Last night the state of Georgia executed Kelly Gissendaner by lethal injection. For those who advocate that America is a Christian nation, we have once again demonstrated that many of these same Americans finds the beatitudes that Jesus taught reprehensible.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Matthew 5:7-9, NIV
Replacing the lethal injection with a life sentence would have shown mercy.
Allowing a woman to live rather than killing her would have made peace for the children who pleaded for their mother to be spared.
There’s no doubt that Kelly Gissendaner was guilty of her crime, and there’s also no doubt that she was killed needlessly and mercilessly by the department of corrections.
Kelly Gissendaner was guilty of convincing her lover to murder her husband Doug. The lover who actually committed the murder was sentenced to life in prison. Gissendaner was handed the death penalty. While in prison, Gissendaner became a sought-after mentor, a model prisoner, and a theology student committed to her faith.
Even with the death penalty looming, she repented of her sins and sought a new direction for her life. I believe that God, who has a habit of forgiving even murderers, offered Gissendaner the forgiveness she sought.
While the family of Gissendaner’s husband continued to advocate for her death until the end, her two children forgave her and fought to see her granted clemency.
Even Pope Francis advocated for an end to the death penalty in America and personally appealed for Gissendaner.
There are a lot of people in Georgia today who continue to argue that we’re a Christian nation.
There are a lot of people who believe that our department of corrections provides an opportunity to “correct” mistakes.
If we’re going to talk about Christianity, let’s talk about the beatitudes that Jesus taught: mercy, forgiveness, and peace.
If we’re going to talk about Christianity, let’s talk about Jesus hanging on the cross and forgiving the criminal who repented even in his last hours.
I could argue that the death penalty is wasteful, unjust, and illogical (killing people to prove that killing people is wrong), but my greater concern is that we actively live with a dissonance between the teachings of Jesus and the way our nation treats prison inmates.
Either we believe that the Gospel has the power to actually change a person like Dissendaner, or we admit that we’d rather have nothing to do with Jesus.
Either we believe that our department of corrections is blatantly failing inmates when they kill someone who had made corrections and posed no legitimate threat to anyone, or we have to accept that we’d rather kill or lock up those who broke the law without offering them any hope of working toward righting their wrongs and choosing a new direction for their lives.
Kelly Gissendaner committed a terrible crime that demanded justice.
She also made significant life changes since committing that crime.
The fact that our department of corrections recognizes the former without the weighing the significance of the latter highlights how some in our nation are so deeply opposed to the teachings of Jesus about mercy and peacemaking that they would rather kill needlessly than appear weak or soft on crime.
A reporter who witnessed the execution shared that Dissendaner was visibly emotional, apologized, prayed, and then sang Amazing Grace as the lethal injection drugs were administered.
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me…”
If we don’t believe that someone like Gissendaner could be saved by God’s amazing grace and was worthy of mercy by our legal system, then perhaps we don’t fully grasp the depths of God’s grace and forgiveness.