Workshop will analyze religious, social aspects of death penalty

Capital punishment is a criminal, social and religious issue that affects many people, not just the men and women on death row, a religion professor said.

The death penalty will be the subject of a two-day workshop led by religion and sociology professors and guest speaker Virginia Stem Owens, said Jack Hill, associate professor of religion.

Edward McMahon, assistant dean of advanced studies, said Owens will be discussing her book “Living Next Door to the Death House,” a personal memoir and series of interviews with the residents of Huntsville, the nation’s execution capital.

The event is sponsored by Brite Divinity School, the religion department and the Society of Biblical Literature, said McMahon, coordinator of the event.

This two-day event will bring biblical and theological scholars together to talk about the prison and justice system in Texas, said Cathy Neece, vice president of development and capital campaign director for Brite.

There is not a lot of careful thinking about the correlation between what the Bible says about capital punishment and what society believes, Hill said.

“The Bible presents both issues dealing with the death penalty; in the Old Testament, they stoned people for their wrongdoings,” he said. “But in the New Testament, Jesus preached about forgiveness and he who is without sin to cast the first stone.”

Owens, who has written more than a dozen books, will take the audience inside Huntsville to show them how one small room can affect so many lives, McMahon said.

Living in Huntsville, Owens was able to interview a number of people influenced by the prison system, from the prison guards to the victim’s families, McMahon said.

“You do not have to live in Texas very long to know it executes more people than anyone in the country,” McMahon said.

From a religious standpoint, it is important to know how the Bible interprets capital punishment, McMahon said.

The event is free and will be divided into five workshops Friday and Saturday.

For Your Info

Death penalty lectures
All workshops will take place in Weatherly Hall, Brite Divinity School.

Today:
7-8 p.m. 8212; Virginia Stem Owens: “Life and Death Within the Walls: Life in a Capital Punishment Town”

Saturday:
8:30-9 a.m. 8212; Jack Hill, associate professor of religion: “Is Capital Punishment Wrong?”
9-9:30 a.m. 8212; Francisco Lozada Jr., associate professor of religion: “Postcolonial Biblical Reflections on Capital Punishment: Initial Explorations”
9:30-10 a.m. 8212; Charles Bellinger, associate professor of theology and ethics: “Rene Girard and the Death Penalty”
10-10:30 a.m. 8212; Roger C. Barnes, sociology professor at the University of the Incarnate Word: “Sociology of the Death Penalty”