends Meeting of Austin
- Friends Meeting of San Antonio
- Macedonia Baptist Church (San Antonio, Texas)
- Methodist Federation for Social Action, Rio Texas Chapter (Austin, Texas)
- New Jonang Buddhist Community (McKinney, Texas)
- Pax Christi Austin
- Pax Christi Dallas
- Pax Christi San Antonio
- Saint John’s United Methodist Church (Austin, Texas)
- St. Andrew Peace and Justice Task Force (Fort Worth, Texas)
- St. Ignatius Martyr Catholic Church (Austin, Texas)
- Sisters of the Holy Spirit and Mary Immaculate (San Antonio, Texas)
- Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament (Corpus Christi, Texas)
- Social Action Council, First Unitarian Church of Dallas (Dallas, Texas)
- Texas Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry
- Travis Park United Methodist Church (San Antonio, Texas)
- Trinity United Methodist Church (Austin, Texas)
- University of the Incarnate Word Interfaith Council (San Antonio, Texas)
Recommended Resources for Faith Communities
“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.
“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.
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.
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.