Yesterday, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied clemency for one of Georgia’s death row inmates, Roy Blankenship. Not long ago, they granted him a temporary stay of execution in order for DNA testing to be done, testing that was unavailable to him in the first trial, but thanks to an insufficient sample that was in evidence, that test came back inconclusive, meaning they are no more sure today than they were before. So the execution is back on, for Thursday at 7:00PM.
Now I feel like I could go on and on about misuse of the death penalty. From its use when there are still doubts about guilt and innocence to its racial and economic bias to its economic impacts, the arguments against it are well known. They can be found from such groups as People of Faith Against the Death Penalty or Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
I encourage you to go to those sites and see what they have to say, maybe even join with them, but there is a deeper issue at work than just these arguments. It has to do with our desire for revenge, our bloodthirst, our misguided attempts to seek out ‘closure,’ and our constant need for a scapegoat on which to throw all our fears.
The arguments mentioned above are, to me, very convincing, but for many people we must deal with this deeper heart issue first. Jesus is trying to mold us into the kind of people we were created to be, the type of people who will inhabit the Kingdom of heaven. This kind of person longs for peace, is slow to anger, leaves vengeance to God and God alone, forgives the most heinous of transgressions, turns the other cheek, serves those who persecute her, and prays for those who do her harm. That is the ethic of the Kingdom when confronted with evil in the face of the other, something that Jesus himself was no stranger to, living as a member of an oppressed minority in the Roman Empire.
It does sound counterintuitive. When someone attacks me, I show love? When someone attempts to undermine me, I pray for them to be blessed? It simply doesn’t make sense! It’s hard to follow such a command; every time I struggle with my own anger over petty things I’m reminded of how far I still have to go, but just because something is hard does not mean that it is something we should avoid. Many times it means that it is the very thing that we should try to do more often.
Let me close by saying that I am terribly sorry for anyone who has lost someone they love to murder. It is a dispicable crime, and I cannot even begin to imagine the pain and the anger that must come from that, but I still believe that God can and will guide us to be more like Christ who, even though he was executed like a common criminal, taught us the way of forgiveness and redemption, not the way of death. May we Christians seek life over death, redemption over punishment, and restoration over division.