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Capital Punishment

Presbyterian General Assemblies have been concerned not only for the issue of capital punishment, but also for those imprisoned. The major policy statements of the past 40 years have come in 1959, 1977 and 1978.

In 1959 the 171st General Assembly, “believing that capital punishment cannot be condoned by an interpretation of the Bible based upon the revelation of God’s love in Jesus Christ,” called on Christians to “seek the redemption of evil doers and not their death” and noted that “the use of the death penalty tends to brutalize the society that condones it.”(1)

In 1977 the 189th General Assembly called upon its members to:

  • a. Work to prevent the execution of persons now under sentence of death and further use of the death penalty;
  • b. Work against attempts to reinstate the death penalty in state and federal law, and where such laws exist, to work for their repeal;
  • c. Work for the improvement of the justice system to make less radical means available for dealing with persons who are a serious threat to themselves and to the safety and welfare of society.(2)

The next year, 1978, the General Assembly went on record as saying, “Capital punishment is an expression of vengeance which contradicts the justice of God on the cross.”(3)

In 1985, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), reaffirmed these positions and declared “its continuing opposition to capital punishment.”(4)

In 2000, and a decade later in 2010, the General Assembly reaffirmed its stance against capital punishment, and called for “an immediate moratorium on all executions in all jurisdictions that impose capital punishment,” authorizing direct advocacy by the Stated Clerk with the President of the United States, Congressional representatives, and governors and state legislators in states where persons are incarcerated while awaiting execution. (5)

In 2008, the General Assembly approved “A Social Creed for the 21st Century” which includes the call for Christians to work for: “A system of criminal rehabilitation, based on restorative justice and an end to the death penalty.”(6)

(1) Minutes of the 171st General Assembly (1959), United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., p. 384
(2) Minutes of the 189th General Assembly (1977), United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., p. 485
(3) Minutes of the 190th General Assembly (1978), Presbyterian Church in the United States, pp. 200-202
(4) Minutes of the 197th General Assembly (1985), Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), p. 84
(5) Minutes of the 212th General Assembly (2000), Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), p. 476; and Minutes of the 219th General Assembly (2010), Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), action 11-08.
(6) Minutes of the 218th General Assembly (2008) Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)  pp. 54-57 

—Adapted from the Compilation of PC(USA) Social Witness Policies.



  • Capital punishment is one of the main reasons the pilgrim fathers in 1620 separated and fled to America\\dw// by Donald Whitcomb on 08/21/2014 at 10:30 a.m.

  • first of all Jesus freed and blessed a woman condemned to die by public stoning, which was common at that time. ◄ John 8:7 ►"He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Matthew 7:1 "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. Romans 2:1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. most important please do not forget that our beloved holy savior, the lord himself was given the death sentence. and as he hung there on the cross for each of US...see Luke 23:39-43 39One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Messiah? Save yourself and us! " 40But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? 41We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong." 42Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." 43Jesus answered him, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise." Jesus loves all humans, even the bad ones condemned to die; if Jesus loves them, so must we! if Jesus says their souls are worth redeeming; we must try to minister to them so they accept him as their lord. God made all humans, God does not make junk or throw away people. he sent his son to us to demonstrate and teach us how to live. Jesus loved, healed, cured, taught ALL, and saved a robber crucified next to him at the last min. Humans cannot judge other humans and put them to death; only Jesus may do that. as humans our job is to lock up violent criminals and thus protect society. on judgement day, Jesus will judge each human according to his deeds and decide their fate. by Rae on 05/01/2014 at 1:56 a.m.

  • Capital punishment is not solely a vengeance issue. It can and does act as a deterrent, as statistically demonstrated by a myriad of econometric studies. Now maybe opposing capital punishment on principle that thou shall not kill is enough. But ignoring well-established evidence that capital punishment acts as a deterrent cannot be the best way to go about it. by Joe on 12/04/2011 at 3:02 p.m.

  • Capital punishment probably would deter some murders, like when a sole witness to a robbery is killed, or when a hostage is killed. Justice requires some offenders to be punished by losing their lives. It is possible to forgive but still punish. We do it with our kids all the time. by Tom Richards on 10/04/2011 at 10:16 p.m.

  • What is to be done to punish those guilty of capital crimes? Capital punishment is supposed to act as a deterrence but isn't working. As taxpayers, we cannot afford to continually house, feed and guard these people. And we certainly cannot let them loose to prey on society again! What to do?! by Neil Franklin on 09/26/2011 at 12:59 p.m.

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