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In the spring semester of 2016, John Brown University hosted Governor Asa Hutchinson as the inaugural speaker of the Barnett Speaker Series focusing on Christian civic leadership. He urged us to be followers of Christ who lived out their faith wherever God would call us to live and work.

We ask the same of him now.

Ezekiel 33 states, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live…If someone who is wicked repents, that person’s former wickedness will not bring condemnation.”

Our relentless pursuit of death row execution must stop. We must instead seek criminal justice reform that sees these people as God’s image bearers. We call on Governor Hutchinson to see these people who have committed crime as he would see Jesus.

We address Governor Hutchinson first as a brother in Jesus. In the epistle to the Romans, Paul urges us to:

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse…Live in harmony with one another. …Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’  says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12: 14-21)

In summary, we ask Governor Hutchinson to take this opportunity to re-imagine the conversation on criminal justice reform. The way we execute today has historical connection and precedent in lynchings, burnings, and firing squads. While progress has been made to reduce executions to the lowest number in 40 years, there still remain even members of the Church who insist on the persistence of execution.

However, this is not the way of Jesus and it has not been the historic position of the church. Hebrews 13:3 commands us to “Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.” Christ identifies with the prisoner when he commands in Matt 25:36 for us to visit those in prison as if we were visiting him.

We are advocating for people who bear God’s image and with whom Jesus was not ashamed to be identified. May we also see the eight men on death row set to be executed in ten days with the dignity and compassion through which Jesus gives us eyes to see. Much attention has been drawn to the efficacy of the drugs that will be used in the execution. Although we are appalled by the increased potential for causing these men unspeakable suffering, as Christians we reject the notion that there could be such a thing as a humane execution. This letter has been occasioned by these eight men and their public plight and we advocate on their behalf as Christ would do; yet, the conversation must not end with this particular situation. As the merciful, critical, and wise members of the Church that John Brown University seeks to produce, let us seek to restore this aspect of Christ’s kingdom, remembering the “least of these.”  

In Christ,

The Below Signed Faculty, Staff, Students, Alumni, and Friends of John Brown University Siloam Springs, AR 72211

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