Former federal prosecutor Mark Osler wrote, Jesus on Death Row: The Trial of Jesus and American Capital Punishment, in 2009. It's become the basis for a presentation by Osler and Jeanne Bishop, a Chicago attorney and victim's advocate.
They will be presenting "The Trial of Jesus," on Tuesday, March 26 in Boulder, Colorado at St. John's Episcopal Church; and, on Thursday, March, 18 at First Baptist Church of Austin. Details are embedded in the items linked below. They are must-reads.
Sunday's Austin American-Statesman reported, "Drama asks audience to consider Christ, death penalty," by Juan Castillo.
If Jesus were prosecuted today under Texas law, what would we do?
Would we sentence him to a life behind bars, or would we sentence him to death?
An audience at First Baptist Church of Austin will decide Thursday evening at a modern interpretation of the “Trial of Jesus,” where audience members become jurors and mete out his punishment.
In the live, unscripted mock trial, Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor and now a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, plays the prosecutor. Jeanne Bishop, a Chicago public defender who teaches law at Northwestern University, plays Jesus’ attorney. Both are against the death penalty, and though they hope that support for abolishing capital punishment can rise from faith communities, they emphasize that there is no argument for or against it during the presentation. “This is not an anti-death penalty diatribe,” Bishop said.
The mock trial came to Austin in a roundabout way. Osler contacted First Baptist Church of Austin pastor Roger Paynter after hearing of Paynter’s passionate sermon on the Newtown, Conn., mass killings, which had gone viral. In the sermon, Paynter talked about the tragedy of children “being gunned down” and of the need for gun control and mental health issues to be addressed.
“Mark wrote me and said, ‘If your church is open to preaching what you said, maybe they’d be open to this event,’” Paynter recalled. “It’s Holy Week; what better time to engage this historic trial and re-examine it through the fresh eyes of the penal code?” Paynter said.
The church, he said, is not taking a stand by hosting the event, but continuing a practice dating back to the 1940s of addressing and debating difficult issues and “allowing that sort of intelligent conversation to go on.”
The Boulder Daily Camera publishes an OpEd written by Bishop and Osler, "Death and Christ."
As Colorado continues to ponder abolishing the death penalty, the role of faith in that consideration will be important. Without the support of Christians, there would be no death penalty in America: A Pew Research Center for People and the Press study released in January 2012 reported that 77 percent of white evangelical Christians and 73 percent of white mainline Protestants supported the death penalty.
There is something deeply ironic about Christian support for capital punishment, since a wrongful execution is part of the faith's central narrative. The trials of Christ and his disciples featured many of the same elements that challenge the death penalty today -- overcommitted prosecutors, a mob mentality, and the unfortunate conviction of those who turn out to be innocent. The Last Supper, even, can be seen as the last meal of a man who knew he was condemned to die.
We are committed Christians who are also criminal attorneys. One is a former prosecutor who now trains future prosecutors, and the other is a public defender who lost her sister, brother-in-law, and their unborn child to murder. We have embarked on an unusual project to challenge Christians to integrate their faith with their beliefs about capital punishment. Our goal is to present the sentencing phase of the trial of Jesus as a real event, under current state law. We have performed it in nine states, from Cambridge, Massachusetts to Pasadena, California. Among other places, it has been presented at Pat Robertson's Regent University, Fuller Theological Seminary, and churches in Virginia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Illinois.
The experience of the trial is brief, intense, and challenging. It is not a scripted play; instead, we approach the case as trial lawyers. It is different every time. We call a variety of witnesses and do not know the other's arguments. After evidence and arguments in the trial, the audience divides into groups of 12, which deliberate as juries to a verdict.
Earlier coverage of Mark Osler's writings begins at the link.