SBC Now Silent on Literal Interpretation of the Bible in Texas Death Penalty Case


The convicted killer Gary Graham is scheduled for execution by lethal injection in Texas at 6 p.m., Thursday, one week after the Southern Baptist Convention passed its first statement supporting the death penalty.

The convicted killer Gary Graham is scheduled for execution by lethal injection in Texas at 6 p.m., Thursday, one week after the Southern Baptist Convention passed its first statement supporting the death penalty.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles' deadline vote is noon, Thursday, "on a petition for a reprieve so that a hearing can be held, a conditional pardon granted or his death sentence commuted," according to The Houston Chronicle.

Governor George W. Bush appointed all six members of the board, according to The New York Times.

"A jury sentenced Mr. Graham to death based on the testimony of a single eyewitness, who said she saw him through the windshield of her car, from 30 to 40 feet away at night, and fleetingly," read The New York Times. Two eyewitnesses claim "they saw the killer, and that he was not Mr. Graham."

Meeting in Orlando, the SBC, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, adopted a resolution that said "God authorized capital punishment." It said the death penalty was "a legitimate form of punishment for those guilty of murder or treasonous acts that result in death."

The resolution broke ranks with the larger Christian community. The U.S. Catholic bishops, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church USA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America all oppose the death penalty. Moreover, Pat Robertson, a leader of the religious right, has expressed concern about capital punishment.

The SBC resolution said, "God requires proof of guilt before any punishment is administered" and cited Deuteronomy 19:15-19 as a proof text.

This text requires two or three witnesses to sentence a person for a crime. A parallel text reads, "At the mouth of two witnesses or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death" (Deut. 17:6, KJV). Another text reads, "Whoso killeth any person, the murderer shall be put to death by the mouth of witnesses" (Numbers 35:30, KJV).

During the debate over the resolution, the resolutions committee chairman, Hayes Wicker, said, "God's word has spoken clearly on the issue of capital punishment."

"We have been very clear and precise in our wording," said Wicker, pastor of First Baptist Church of Naples, Fla., at a press conference after the adoption of the resolution. "Everything we stand for is based on the infallible Word of God."

Ironically, the SBC claimed biblical support for the death penalty and has remained silent about the pending execution of a man sentenced on the testimony of a single witness.

If the SBC is going to read the Bible literally (and ignore the teachings of Jesus), then integrity demands the SBC apply the Bible literally. At least two witnesses are needed in a capital case.

The SBC should call for Governor Bush to intervene on Graham's behalf.

It all comes down to this: Does the SBC follow literally the teachings of the Bible they claim to believe literally?

Robert Parham is the executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics

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