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Texas Christian University and Brite Divinity School
Fort Worth, TX

The Society of Biblical Literature’s new lecture series “Engaging the Bible” has now reached clergy and students in Indianapolis, MD, Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Ft. Worth, TX. The most recent lecture series at Texas Christian University and Brite Divinity School centered on biblical, theological, and cultural issues surrounding the death penalty.

Writer Virginia Stem Owens and her husband David Owens kicked the weekend off with stories from their book Living Next Door to the Death House. The book is based on their extensive interviews with those affected by the executions held in their home town, Huntsville, Texas. Huntsville is home to the Walls Unit, where the Texas Department of Criminal Justice conducts executions. Between 1974 and 2007, Texas executed 379 individuals and now houses more than 1,000 on death row – both the highest numbers in the United States. The Owens reflected on the unequal distribution of this penalty not only between Texas and other states, but within Texas depending on the county where the crime occurred.

The workshops that followed the Owens reflections featured SBL members from Brite/TCU community and from the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio. The conference was an exploration of what biblical studies and theology have to say about the effects of capital punishment on communities. It was not a debate on whether the death penalty was right or wrong. Jack Hill, Professor of Ethics at TCU, shared his international perspective from the contexts of South Africa and Fiji. Prof. Hill emphasized the point that many other cultures have concluded that executions make their societies less safe and more fragmented. Francisco Lozada, Professor of New Testament at Brite, and SBL Program Committee Chair, discussed violence in the Gospel of John and the paradox of Christian celebration of Jesus’ death by capital punishment. Prof. Lozada concluded that violence is an unavoidable and complicated part of the Gospel that the present day church must acknowledge and work through to be able to speak to issues of justice in the modern world.

Charles Bellinger, Professor of Ethics at Brite, presented the theories of Rene Girard as one possible way of understanding and explaining violence. Prof. Bellinger noted that Girard’s idea of mimetic desire, the often unconscious effort to acquire and emulate characteristics of others, when pushed to the extremes embraced by our society can provide an understanding for the sources of violence that lead to capital crimes. Roger Barnes, Professor of Sociology at University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, tied his years of research on capital punishment to his experiences of working with death row inmates. Prof. Barnes presented statistics on the close association of race and poverty with the likelihood of conviction for any crime and capital crimes in particular. He notes that the majority of those executed in Texas, and in the US in general, are from racial-ethnic minorities and from impoverished backgrounds.

SBL requests suggestions of topics and invitations from cities around the U.S. Religious leaders, lay and clergy, from all religions are asked to contribute their ideas. Send comments, questions, and ideas to: Ms. Moira Bucciarelli, Public Initiatives Coordinator, at or contact her at 404-727-9484.

Citation: , " The Death Penalty - Engaging the Bible: SBL Lecture Series," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited Feb 2008]. Online:


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