Today is a sad day because one of God’s children, one of God’s beloved, has been executed by the state of Georgia. Capital Punishment is nothing new of course; Jesus was executed by the empire, the prevailing kingdom of the day. Kelly Gissendaner’s story was unique in that is was not her crime that was in question, it was what happened to her while prison that brought her such a passionate following.
I had the privilege of spending a year while in seminary as a chaplain at Metro State Prison, where Kelly was incarcerated at the time. I can’t recall specifically whether our paths crossed but today I find myself not only thinking about her, but also about the inmates and fellow chaplains with whom I had the pleasure of sharing community. I am thinking about the full time prison chaplains who work tirelessly as agents of God’s redemptive grace. Some of the most faithful people in terms of study, prayer, and spirituality I met behind the walls of a women’s prison.
I realize that capital punishment is an issue on which we are divided. As a person of faith, my opposition in general to it comes not from a political place, but a biblical place. I’ve heard many quote the “eye for an eye” passage as a way of biblically mandating capital punishment. That’s not a correct reading of the text. The concept found in the books of Leviticus and Exodus was an attempt to establish fair justice, not a system of literal retaliation. As humanity evolved some began to realize that this was not how God would have us practice faithful justice. In his Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew, Jesus suggests that the best way to overcome evil is not with more evil, but with good. He challenges his followers to have their good be so great that it overcomes evil. Jesus is saying the kingdom of God does not work like the kingdoms of this world. Anger must result in transformation and reconciliation, not retaliation. Justice in God’s kingdom is restorative and redemptive. In God’s kingdom. God’s will is always for life and in God’s kingdom justice leads one to life, not death.
Today is a tough day. As a follower of Jesus, I still believe in the promise of redemption. For Kelly, for myself, for all people. We move forward with that promise, with that hope.