A full John Bunyan Lecture Hall listening to Shane Claiborne's lecture.

Shane Claiborne’s travels have taken him from Calcutta’s slums to the war torn cities of Afghanistan and, as of last week, to Crossroad Bible Institute’s headquarters in Grand Rapids, Michigan. On May 19, the well-known Christian writer and activist spoke to a full house for “The Death Penalty on Trial,” a Crossroad continuing education seminar.

The seminar included remarks from three panelists—Claiborne, Dr. John Bolt and Dr. Stephen Monsma—all of whom represented different Christian perspectives on capital punishment.

Shane Claiborne opening the seminar with his presentation.

Shane Claiborne opening the seminar
with his presentation.

As an outspoken death penalty abolitionist, Claiborne sought to humanize the often politicized issue of capital punishment. He brought up alarming statistics, such as the fact that for every nine people executed in the United States, one has been exonerated. He also shared testimonies from former and current death row inmates, executioners with post traumatic stress disorder and families of victims who chose to forgive perpetrators of heinous crimes. He concluded with a call for Christians to embody Jesus’ model of radical forgiveness and to leave behind a retributive justice system.

Dr. Bolt and Dr. Monsma followed Claiborne’s presentation with short summaries of their own positions. Dr. Bolt, a professor at Calvin Theological Seminary, clarified that while he is not “pro-death penalty” he opposes its absolute abolition. His remarks drew largely from a 1981 report to the Christian Reformed Church Synod that affirmed the state’s right to use capital punishment, albeit only in extreme situations.

On the other hand, Dr. Monsma, who helped create the 1981 Synod report and is now a senior research fellow at Calvin College’s Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics, explained how flaws in the justice system that lead to discriminatory application of the death penalty have shaped his understanding of justice. Although he still holds room for a retributive justice system, Dr. Monsma explained why he believes alternative sentencing should be used in place of the death penalty.

Panelists Dr. Stephen Monsma, Shane Claiborne and Dr. John Bolt responding to questions.

Panelists Dr. Stephen Monsma, Shane Claiborne
and Dr. John Bolt responding to questions.

Afterward, the panelists participated in a question and answer session, which opened the floor for attendees to join the conversation. Many in the audience, including several Crossroad Instructors, found the seminar to be as practical as it was informative. “Listening to the stories shared today will help me respond better to my student’s letters,” said one Tier 2 Instructor who currently mentors a CBI student on death row.

The seminar closed with all three panelists agreeing that when it comes to seeking justice and spiritual restoration for people in prison, it is those who call themselves followers of Jesus who must lead the way. Claiborne summed up this call to unity in the conclusion of his presentation: “In the end, this is a story where we want God’s love to triumph and where we want people to know His love and grace.”

Crossroad will host its next continuing education seminar on October 10, 2015, at 7:00 p.m. The event will feature the one-woman play “Doin’ Time: Through the Visiting Glass,” which explores the impact of incarceration on families. Reserve your spot today!