Death Penalty Tests Church as It Mourns
By ALISON LEIGH COWAN
By ALISON LEIGH COWAN
The United Methodist Church here is the kind of politically active place where parishioners take to the pulpit to discuss poverty in El Salvador and refugees living in Meriden. But few issues engage its passions as much as the death penalty.
The last three pastors were opponents of capital punishment. Church-sponsored adult education classes promote the idea of “restorative justice,” advocating rehabilitation over punishment. Two years ago, congregants attended midnight vigils outside the prison where Connecticut executed a prisoner for the first time in 45 years.
So it might have been expected that United Methodist congregants would speak out forcefully when a brutal triple murder here in July led to tough new policies against violent criminals across the state and a pledge from prosecutors to seek capital punishment against the defendants.
But the congregation has been largely quiet, not out of indifference, but anguish: the victims were popular and active members of the church — Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, and her two daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11. On July 23, two men broke into the family’s home. Mrs. Hawke-Petit was strangled and her daughters died in a fire that the police say was set by the intruders. …At a memorial service in September for his family, Dr. Petit read from the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, which included the passage, “Where there is injury, pardon.”
Some members took that as a sign that he was grappling with his feelings about capital punishment.
“What really took my breath away when he cited the Prayer of St. Francis and either lingered on the word ‘pardon’ or got stuck on the word ‘pardon,’ ” Dr. Brewer said. “There was a long pause after he spoke the word, and to me, that signaled that this was on his mind.”
Dr. Brewer’s wife, Dr. Karen Brown, said, “I think it’s what he wants to feel, but it’s hard to get there.”
The killings have prompted the church to slow down in other ways. Because of sensitivities about Dr. Petit’s feelings, church members called off plans to invite a prominent death penalty opponent to address the congregation. The killings have even caused some congregants to reconsider their personal views.
“I think we’ve all rethought it because it’s pretty easy to believe something when it’s far away and then when something happens and it’s a real situation you have to examine what you believe,” said Dr. Brown. (More...)
Shouldn’t the belief be richer than the murder?
They are honored more in keeping than
trampled `neath death’s frenzy
or buried within an injured and throbbing soil;
vengeance does not love... nor live.
Thou cannot enter with spirit only to leave with sword
when death crowds in front of memory.
This would not be faith grasping at conscience,
but jagged misery gnawing `way at martyrdom.
This too is murder whose blade cleaves fresh
its boiling target, to be butchered... yet again.
Administer death’s injection into the feeble vein of thy god.
© 2007 mrp/thepoetryman