I was trying to write a provocative article for a readership that includes many people who a) oppose the death penalty for faith-based reasons, and b) take for granted that replacing it with LWOP is a fairly straightforward good. But I should have done more to anticipate how others might see a one-sided article where I saw a narrowly focused one.
My article in the current issue examines an ongoing challenge for death-penalty opponents: abolishing the death penalty in a given state has generally meant sentencing a lot more people to life without parole, a sentence just as hopeless and final.
Last week the Nebraska legislature abolished the state’s death penalty, overcoming the governor’s veto to do it. First Things editor Matthew Schmitz, writing in National Review, adds a salutary note of caution to the celebration that followed: viewing abolition as moral progress allows us to “overlook the countless cruelties of our criminal-justice system as we congratulate ourselves on the elimination of a relatively rare punishment.”
Many Catholics and others against capital punishment have often suggested life in prison without parole as an alternative for dangerous criminals such as murderers. Some, however, have noted that life without parole is problematic as well. I have had "lifers" write to me about how they are merely warehoused, without any sense of hope or meaning or purpose.
When I posted about evangelicals and the death penalty the other day, I didn't note Samuel Rodriguez's piece at Time. Not because he's a controversial figure, but because the piece doesn't go very far: while evangelicals should be outraged by "the details" of howClayton Lockett died, it's clear Stephanie Neiman's killer "needed to be permanently removed from" society (an artfully ambiguous phrase). They should be outraged by these details "regardless of how you feel about the death penalty." And how does Rodriguez himself feel about it? He's studiously noncommittal, that's how.
Be sure to read Amelia Thomson-Deveaux's article on the emerging evangelical-Catholic alliance over contraception. I think her historical analogy is entirely fair: evangelicals haven't always been opposed to contraception, but then they weren't always galvanized against abortion, either. And I appreciate that she doesn't simply endorse one of the two standard narratives on how evangelicals came to hate abortion—that either they came around to this opposition organically as they learned about the facts OR they were cynically manipulated by political operatives. There's truth in each of those stories; they aren't mutually exclusive.