“I can no longer justify my support of the death penalty when I am serving as an advocate for life, when I believe that all life is beautiful, all life is sacred. I have evolved in my thinking.”
With those words, in an exclusive interview with Death Penalty Focus, Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the Sacramento-based National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, one of the largest Hispanic Christian evangelical organizations in the United States, vowed to do whatever he could to end capital punishment in the United States.
Stressing that he was speaking as a private citizen, and only for himself, Rodriguez put himself firmly on the side of abolitionists.
Until now, Rodriguez has been reluctant to reveal his personal feelings about capital punishment, but in May of last year, he wrote an op-ed in Time magazine (http://time.com/88333/botched-oklahoma-execution-should-prompt-moral-outcry-among-evangelicals/) about the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma six days earlier: “From all accounts, the scene was horrific. . . .” he wrote. “My heart breaks for everyone touched by this case and execution. In an already difficult situation, this botched execution inflicted further stress and trauma on everyone involved. . . .
“No matter where you stand on the death penalty, as a Bible-believing Christ-centered follower, this botched execution should prompt in us a moral outcry.”
The Atlantic magazine (http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/10/white-evangelical-shift-on-the-death-penalty/412150/_) points out that while white evangelicals strongly support capital punishment, only about one-quarter of black and Latino Protestants do. More than two-thirds of them prefer the alternative of life in prison without parole.
When asked if he might alienate white evangelicals with his stance, Rodriguez said, “I hope not. I’m a conservative Christian committed to Biblical orthodoxy. I stand with my white evangelical brothers and sisters, love and respect them, and I will not demonize their support of the death penalty. But I would encourage all Bible-loving Christians who believe in the sanctity of life to apply that belief to life from womb to tomb.”
Saying that his feelings are “identical” to those of Pope Francis, who in his recent speech to the U.S. Congress said, “Every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes,” Rodriguez says he will devote his energy and use his influence in the effort to abolish capital punishment.
“I will advocate for the death penalty to be abolished before the Lord calls me home. We can do better. We’re evolving on the issue of crime and punishment and we need a more restorative justice system. It behooves me, as a pro-life Bible conservative, to advance a whole life ethos.”
Rodriguez pointed out that it’s time to accept that a sentence of life without parole is an effective alternative to execution, and should more than satisfy those who want to punish capital offenders.
“For those individuals who commit the most atrocious of crimes, it’s life without parole. It’s more punitive. . . I believe it is a much more consequential form of punishment.”
Rodriguez’s abolitionist stance could have a far-reaching impact. He co-leads an enormous evangelical network. His National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, which says it serves millions of individuals and 40 thousand churches, merged last year with the Latin America-based, Conela, which claims to serve close to 500,000 evangelical churches around the world.