When Sister Helen Prejean visited Nashville a few weeks ago, she presented a lecture at Belmont University which focused upon the various ways that the arts can broaden the dialogue around the death penalty. She shared a story of college students who used the visual arts to begin such a dialogue by erecting large canvasses on campus and asking that supporters of the death penalty sign their names in red paint while opponents of the death penalty sign their names in blue. The students discovered something quite interesting. The majority of those who opposed the death penalty painted their names boldly, in large, blue letters, claiming their position proudly. However, the majority of those who supported the death penalty, tended to write their names in very small, red letters as if to hide their opinions. Perhaps this artistic dialogue demonstrates a fact that I have already observed in other contexts, that though there seems to be much support for the death penalty, supporters are often timid about revealing their opinions publicly.
I find a similar dynamic at work in the fact that we execute people in Tennessee in the middle of the night, at 1:00 a.m., when most folks are in bed and don’t have to be exposed to the gruesome ritual which is being carried out in our names. The same dynamic is also in play with the particular chemical cocktail the state chooses to use in the lethal injection protocol, which masks the dying process of the inmate so that the witnesses to the execution are not made uncomfortable. If there is nothing morally wrong with the death penalty, why do we go to such lengths to hide what we are doing?
TCASK hopes to encourage open, constructive dialogue around the issue of the death penalty. Clearly, we have a strong opinion but invite those who want to engage in conversation to do so. Our blog is one of the ways that we encourage the conversation. We do not edit the comments to our blog nor do we require that people identify themselves when they make comments. However, it strikes me that, often, those who have very strong opinions in support of the death penalty want to remain anonymous. Why is that?
I, for one, stand by my convictions and never shy away from claiming my beliefs as my own. Because I am so convinced that the death penalty is not in keeping with my Christian faith, devalues life, and is a complete failure as a public policy, I have dedicated my life to ending it in Tennessee. My hope is that all of us, regardless of where we stand on the issue, can dialogue in constructive, open ways as we struggle with the tough issues of our time.
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