ENS reports on a Lenten program at the Church of the Holy Comforter in Richmond, Va, that wrestles with questions of faith and the death penalty.
For the members of Church of the Holy Comforter in Richmond, Virginia, this familiar story took on new meaning within the context of a Lenten program that brings fresh perspectives to the topic of the death penalty.
"I had always thought about that story from the position of Jesus," said Mark Osler, a professor of law at the University of St. Thomas Law School in Minnesota. "I realized that I'm not Jesus. I'm one of the people with a rock in my hand." Osler, author of Jesus on Death Row: The Trial of Jesus and American Capital Punishment, joined with Jeanne Bishop, a board member of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, to lead a two-part series of events bookending the Lenten season on the subject of the death penalty.
Bishop is the sister of Nancy Bishop Langer, who was shot to death along with her husband and their unborn child in 1990. She is assistant public defender in the Office of the Cook County Public Defender in Illinois and is an adjunct professor at Northwestern School of Law in the trial advocacy program.
By examining the story in the Gospel of John, explains Bishop, "We can look at Jesus and see that he himself was a criminal defendant. What Jesus asks us to do in John 8 is to say we are not perfect. We're flawed. And if that's true, I don't think it's possible for us to have a sentence that's irrevocable."
The first part of the series, "Jesus on Trial," focused on offering perspectives and stories surrounding the death penalty in the form of a Saturday evening presentation and Q&A followed by a Sunday morning sermon and adult forum on March 5 and 6.
The next part of the series, scheduled for April 16, will feature an enactment of the sentencing of Christ, in which Osler will play the prosecutor arguing that Jesus should be killed and Bishop will play the defense attorney. Volunteers will play the role of judge and witnesses. The next day, Palm Sunday, will feature an adult forum to further explore themes from the trial.
Both Osler and Bishop hope that, by presenting a familiar story in a new format, attendees will reconsider and reexamine the take-away messages. "It's important sometimes to challenge ourselves in a different way, and that's what we're trying to do here," said Osler, who noted that too often Christians view the death penalty in isolation from their faith. "By mashing [political issues and our faith] together, we're hopefully forcing people to confront those two things together."