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Jesus was executed by the state, activist reminds Christians

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo
courtesy of Scott Langley

In North Carolina, Scott Langley is a leader and spokesman for the abolition of the death penalty.
Oct. 19, 2006

A UMNS Report
By Tom McAnally*

Christians, of all people, should understand the wrongness of the death penalty, says Scott Langley, a leader of the effort to abolish the death penalty in North Carolina. After all, he says, Jesus was executed by the state.

Langley's passion for seeking the abolition of the death penalty was shaped by his upbringing in a United Methodist home in Texas. His mother, Mary, is an ordained United Methodist clergywoman.

Texas, first in executions

"Growing up in the church I was exposed to Scripture and the stories of Jesus," he says. "It was clear to me that Jesus taught us and showed us to love our enemies and to do unto others. I saw a great contrast in those teachings and what was happening as the state executed prisoners." Texas ranks first among states in the number of executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 and second, behind California, in the number of people now on death row.

"If you believe in Jesus and follow him then you must know that he was executed," Langley continues. "How can you avoid or ignore the death penalty issue?"

Not long after his 1999 graduation from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Langley, a photographer, was changed forever when he went to the Texas state prison in Huntsville. There he witnessed Lois Robison walking the sidewalk, screaming, as her son was being executed inside. Eighteen months earlier Larry, a diagnosed schizophrenic, had killed and mutilated his roommate and four neighbors in Fort Worth, where Langley was born and grew up.

Langley had his camera in the car but couldn't bring himself to retrieve it to capture her pain and anguish. Since then he has become one of the most visible faces of the anti-death-penalty movement.

Protests in North Carolina

Langley now lives with his wife, Sheila Stumpf, in Siler City, a small community near Chapel Hill, N.C. They are expecting their first child this month. They and several others live in a house that provides shelter for those in immediate need, particularly the homeless.

Langley primarily focuses his energies on the death penalty in a state that ranks sixth in the number of people put to death since 1976 and the number of people on death row.

For months, Langley and other protestors have been trespassing in the driveway of North Carolina's Central Prison in Raleigh. At least eight people have been arrested in the group's failed attempts to disrupt the last four executions. Langley has been arrested 18 times in the past two years.

Going to jail is not just the price one pays for acting on their convictions, Langley says. "It's a means of identifying with families who suffer at the hands of the legal system."

"I can't just stand on the corner, knowing the exact time and location when a human life is going to be taken, without doing everything I can to try to prevent it from happening," he says. "That's our responsibility as Christians and as people of dignity. It is not enough to complain that this happens. We must take responsibility."

God's creatures

Langley acknowledges that most death row inmates are guilty, but that doesn't matter to him. "They are still creatures of God and human beings. Everyone can change his life. Anyone can be redeemed."

Langley expresses optimism when he points to statistics showing the decline in executions and the number of death sentences in recent years. He also believes that public opinion is changing, though slowly, to oppose the death penalty. He's also pleased with a U.S. Supreme Court decision prohibiting the execution of individuals under the age of 17.

While not admitting to pessimism, he does express frustration at dealing with individuals who are enthusiastic about the death penalty. "Their attitudes seem fueled by revenge, hatred and anger. To encounter that is disappointing." Like others in the abolitionist movement, he acknowledges that it takes time to get somebody "from a place of frustration and hate to a place of forgiveness and love."

Speaking recently at United Methodist-related Duke University in Durham, N.C., Langley spoke out against the hypocrisy in today's culture. "There is a disconnect between the way we celebrate and glorify violence on television, movies, and music, and in Iraq, and then condemn someone to death for committing a violent act in our own neighborhood," he says. "We can't say it's okay to eat popcorn while watching a violent movie and then go home and say violence is bad and we are going to punish criminals. We need a consistent, ethical way of being."

*McAnally, retired director of United Methodist News Service, lives in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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Death penalty

United Methodists Against the Death Penalty

Death Penalty Information Center

Innocence Project