A Religious Leaders Dialogue on the Death Penalty

February 14, 2017

Dead Man Walking: Religious Leaders Dialogue

on the Death Penalty

On Monday, February 6, 2017, CMN, in partnership with Washington National Cathedral, Washington National Opera, and Equitas, hosted a powerful Religious Leaders Dialogue on the Death Penalty. This event brought together six national religious leaders to discuss their perspectives on the death penalty and the faith-based call to end capital punishment in this country. The program also included arias from the opera Dead Man Walking, which will run at the Kennedy Center Opera House from February 25–March 11.

The panelists included: Bishop Frank Dewane from the Justice, Peace and Human Development Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; Imam Yahya Hendi from Georgetown University; Dr. Uma Mysorekar from the Hindu Temple Society of North America; Bishop Mariann Budde from the Episcopal Diocese of Washington; Rev. Dr. Gabriel Salguero of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition; and Rabbi Hannah Goldstein from Temple Sinai in Washington, DC.

Sr. Helen Prejean

Karen Clifton, Executive Director of CMN, commented on the significance of an event like this: “In bringing together different faiths and their perspectives on the human person and the death penalty, we are able to amplify the need for mercy and justice towards all life. Consistent among these different faiths is the call to end the death penalty.”

The evening began with an introduction and welcome from Sr. Helen Prejean, a sister of the Congregation of St Joseph, author of the book Dead Man Walking and a co-founder of CMN. With an inspiring message of the power and purpose of encounters with the other, Sister Helen began by reminding the audience that “the Gospel of Jesus is about working for justice.”

Bishop Mariann Budde

The evening presented the opportunity for each religious leader to share why they see the need for the end of the death penalty. For many, the injustice of the death penalty became clear through their faith. Bishop Mariann Budde explained, “the story that did it for me is the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery…. There aren’t good people and bad people in the world, but people.” Similarly, Rabbi Hannah Goldstein remarked that as Jewish teaching understands it, “Human law is never permitted to extinguish the divine spark in one another.”

Bishop Frank Dewane

Bishop Frank Dewane presented a staunch view against harming life, which he developed early in life: “The death penalty wasn’t what I had learned … the death penalty is not mine to do.” 

Rev. Dr. Gabriel Salguero

Rev. Dr. Gabriel Salguero also talked about something he learned from his father’s own life experience: “Anyone can change … the system makes mistakes that are irreversible and should not be done in our name.”

Dr. Uma Mysorekar

For all of the panelists, life is understood as sacred. “All life matters … no one has the right to take the life of another,” Dr. Uma Mysorekar stated. Imam Yahya Hendi went even further in denouncing the practice of the death penalty: “If we are speaking on behalf of God, we have to stand up and make a difference … I call upon my muslim sisters and brothers and all people to ensure that the dignity of every life is honored as God calls.”

As a whole, this event presented a great opportunity for conversion and restoration, as moderator E.J. Dionne Jr. remarked early in the evening: “This is an amazing night, the

Imam Yahya Hendi

music moves our hearts, these panelists will move our minds and consciences, and we are in this beautiful space to move our spirits.”

The final part of the event was an audience question and answer when questions of sacred texts and the meaning of justice brought out the need for a more restorative approach in our criminal justice system. Responding to a question concerning how to support victims families, Imam Yahya Hendi remarked, “We need to acknowledge the pain they have

Rabbi Hannah Goldstien

and give them an alternative choice.” Rabbi Hannah Goldstein also presented the call for a restorative approach when she addressed the question of reconciling the conflict some see between God’s justice and God’s mercy, “It’s a false dichotomy, justice is the belief that people can change, it is a form of mercy … God is where justice and mercy meet.”

For CMN, events like this are vitally important. “This event is a great example of the impact that people of faith can have on issues concerning the human person. In the midst of our current political climate, this dialogue among religious leaders reveals the grace present in unity,” Karen Clifton remarked.  

Sister Helen Prejean concluded the evening by asking us to work for this unity: “We must work to restore life, not punish life… we need to be a people of life.”

CMN is grateful for all who were able to attend the event, those who followed the event with us on social media, and to all those who helped to make this event such a great success. Thank you!

If you were able to join us for the event, we would love to hear your feedback.

Were you  unable to attend the event? Check our Facebook page for videos of the program!