CRAMER: No more killing, no more death

Earlier this month, federal prosecutors announced that they will be seeking the death penalty in the case of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Mar 2, 2014

When prosecutors made this announcement, they said it was because Tsarnaev acted in “an especially heinous, cruel and depraved manner” — and because did not show remorse for his alleged actions on April 15, 2013, when three people were killed and 250 more were injured in the bombings.

The death penalty is not a legal form of punishment in state courts in Massachusetts; but because Tsarnaev will be charged and tried in federal courts, prosecutors are able to argue for its use.

This is a hard decision, and a difficult moment in our life as a country.

According to Gallup, support for the death penalty began declining in the early 1950s, reaching as low as 42 percent of the country in 1966 supporting and 47 percent opposing (the only year that more have opposed it than supported it). However, after that, support began increasing, reaching as high as 80 percent supporting its use in 1994.

In the most recent polls, 60 percent of our country supports its use and 35 percent oppose it. Those are similar numbers to the ones that existed in 1936, when Gallup began tracking public views on these trends.

At the same time, the use of the death penalty has been increasingly disappearing around the globe. As of 2012, only 21 countries were known to have executed people, only eight of those countries executing more than 10.

What countries are there that make that list? In order of how many executions they are: China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Yemen, Sudan, and Afghanistan. Yes, that is right — we rank fifth. Furthermore, this is a very uncomfortable grouping of countries to be listed among.

Increasingly, the various Christian traditions in our country have become more vocal in their opposition to the death penalty. Historically pacifist groups, like Quakers, have opposed it for years. They are now joined by the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and my own Anglican Communion, whose Lambeth Conference of bishops wrote in 1988, “This Conference … urges the Church to speak out against: … all governments who practice capital punishment, and encourages them to find alternative ways of sentencing offenders so that the divine dignity of every human being is respected and yet justice is pursued.”

Other groups, like the Southern Baptist convention, continue to support what they call the “fair and equitable” use of capital punishment.

Over the years, I have become increasingly resolute in my opposition to the death penalty in any situation. Not only is this a belief that flows out of the teachings of my own Anglican tradition, but it is one that began with my experience living in Texas while in seminary. At that time, someone pointed me to a website that lists the last words of the last 510 people executed in Texas. Just read a few of them and your heart will begin to break. Not only does the racial application of the death penalty become clear, but it also becomes clear that many of these people suffer from significant mental health issues.

Even traditions like the Southern Baptist convention that support a fair and equitable use of capital punishment insist it should not be used for revenge. Killing one person does not heal the wound from the death of another.

In 2012, the National Research Council of the National Academies released a review of more than three decades of research, concluding that claims that the death penalty functions as a deterrent are fundamentally flawed. Similar studies continue to proliferate. It doesn’t make sense even from base economic standpoint, as the cost of administering the death penalty is far above life-long incarceration.

Tsarnaev’s alleged actions are indeed heinous. The murder, the violence, the terror with which this moment gripped Boston are all horrendous realities that cannot be ignored. However, killing Tsarnaev will not solve anything. It will not deter other would-be terrorists. It will not bring back those who have died. It will not even save the state money.

And, most importantly, for Christians, it will take away a reality that is fundamental to our faith — the opportunity for penitence and forgiveness.

There should be no more killing, no more death, added to this tragic event.

It is time that our nation joined other developed nations in abolishing the death penalty. It is time that all Christians take seriously the call of Christ and seek to change our society so that we are not one that kills those most wounded or wicked among us, but that instead we find ways to encourage change, healing or, when all else fails, secure imprisonment.

The Very Rev. Jared Cramer serves as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven and as dean of the Lakeshore Deanery of the Diocese of Western Michigan. His reflections on life and ministry can be found on his blog:



Barry Soetoro

Tell that to Richard Martin's dad. I look forward to the day the Fed's give Tsarnaev the stainless steel ride but then again I'm not "Very Reverend".


What about an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. These thugs need to get a message and it needs to be clear and quick. His actions were premeditated, planned out. His intentions were to do as much bodily harm to inocent people as he could. The cops should have took him out when they had him surrounded. Would have saved us all a lot of grief and tax payer money. Toast this SOB and make quick work of it.


If we are not going to administer capital punishment publicly and swiftly, then at least send this turd to an off-shore outsourced prison in China or Mexico. Low bidder gets the honor of keeping him for a fraction of the cost to US taxpayers.


Lets get capitol punishment here in Michigan and clear some of these prison out. If they have DNA evidence on these criminals and the crime involves a murder on the victim then its time to do away with life without parole.

Real estate maven

Wonder if the Reverend would feel differently if one of his friends or family members were one of the victims of this thug's action? Send him to prison so he can recruit more members and spread his brand of hate and terrorism? I don't think so. Execute him now and let him burn in He/$ !!!


They should sell raffle tickets. Winner gets to throw the switch. It would make millions. Proceeds to the victims' families.


