Sunday, 8 July 2007

Clergy, parishioners examine feelings on death penalty

FREEMAN, S.D. (AP) -- People should think long and hard about their beliefs in the days before the execution of Elijah Page because on the day after it, South Dakota won't be the same, according to Lois Janzen Preheim,"I would like to think it could change us for the better," she said. "Maybe it will invite all of us to think about this a little more, decide if it solves the overall fact of violence and the framework with which we look at justice."

Page, 25, of Athens, Texas, is scheduled to be executed sometime this week for the 2000 torture slaying of Chester Allan Pogue, 19, of Spearfish.The death penalty only draws people into another cycle of violence, Janzen Preheim said as she sat near a peace center she created at Salem Mennonite Church near Freeman.

Others say capital punishment has the sanction of God."In Genesis 9:6, we read 'Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed,"' said Sioux Falls Seminary professor Paul Rainbow."That seems to provide authorization for a society or a duly constituted government to practice capital punishment."And Rainbow said the New Testament refers to civil authority when, in Romans 13:4, it states: "He is God's servant for your God, but if you do wrong be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer."

"Only God ultimately has the right to give or take life," Rainbow said, "but in this case, he delegates a share of that authority to his human government, which makes capital punishment not a case of human beings against human beings, but God exercising his sovereignty using human beings as his instrument."

Page, who has given up his appeals, was set to die last August. But it was delayed due to a discrepancy between the two-drug lethal injection mixture prescribed in state law and a three-drug mixture state officials planned to use. The 2007 Legislature decided to let the state decide what should be in the injection.Bishop Andrea DeGroot-Nesdahl, bishop of the South Dakota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said she plans to attend a prayer service in Sioux Falls that will be held at the time of Page's execution.

The South Dakota Synod has passed a resolution against the death penalty."It is the understanding of our church ... there is always in Jesus an opportunity for the amendment of life," DeGroot-Nesdahl said. "We eliminate that by acting out the law on execution. We take that into our hands."South Dakota's two Roman Catholic bishops have issued a statement describing the execution as an act of violence in which all state residents are taking part.Pastors say their congregations aren't talking about the execution."

As a pastor, we always try to take God's truth and apply it to the world we're living in," said the Rev. Vince Smith, pastor of Cross Pointe Baptist Church."At the same time, we try to stay in touch with the questions people are asking. I'm not being asked much about this question."Smith said he doesn't intend to speak on the death penalty Sunday.The Rev. Jesse Moore, who leads Ridgecrest and SonRise Baptist churches, supported the death penalty for years. Then, while he was substitute teaching, he heard a Sioux Falls O'Gorman student's presentation against the death penalty -- and it led him to re-examine his views.

"I think what challenged me was the sacredness of human life," he said. "If I believe the life in the womb is sacred, there's no logical reason to think that it ceases to be sacred at any time. And I understand all the theories of retribution and vengeance, but the bottom line is that it's still a sacred thing that you're about to take."

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