Death-Penalty Abolitionist Speaks on Faith, Forgiveness
By Mary Schuermann Kuhlman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohioans across religious traditions have come together as one voice this week to speak out against capital punishment.
Dozens of faith communities participated in vigils, prayer services and virtual conversations during Death Penalty Abolition Week, which comes to a close Sunday with a virtual worship service, entitled, “Restorative Love, Redemptive Grace.”
Rev. Sharon Risher, a death penalty abolitionist, will share the story of her path to forgiveness after her mother was among nine people gunned down in the 2015 Charleston, S.C., church shooting.
“That horrific event that killed my mother made me really delve into my soul,” Risher recounted. “And I came out understanding that I could not condone the death penalty. Because I understand with my faith that God is restorative and redemptive.”
There is no cost to attend Sunday’s virtual service. It will also feature Christian author and activist Shane Claiborne.
Risher explained her faith helped turn her trauma into activism and eventually forgive the shooter, who is currently awaiting execution at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.
“People of faith can sometimes go through the most horrific things,” Risher noted. “But because of their faith, they could get to a point of forgiveness, which then leads to healing.”
Oct. 19 marks 40 years since Ohio enacted its current death-penalty statute.
Rev. Jack Sullivan, Jr., executive director of the Ohio Council of Churches, said there is strong bipartisan support behind Senate Bill 103 and House Bill 183, which would abolish it.
“No one’s rejecting accountability as being an important component in dealing with people who have hurt us or angered us the most,” Sullivan pointed out. “But the sponsored homicide of those people is immoral, and it’s illogical, and it’s just wrong.”
Sullivan, whose sister was murdered, thinks victims’ families would be better served by redirecting money used for capital cases toward supportive services to help with their healing.
“Executions do not assist in dealing with grief,” Sullivan asserted. “They do not give us wholeness or closure. They just continue the cycle of death. And co-victims need more than that. They need the state to invest in their wellbeing and their movement forward, and their restoration.”