Recently, I met Bill Pelke. In 1985, his grandmother was killed by a teenage girl who with some friends said they wanted to do Bible study with her. For many years, Bill wanted revenge. If his grandmother died, this young woman should die also. And she did receive the death penalty. But after several years of soul searching, Bill realized he didn’t want her to die and that his grandmother wouldn’t want her to either. He worked hard to get her execution changed to life without parole. Now Bill shares his story around the country in an effort to help others see the beauty of a Journey of Hope – From Violence to Healing.
I believe that I am a pro-life person. Life is precious. I want children to be born and to have the opportunity to live long and fruitful lives without hatred and prejudice. But it’s not that simple. Children are born into dysfunctional families…they grow up with inadequate education and support…they are victims of violence…and if you are a child of color, you are more likely to live in a violent neighborhood, participate in the school to prison pipeline, and be given a death sentence if you commit murder. We, pro-life people, should be as concerned about a child’s life as we are about his/her birth. That’s one reason why we should abolish the death penalty.
My reasons for wanting to eliminate the death penalty revolve around the need to be consistent about my pro-life beliefs. As Pope Francis said “the life of the unborn must be promoted and defended…At the same time, we must keep in mind that the dignity of every human being is equal and inviolable at every stage throughout his/her life.”
Some differentiate the innocent unborn child with the guilty criminal. But there are innocent people on death row. Over 164 individuals have be exonerated since 1974. New methods of determining innocence or guilt continue to be developed. If we are pro-life, how can we kill innocent adults? We need to be consistent.
Redemption is such an important part of our faith tradition. Jesus gave many sinners the advice to sin no more. But this can take time. Mercy is also an integral part of our faith. Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy. But this also can take time. Eliminating the death penalty allows both the victim’s family and the perpetrator to change. This is what Bill Pelke discovered. It’s the only way closure will occur.