SAN FRANCISCO (Mennonite Mission Network) — Society sees capital punishment as just recourse for capital offenders. Member of First Mennonite Church of San Francisco and Lafayette Christian Fellowship of West Lafayette, Ohio, feel there is injustice in capital punishment.
Sheri Hostetler, pastor of First Mennonite Church, does not understand how the state can justify killing people who kill, regardless of the crime.
“I think it is an abomination, I can’t believe we live in a country and a state that would do this,” Hostetler said. “Our country doesn’t run on gospel values.”
Wayne Yoder, Lafayette church member, believes congregations must have stronger voices, rather than relying on only official church statements. “I think it gives us a social awareness that the gospel is something more than just religion. It is something to be lived out and to be witnessed to in the world,” he said.
This year, Mennonite Central Committee recognized Lafayette Christian Fellowship with the Sixth Annual Congregational Advocacy Award for their significant witness in protesting capital punishment. Conrad Yoder is a leader against capital punishment at Lafayette Christian Fellowship through his encouragement and action.
Yoder said, “We as Christians believe people don’t have the right to take a human life, especially when done by the state. We have to stand up and say that we don’t want this done in our name.”
For the last seventeen years, Mennonite Voluntary Service workers, supported by First Mennonite, have served with Death Penalty Focus, an anti-death penalty organization based in San Francisco.
Church member Morgen Jahnke was a former MVS worker with DPF and is still involved in the fight against capital punishment. Jahnke is currently the development director for DPF, and as such, is an unofficial liaison with the congregation on the issue.
Individual members of both congregations have responded by participating in vigils, writing letters to their congresspersons and praying both as a congregation and individually.
With a congregation totaling 30 people Lafayette Christian Fellowship has committed to send at least one church member to protest each execution at the Lucasville State prison over the last two years.
Ideally, Hostetler would like their congregation to focus mission efforts and respond as a corporate body. She believes this does not happen because members of the congregation are involved with other issues or priorities.
For instance, Hostetler knows many members of the church participate in outreach programs to help the homeless population in San Francisco. Since this issue is a major part of their community, it touches their hearts and minds.
Jahnke said, “Although the death penalty might not be the top social injustice issue that the majority of the congregation is focused on, there is definitely strong support and knowledge of the issue.”
Lafayette has encouraged other Ohio Mennonite Conference congregations to take a public stance against the death penalty. At the annual conference assembly in March, delegates passed a resolution affirming the position of Mennonite Church USA, and calling on the state of Ohio to place a moratorium on administering the death penalty.
Despite the movement, the California court system is battling to decide if the death penalty in constitutional. Recently, the execution for Michael Morales scheduled for March was postponed until September when federal courts can reevaluate the issue of lethal injection.
Both congregations recognize there is much more work to be done before capital punishment is eliminated. They find hope in the possibility of change and continue to fight the death penalty trying to bring restoration to the justice system.