Why do I oppose the death penalty?
It's complicated, but I've always felt that, as a Christian, I'm not supposed to kill. That also means, for me, as a citizen of a country where the people rule, I'm killing people whenever there's an execution. So I oppose the death penalty.
Also, I can sort-of understand people who take lives in the heat of passion or in self-defense or in war--although I still think that's something Christians aren't supposed to do. But executions are totally cold-blooded. No matter what the person being executed has (supposedly) done, he or she is now powerless. If murder is taking someone's life deliberately, with malice aforethought, executing people fits the definition of murder. How can we say it's ever right for the state to murder someone, especially when that person is in a situation where (again supposedly) they can't hurt anyone anymore?
When did I become passionate about my opposition to the death penalty?
I think it's just something that grew on me as I grew up. I was born and raised in Houston, and I remember a radio program called, "Ask the Minister," where a Presbyterian minister answered questions that people had sent in. I wrote in and asked, "Is it ever right for a Christian to kill?" and he basically said, "No, it isn't, but sometimes we have to anyway." That answer didn't satisfy me at all, especially, as I said above, when it comes to executions, where it isn't even self-defense, and there are other alternatives.
What reason for abolition of the death penalty most speaks to me?
I believe some people are wrongfully executed and that race is a factor in someone being sentenced to death. But moreso, it's morally wrong for someone to take the life of another person. One interpretation of the Ten Commandments is that they lay down God's conditions for what it means to be human, that is, created in the image and likeness of God. One of those conditions is "not kill." Some people believe that the word for "kill" actually means "murder," but that interpretation doesn't explain the places in the Bible where the same word is used to mean "kill" without implying murder. Anyway, if taking someone's life deliberately and with malice aforethought is "murder," then execution is "murder." My point is that executing people makes the rest of us less than human and obscures the image and likeness of God in us. To use an old-fashioned word, it's sinful.
A lot of Christians seem to believe that killing is part of being a Christian because there's a lot of killing in the Bible that seems to have been sanctioned by God. I take Jesus literally when he says to love our enemies, to bless and not curse them, to pray for them, and to forgive them. That's really hard, and I'm not very good at it, but as the song says, "When Jesus said to love your enemy, I'm pretty sure he didn't mean to kill him."
Why do I think the 90 Million Strong Campaign is so important to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty's mission, and how am I involved in this Campaign?
I think it's really important, and that it's helped more people to speak out for abolishing the death penalty. I participate by donating, posting messages to Facebook, and emailing and calling elected officials.
Why did I become a Torchbearer, giving a monthly contribution to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty?
For about a decade, I've dressed up as St. Nicholas every December at our Episcopal Church, come in to the service, and told the children a story about St. Nicholas. The original Nicholas was an early bishop in what's now eastern Turkey, in the little port town of Myra. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of stories about him, most of which are fanciful. But the earliest one is about how he stopped an execution of three men who, it turns out, were unjustly accused by corrupt officials to distract attention from their own crimes. Nicholas risked his life, stopped the executioner, and shamed the local governor into admitting his guilt. Today, he's the patron saint, not only of children and sailors, but also of prisoners and those facing execution. He's a personal hero for me, especially since I impersonate him every year. So when we started contributing monthly to the NCADP (and also to Ohioans to Stop Executions), I asked that the contributions be in memory of St. Nicholas of Myra.
Damon Hickey was a minister in Texas and Oklahoma for several years before becoming a college librarian. While working at Guilford College in North Carolina, a Quaker college, he completed a PhD in history with a dissertation on North Carolina Quakers after the Civil War. He moved to Ohio with his wife Mary in 1991 where he served as the director of libraries at the College of Wooster until 2008. They are members of the Episcopal Church and have been Torchbearers of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty since 2013.