That’s Marc Hyden, “A conservative Christian who most recently worked at the National Rifle Association [and] one of two people leading a group called Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty.”
The death penalty has pretty broad support in this country … though more often than not it’s a kind of knee-jerk or unreflective sort of support. But it’s clearly far more popular amongst conservatives and in the reddest states:
Ending capital punishment, which for years critics have argued disproportionately affects minorities, is considered a liberal issue. The Gallup poll showed 81 percent of Republicans support it, versus 47 percent of Democrats.
According to Hyden, that’s because no one is talking to conservatives about the good reasons to oppose the death penalty. Since red states perform the majority of executions, ending the death penalty in the United States would ultimately require conservatives to get on board.
I’m not sure that Hyden is entirely right that no one’s talking to conservatives about the good reasons to oppose the death penalty; my sense is that lots and lots of people are talking all the time about all the various reasons that everyone should oppose the death penalty. But, traditionally, conservatives haven’t been listening … because they haven’t been hearing these reasons from other conservatives.
I can talk all day long about all the ways in which the death penalty is both morally reprehensible and also bad public policy. But I don’t have credibility with conservative audiences. The assumption is that I’m telling them something that isn’t true or something that — while technically true — serves some broader liberal purpose they oppose. I can’t count the number of times conservatives who’ve heard me speak about the death penalty have accused me of being soft on crime, uncaring toward victims, an apologist for murderers, a moral relativist, an atheist, or an outright liar.
In that sense, what Hyden and others like him are doing is absolutely crucial. We won’t be finished with the death penalty in the United States until conservatives — and, in particular, conservative Christians — come to terms with that fact that everything about the death penalty violates their own deeply-held political and religious convictions; the only part of it they really support is the part that’s a gut reaction to horrific violence. They’re not wrong to have that reaction — it’s a natural, human response — but they need to be reminded that legislating on the basis of that reaction goes against everything else they believe.