A few weeks ago I found myself deeply affected by the impending execution by the State of Georgia of Kelly Gissendander who was convicted of participation in the death of her husband. My denomination, The United Methodist Church, and my personal beliefs are against the death penalty, no matter who the person is or what they have done. I have not been an activist against state executions in a number of years.
But hearing the story of Kelly Gissendander and seeing pictures of her smiling face in her graduation from Chandler School of Theology hit me in a different way. I found myself watching the clock, refreshing my Twitter feed in order to find out what was going on, and praying, praying, praying. Kelly was not put to death that evening and has had a temporary stay put on her execution.
I have been wondering about why I was so captivated by Kelly’s story when there are so many facing the same fate. I confess: I think it was because she looks like me, she’s not that different from me. In the right (or wrong) circumstances, it could have been me facing death on death row.
I was reminded of this quote by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-1956), The Gulag Archipelago
I truly believe that we all have within our own hearts the capacity for both good and evil. So how can I condemn and condone the state killing of someone on my behalf?
Since that evening of Kelly’s reprieve, Manuel Vasquez was killed by the state of Texas and I didn’t hear a thing about it. There are 13 other executions scheduled in the United States this year. Thirteen other children of God facing death on my behalf as a citizen of the U.S. Lord, have mercy. Show us the way.
Let’s continue to fight for life. In the name of the executed and risen Christ. Amen.
– Shane Claiborne