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Proud Texan Ashamed of Death Penalty Record

I am Texan through and through. I was born in Mississippi, but I got here as quick as I could.

I believe that barbecue ought to be eaten without sauce and that chili is better without beans. There is only one “America’s Team” and it resides in Texas. I believe cacti are pretty and coyotes are quaint.

We still sing the U.S. national anthem at football games with our hats off and hands on our hearts. God bless Texas!

Before you think that I am the caricature of everything you loathe about Texans, please realize that I am not quite that provincial; but, being from Texas, I must admit that we are a proud people.

There is one record that we hold that brings me no joy, however. On June 26, 2013, Texas executed its 500th person since 1982.

Texas has executed around 40 percent of all people put to death in the United States since capital punishment was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 1976. That is hardly a reason to brag.

If you enter our borders, you might see a sign that says: “Don’t Mess With Texas.” We are asking people not to litter, but it does seem to speak to a lot of other issues as well.

Actually, Texans are gracious, kind, loyal, generous and hospitable church-going folk. We teach our children to say, “yes sir” or “yes ma’am,” but we don’t live in the old West anymore.

We are a leader in education, technology, Fortune 500 businesses and opportunities for people to live the “American Dream.”

Texas has come of age, but there is this blemish that cannot be masked or hidden.

The truth is, this 500th execution will have little impact on our daily lives. It has become so commonplace that it will barely be noticed.

How can we overlook the taking of a life so easily? How can we ignore the facts?

The facts are simple.

People have been convicted or put to death with shady evidence. DNA results have proven time and time again that innocent people have lost freedom and much more.

People who lack the funds to have competent legal representation are more likely to be put to death than those who do not.

So the question needs to be asked: “How do such practices still continue?”

Have you ever read the story called “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson?

People in ordinary towns, like yours and mine, go about the business of the day. At the close of the day, people draw pieces of paper. One family receives the “black dot,” meaning death.

As the lottery narrows, the matriarch of one family draws the ultimate “lottery.” With no resistance or question, she is taken outside and stoned to death. Even a small child is given pebbles to toss.

As I write those words, I can hear someone say: “But that is different; these people needed killing.”

In her essay “‘The Lottery’ Revisited,” Kay Haugaard wrote about sharing this story with her students and asking them to voice their responses. One reader’s reaction puzzled me most.

“There have been studies,” one man replied, “about certain cultures, and they show that, when there aren’t any killings for a long time, the people seem to … require it. … It almost seems a need.”

Maybe that is why the practice continues. It makes some sense, doesn’t it?

Hockey allows fighting because the occasional controlled fight prevents a larger and more dangerous encounter. It is why we let boys and girls “blow off steam” when they are angry. It keeps them from really getting into trouble.

Could it be that this kind of “bloodletting” helps us sleep a little better? It allows us to believe that such a practice is an actual deterrent and that we are really better off without these folks hanging around.

I am proud to be a Texan, but I am also embarrassed because this is not a statistic I am proud of.

“We’re number one” wrings a little hollow on this day.

Ed Hogan is the director of ministry at The Church Without Walls in Houston, Texas, and a current board member of the Baptist Center for Ethics.