This post is sure to raise some flags for some people. Of course I welcome robust discourse, but please remember to be civil in the comments here and the various social media outlets where this is posted.
Last night, the state of Georgia put to death one of its citizens. Kelly Gissendaner was convicted of conspiring to kill her husband in 1997. Let's clear up a few things right off the bat: people shouldn't kill people, and people shouldn't conspire with someone else to kill people. What follows in this post isn't to say that we should be softer on crime. Guilty is guilty, and a punishment should follow.
But the first question we need to ask ourselves is what the purpose of a punishment is. When my parents punished me as a kid, I'm pretty sure (hope in fact) that the goal was reformation. I was grounded for not doing homework in the hopes that next time homework showed up, I would do it. We put people in prison (another topic we should turn to sometime) in the hopes that when their sentence is up they will be better people, making better choices with their lives.
But the death penalty by virtue of it's finality has no hope of reforming anyone. The best we can hope for is that someone will think twice about their actions in the case of heinous crimes if their life was literally on the line. First of all, there is little evidence of that actually coming to bear (no drug kingpin has ever stopped doing what they were doing because they were afraid of the death penalty...they're far more likely to die on the street to be worried about that).
Now we could in fact get caught up in the legal or political argument of whether the death penalty makes sense. But this is the J-Blog, so I'm far more interested in another area of discussion:
At the end of the day, life is in the hands of God. Vengeance is reserved for the Lord alone. The ability to end a life should rest only in the hands of the one who creates it. In much the same way that Mrs. Gissendaner had no right to take her husbands life (or conspire to do so), we have no right to take her life as a punishment for the crime.
Jesus thought so as well. "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer." An eye for an eye leaves us with a room full of blind folks, and probably very little satisfaction. There is no question that the Christian faith values life.
Now this is where the political conversation in this country gets interesting. Those who are staunchly against abortion, who use words like sanctity of life and valuing life, also by and large support the death penalty, and the inverse also holds to be true. If we are going to value life friends, we need to value life in all its stages.
If someone has committed a terrible crime, and remains a threat to the American people, with little to no hope of actual reformation, then I completely support putting them in jail for the remainder of their lives. But we do not ever have a right to take another person's life. While I don't live in Georgia, the nature of our democracy is such that the actions taken by the state are reflective of all of us. So this morning I've been offering prayers of repentance. I have been apologizing to the Lord that I could, even in ways unfamiliar to me, be participating in the ending of another human life. I am reminded of grace again and again, but today my heart is heavy. Today, I look for actions to take to limit the death penalty. Today, I mourn.
Christ have mercy on us!