In response to Rev Cramer's statement, "And, most importantly, for Christians, it will take away a reality that is fundamental to our faith — the opportunity for penitence and forgiveness." Love, mercy and forgiveness are keystones of the Christian faith, but the Christian faith isn't about 'this life only'. God forgave King David after he had Uriah sent to the front lines to be murdered...but the baby he and Bathsheba had after he married her died, anyway. Throughout the bible, there are consequences to actions. God has mercy, He forgives sins, and this young man should be given the chance to repent of his evil and receive Christ and eternal life, but for this life...I believe there is a place for the death penalty. If this life was all there is, it would be one thing, but true Christians know that whether we live or die, we will all some day stand before the Judge of all the earth. This guy needs to be more concerned about his eternal life than this temporal one.
Also, true 'social change' will only occur when people change from the inside out. You can't force evil people to change. Sometimes the love and mercy of God changes hearts. "The fear(reverence) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Unrepentant souls aren't fearing and reverencing God.

Vast Right Wing...

Rev Cramer with your extremely liberal ideals, you probably still wonder why the Episcopal Church is slowly fading away and Biblically based churches are thriving.

We are at war with radical islam, or maybe it should be put this way; radical islam is at war with Christians and the West.
Eccleaastes 3 "A time for war and a time for peace"

The federal government has asked for the death penalty and it is up the the courts and the jury to decide.
Mark 12:17 Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”


I agree that if there is DNA evidence we should rid society of these people. What purpose is there in feeding and housing these individuals who are no good to themselves or others.
If you can plan out a murder,you are not too mentally ill to not be held responsible.

Former Grandhavenite

It's interesting that in a lot of cases the religious denominations that oppose abortion because all life is sacred, etc are also in favor of the death penalty. As an outsider looking in at the situation it looks like something of a contradiction that they'd be eager to take revenge by taking life/death decisions out of God's hands and presuming that man gets to make those judgments, while they use the same grounds to say that humans don't get to make the choice on whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term.

Would any of the religious folks in the house who are both pro-life and 'pro-death (penalty)' be willing to clarify things? I don't have a good understanding of this stuff and it's certainly possible that there's no contradiction at all here.


It's interesting that people who attempt to compare religious support of the death penalty for murderers with the same religious condemnation of abortion, as a way to imply these religious people are hypocritical, don't address the issue that unborn babies are totally innocent while those eligible for the death penalty generally have taken another generally innocent life.

I don't think it's Rocket Science, but maybe I don't get the socialist nuance. Seems to me that God gave us the right of self-determination, including the decision to enact laws reflecting the rights of the majority, like applying the death penalty in appropriate cases and permitting abortion in appropriate cases.

Although that would lead to application of the death penalty nationwide (based on majority support), it is really a reason why issues like abortion and criminal sanctions should be left to the States, where majorities are different, than the statist view of one size fits all and the judicial branch can dictate abortion and death penalty policy,instead of the representatives of the people under the 10th amendment.

Former Grandhavenite

I guess the part that confuses me is it seems like most of the pro-life rhetoric centers around the idea that it isn't man's (or woman's) place to choose whether or not a baby will be born because that would be interfering with God's plan (that's generally the way I've heard it explained by a relative who's a pastor but of course there are tons of different views). In comparison it doesn't seem like the argument against abortion is ever framed along the lines of "babies deserve to be born because they're innocent and therefore more worthwhile human beings." I thought the entire point was that as we're all fallible and corrupted by sin we don't get to make those decisions. Only God gets to make the judgment of whether someone lives or dies.

I'm not trying to paint anyone as a hypocrite or challenge anybody's religious views. I'm trying to learn about something I don't understand well at all but is obviously very important to a lot of people.


Needle..actions have consequences and he can still be forgiven, that's up to him.


Jared Cramer is nut


While growing up I had been against capital punishment. And then when I was in college, a friend who as an innocent bystander, was shot and killed when a violent dispute occurred between drug dealers. I was shocked and deeply saddened by her death at such a young age. She was studying law enforcement and would have made a great law enforcement officer. The community was robbed of a great person, her family was robbed of a loving sister and daughter, her friends were robbed of a kind and caring friend. Her murderer was imprisoned. She died and her killer was alive. Even with that horrible experience, I was, and continue to be, opposed vehemently to capital punishment. I have been tested with the personal experience of a murdered friend and I still believe that capital punishment is wrong. I am appalled by the company our country keeps in maintaining our country's right to carry out capital punishment.

Former Grandhavenite

When I started reading your story I figured it was headed in a completely different direction, and that you were going to switch over to being in favor of capital punishment. It takes real integrity and clarity of thought to keep looking at the big picture in a situation like that.

It would be very tempting to be like, "...and from that day on I said, 'fry em extra crispy and let God sort em out!'" I know I'd be tempted by the prospect of revenge, and it takes moral courage to stand by the fact that wrong is wrong.

I'd support capital punishment myself IF we could work under the assumption that our courts operate in a fundamentally fair manner toward defendants. I don't have a lot of confidence in the judge and jury to reach the right verdict, or for the proceedings to be conducted fairly. Given that, I think we have to eliminate the possibility of the ultimate punishment when the system is provably flawed and biased. The long list of death row defendants who've been exonerated based on DNA or other new evidence is a powerful commentary on just how ineffective our courts are at doing their jobs. If we ever get to the point where we're REALLY good at figuring out whether or not somebody committed a murder and we're confident that the process runs fairly, then it would definitely be an appropriate punishment for some of the worst crimes.


The Bible, especially in the O.T., illustrates God's judgement for sin which often included death. The Bible reflects that God is not just loving but also just. Death row inmates end up there usually after a lengthy trial and appeal process. Aborted children have no such trial.

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