Dealth penalty focus of coming church presentations

Via the Billings Gazette:

Denver Henderson knows talking about the death penalty is anything but easy.

“It’s not just about abstract public policy,” said Henderson, field organizer for the Montana Abolition Coalition. “It challenges assumptions about people’s values and the world we live in.”

That’s why when Henderson engages people in conversation about the topic, he makes it a point to make sure all sides are heard.

“We always do our level best to respect all the voices in the room and encourage other people to participate and voice their perspectives,” he said in a telephone interview from Missoula.

The Montana Abolition Coalition is an umbrella group of faith, civil and human rights organizations that support abolishing the death penalty in Montana. Those groups include the Montana Association of Churches, the ACLU, the Montana Human Rights Network and the Montana Catholic Conference.

There are two people on Death Row at the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge.

With Lent a time of reflection and prayer, the statewide coalition is setting up Abolition Sunday programs in churches around Montana, including at least four in Billings. The first one will take place on Sunday at American Lutheran Church.

Each presentation will include a talk or a video followed by a group discussion that Henderson will facilitate. The public is invited to attend.

In his talks, Henderson tries to bring out some misconceptions people have about the death penalty. For instance, he said, the murder rate in death penalty states is higher than in states that have abolished it.

The death penalty, with all of its appeals, also costs states more than a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“That always surprises people,” he said. “Oftentimes the perspectives and the assumptions they carry don’t mirror reality.”

He sees the presentations and talks as a way to introduce ideas that people may not previously have thought about.

“When it comes to this issue, it really is a plant-a-seed philosophy,” he said. “It’s not one conversation, but multiple conversations with time and prayer in between.”