Adventists and the Death Penalty: Why Are We Silent?

(The following article is an original contribution to the APF blog by Herbert Bodenmann, Communication and PARL-Director of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Switzerland pictured below.)

On March 3, 2015, – the Thursday before Easter – I read an article in the news service of the Reformed Churches in Switzerland reporting that nearly 400 Church leaders in the United States, including Catholic and Protestant theologians, evangelical leaders and faith-based social justice advocates, have launched a call to end the death penalty. The introduction to their open letter, an initiative of the organization Faith in Public Life (FPL), states: “All who reverence the sanctity of human life, created in the image of God, must never remain silent when firing squads, lethal injections, electric chairs and other instruments of death are viewed as morally acceptable.”

I searched the names of the signatories in the statement hoping to find a representative of the Adventist Church among them. I reasoned that Human Rights issues are very dear to the Adventist Church since we are also defenders of Religious Liberty – for us a central Human Right. I also thought that “created in the image of God“ is a core theological theme of our church and much more important than the question of the chronological details of creation that are about to be adjusted in the fundamental beliefs at San Antonio 2015.  “Created in the image of God” is for me one of the central religious concepts and the basis for protecting the human dignity for all persons. Confident that I would find an Adventist among the signatories, I searched the list of more than 400 names.  But there was not a single Adventist voice among them!

All Adventists in every region of the world have cultural and religious imprints. Swiss Adventists have a very different background than American Adventists, including in regards to the death penalty. But it is hard for me to accept that our church publishes statements on many minor issues or matters of lesser importance yet none about this very central issue: the sanctity of life and efforts to end the death penalty world wide. When will the Adventist Church not only launch a worldwide campaign to end violence against women – which is very important – but also an initiative to abolish the death penalty as an inhuman act? Some of our pioneers fought for the abolishment of slavery in the US although it was not abolished in the Bible. Abolitionism was a position that was not supported by all Christians. It seems to me that the moral questions are quite similar in regards to the death penalty.

The Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) is promoting as a long-term objective the worldwide abolishment of the death penalty by 2025.  I appeal to the North American Adventist Church to sign the call of the 400 in the US. And I also appeal to the worldwide Adventist Church leadership to take a “pro life” stand and fight for the abolishment of death penalty.

(Editors note: The Adventist Peace Fellowship has an official position supporting efforts to “Abolish the death penalty as a cruel and inhumane form of state violence”, which can be found on the “Campaigns” page of our website under the heading of “Peacemaking and Reconciliation”.  APF Director Ronald Osborn has asked that his signature be added to the FPL’s letter on behalf of the Adventist Peace Fellowship.)