In the September 2023 episode of Discussions with DPIC, Anne Holsinger, Managing Director of DPIC, speaks with Pastor Rich Nathan (pictured), founding pastor of Vineyard Columbus, an evangelical Christian church based in Ohio. Mr. Nathan shares how religious teachings inform his position on the death penalty. 

“For me, the opposition to capital punishment has just been a natural extension of our pro-life position of building an inclusive society, a society that welcomes everyone into the human family and says. ‘Listen, your worth is not dependent on whether somebody wants you or not.’ God’s given you human dignity, God’s giving you worth, and so we just want to stand on the side of the Lord,” says Mr. Nathan. 

Mr. Nathan explains that at the core of the pro-life belief is that the “the right to life isn’t earned, so that it could be forfeited, but it’s a gift from God and it’s founded on God’s image. So our pro-life position regarding the inherent worth of every human being from conception to natural death applies to everyone … whether you’re in the womb or you’re already born, or you are severely disabled or institutionalized due to Alzheimer’s or you’re convicted of murder, the Bible invites us to imagine a world that is as inclusive as possible.” 

Evangelicals, and their religious leaders, have influential roles in the death penalty debate. Mr. Nathan emphasizes that evangelicals, as “Bible people,” should educate others on biblical teachings regarding capital punishment. He provides the infamous “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” passage as example, clarifying that “virtually all scholars are agreed that this was never meant to be practice.” Instead, the passage was “was meant to be a limitation on vengeance, said Mr. Nathan, “…in its actual context, it’s actually bent towards mercy, and towards the marginalized.” 

The human cost of the capital punishment system does not end when the prisoner is executed because correctional staff, jurors, witnesses, executioner, and other criminal legal staff are involved in the process. Mr. Nathan expresses concern, stating: “If you’re a follower of Jesus, and you’re sensitive to … what happens to other people’s hearts? What happens to their souls by putting another human being to death? That’s something we want to protect people from. And so, again, it’s not only a concern for those convicted, it is that, but it’s also concern for everyone who has to operate in a system like that.” 

With an abolition bill currently in Ohio’s legislature, Mr. Nathan encourages pro-life legislators to “be consistently pro-life. You’ve taken a courageous stand to stand for the unborn, when there’s lots of societal pressure to do otherwise. I just want to encourage you to … have the same courage regarding people at the other end of life. Let’s build a society. Let’s build a culture of life in America.”