Death Penalty: An Adult Education Resource

About the Curriculum – General Edition

What you Get

The DVD contains two video presentations to use in the class: a presentation by an exonerated former death row inmate and an interview with a former prison warden who oversaw executions.

The Lesson Plans

The curriculum comes with lesson plans for nine 90-minutes sessions (or sixteen to eighteen 50-minutes sessions). Click here for a sample.

For more information on this curriculum.

Review & Commentary

3 thoughts on “Death Penalty: An Adult Education Resource

  1. Review

    New curriculum on death penalty invites dialog, not debate

    Somehow, the story and scope of the death penalty disappeared from the headlines of our newspapers and cable news in recent years in America. An issue that dominated the headlines not too long ago, it seems overshadowed by the contemporary obsession with terrorism, elevated threat levels and uranium enrichment projects in the Middle East. America is so focused on the hypothetical situations of “outside” invasion that there is little room to consider what is happening within our own government and our own justice system. Jeffrey Spencer attempts to illumine an issue that in recent years is overshadowed by other catastrophes. I believe what Spencer is trying to tell us in A Death Penalty Curriculum is that the stories and statistics surrounding the death penalty are worth re-considering in our churches and communities of faith.

    Although Spencer is quick to explicate the injustice surrounding death row, he does not make a decision for us. Using three distinct methodologies, he asks us to consider this issue as not black or white, but rather many shades of grey. His approach to considering the death penalty could be used by any community, but I believe it will be most helpful to Christian churches and Christian-based organizations wishing to enter into an open and honest dialogue regarding the death penalty. Spencer uses statistics, Scripture and story to open the conversation—not the debate—about the death penalty.

    The raw data includes a close examination of the realities of the justice system and the evident racism and prejudice involved in such an ultimate punishment. Even with new developments in DNA research in recent years, the debate is still raging about false accusations and innocent men and women on death row.

    Perhaps most compelling are the stories Spencer includes. A Death Penalty Curriculum includes written testimonies of death row inmates and a DVD companion of one man’s journey through interrogation, accusations, conviction, the court systems, lawyers, appeal processes and the raw reality of becoming a “dead man walking.” The personal stories remind the community that the death penalty is not a legal issue, a doctrinal issue, or even a justice issue. The problem of the death penalty is a relationship issue.

    This curriculum does not make a decision or choose sides; rather it calls for an open and honest dialogue. I believe this curriculum calls for a shift in how we approach our understanding of the death penalty. Spencer frames the question differently than we are used to hearing it. The question is not, “Is it right or wrong?” but rather, “Is the death penalty reinforcing a vision of justice for our communities, our country, and ultimately our world?” If justice is indeed about bringing right order to things, does our American legal system bring order or create chaos?

    I appreciated Spencer’s research, careful use of Scripture and attention to the real life stories of those whose lives are affected by the death penalty. I believe that any church or community who feels social justice to be at the core of their identity should take the time to explore or perhaps re-explore the issue of the death penalty using Jeffrey Spencer’s A Death Penalty Curriculum.

    To learn more about the curriculum and to download an order form, go to or contact Spencer Curricula, PO Box 2611, Fremont, CA 94536 (

    Reviewed by:

    Matthew Melchor-Gordon
    United Church of Christ
    Chewelah, WA

  2. Review

    New death penalty curriculum ‘poses good questions’ for group study

    June – July 2008
    Balanced approach to controversial issue

    “A Death Penalty Curriculum” – a two-disk set of lesson plans and multi-media components for use in local churches – has been published by the Rev. Jeffrey Spencer, pastor of Niles Congregational UCC in Fremont, Calif.

    Spencer began compiling materials for the curriculum while a member of the UCC’s Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Even so, he writes, he has attempted to create a curriculum that is balanced, and that recognizes that people of good will and moral conscience may disagree about the death penalty.

    One disk contains lesson plans, permissions, a reader and resources. The lesson plans have instructions for preparing either nine 90-minute sessions or 16-18 50-minute sessions.

    The reader includes 16 essays on such topics as why the death penalty is more expensive than life imprisonment, whether the death penalty is a deterrent, the human experience of capital punishment, and the death penalty and restorative justice.

    The reader comes in both a regular print and a large print version. By purchasing the curriculum, the leader has permission to copy and bind enough copies for everyone in the class.

    Also included are several pages of resources, among them statements on the death penalty from 29 different religious churches and denominations, a death penalty true/false quiz, and charts and graphs about race and the death penalty.

    The second disk contains two videos, one by an innocent man who spent 10 years on death row before being exonerated and released, and one by a warden who presided over two executions.

    “Jeff has to be commended for pulling all this material together,” says the Rev. Sala W.J. Nolan, the UCC’s minister for criminal justice and human rights. “It poses good questions in a way that invites Christians in.”

    “I’m very favorably impressed with this curriculum,” says Eugene Wanger of the Michigan Commission Against Capital Punishment. “It is very worthwhile.”

    Spencer suggests that each class session always begin and end with prayer. It is important, he says, that each class be “grounded in the loving presence of God so that all may truly hear what each person has to say.”

  3. Several thoughts come to my mind about the Death Penalty. I’ve read several books on the death penalty and I have yet to be convinced that it is right. I was a secretary for a law enforcement agency for many years and attended several workshops on the subject. In the 1980s a report came out called the “Figi Report, ” I believe it came from the University of Kentucky. It basically said that the death penalty does not deter crime from happening and it seems to me that since the United States is #1 in the world for incarcerated people, something is wrong. My opinion is that we have too many weapons, mainly guns on the street, that makes it easy for the heinous crimes that have befallen us. Congress has tried over and over to solve the problem, but the National Rifle Association (NRA) has too much power and the mentality of people that have weapons blows my mind. Their idea is shoot first and ask questions later.

    Recently, I read a statistic that bothers me too in Time Magazine) that 1 person everyday commits suicide. I venture to say that most of those suicides are by guns. That doesn’t include most of the states that don’t report to the National Violent Death Reporting System. Only 16 states do. VetsFirst a charity which I contribute to, reports that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 30,000 individuals commit suicide each year in this country. Of them 20% are veterans.

    So I’m thinking something is wrong somewhere. Between heinous crimes by individuals or by suicide by individuals, it seems that our mentality is that if a person does these crimes – “get rid of them.” We need to find out what causes a person to get to this state of mind. I can name plenty of things, but the number one thing is that we, as human beings, are forgetting what compassion is.

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