Two death penalty opponents put Jesus on trial to raise awareness

This November voters in California will have the chance to repeal the death penalty in their state. One of the main arguments being used against California's death penalty right now is how much the practice is costing the state–more than $130 million a year. However, two lawyers are taking a different approach to raise awareness by creating a mock death penalty trial for Jesus using existing death penalty laws.

As Sojourners reports, lawyers Mark Osler and Jeanne Bishop have worked together to stage the death penalty trial of Jesus, which includes as witnesses Peter, the Centurion, and the rich young man. Osler himself plays the role of the high priest Caiaphas. Like a majority of death row inmates today, Jesus on trial has a lack of resources and social standing.

It's been a profound experience both for its creators and those who have the opportunity to participate in each mock trial.

Says Bishop: “People who engage in the deliberations after the trial all say they are surprised how intensely engaged people are, how they dig deep and think about their faith and the law in a way they never had before. No one has said, ‘You haven't changed my mind.' What they say is: ‘You made me think.’ That's exactly what we are aiming for.”

Especially with the upcoming vote in California, Osler and Bishop are hoping that Christians will rely on their fatih when they head to the polls. "What I hope will happen in California is that people who are about to make a momentous decision — whether to end the State’s death penalty or not — will bring their faith and deepest beliefs and principles to bear on that question,” Bishop says. “Christians don’t leave that behind when we enter the voting booth; we bring it, and apply what we know about this Jesus, who was arrested and tried and executed.”

Jesus–an innocent man–was tried and executed. This event and his resurrection are at the core of our faith. Can we continue to execute others, even those who are certainly guilty?

For Bishop, the answer is simpler now after her experience with the mock trials.  “This has deepened and strengthened my faith, made me see so many things differently, including how I view my clients as a public defender,” Bishop says. “They are all Jesus to me now."

About the author

Elizabeth Lefebvre

Elizabeth Lefebvre is a writer living in Chicago.