Georgia Execution Proves We Love Vengeance Over Restoration

Georgia Execution Proves We Love Vengeance Over Restoration March 1, 2015
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Photo via: http://absalomjones.org/kellyonmymind/

In a matter of hours, yet another divine image bearer will die by the tip of Caesar’s sword.

Kelly Gissendar is more than a human being, more than a bearer of God’s divine image– she is also our sister in Christ.

While all Jesus people should grieve each and every time Caesar takes his sword against another, this moment should cause us even more pause as it is a member of our own family.

Kelly is not the person she was 17 years ago. Instead, she is the epitome of the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to radically transform and renew anyone into a “new creation.” With her death, the world will lose yet another ambassador and a shining example of the Jesus we claim to follow.

The Governor of Georgia has the power to spare her life, and though I have no confidence in the State of Georgia to do justice or love mercy (especially after the state murder of Troy Davis), I still call upon you to please join me in calling the Governor to plead for her life, and ask you to please share her story so that others will do the same.

What grieves me the absolute most of this pending execution is that it proves what we truly love in America: vengeance over restoration. If there has ever been a case where a death row inmate has been transformed, this is the case. Kelly has lived a life in prison that has demonstrated what restoration looks like, and even became a theologian from death row itself. In fact, esteemed theologian, Jürgen Moltmann, even came to speak at her commencement from seminary. If we valued restoration over vengeance we would see her sentence commuted to life in prison, where she will experience both justice for her actions but also be able to live a life that speaks to the radical ability of the Spirit of God to transform a human heart.

The American Empire, especially states in the “bible belt,” love vengeance and a blood-for-blood way of living. As Jesus people, we must contend with living our lives under the umbrella of a violent empire who wants nothing to do with the peaceful way of Jesus– just as Jesus too had to contend with life in a violent empire.

Like Jesus, we must have the courage to stand amidst this empire and speak up to say, “you have heard it said that it’s okay to take an eye for an eye, but we tell you that you should love instead!”

Like Jesus, we must continue to speak into culture and remind them that only the person without sin is able to administer the lethal injection.

Like Jesus, we must lovingly speak into the lives around us and say, “go and learn what this means: God desires mercy.”

Like Jesus, we must have the courage to tell those around us, “put away your sword!”

And, like Jesus, we must be willing to endure persecution at the hands of the religious elite for teaching his message of love and mercy.

As Jesus people, we must be willing to break with culture– even break with cultural Christianity– to be voices who speak to restoration, and denounce vengeance– something we are forbidden from seeking.

Changing culture and evangelizing Christians in hopes that they’ll one day embrace the teachings of Jesus is a long-term endeavor… one where the results may not be felt in our lifetime. Yet, we must pursue this– because that’s what Jesus people do.

In the meantime, I ask you to join me in prayer for our sister Kelly.

We pray that mercy will trump judgement.

We pray that love will prevail over vengeance.

Most of all, we pray that Christians in America will repent of participation in a violent, civil religion falsely named after Christ, and will instead embrace the teachings of Jesus which command us to love even those we believe are unworthy of love, and only worthy of death.

(Find out more in the video below and articles here and here. Please don’t forget to call the Governor of Georgia and beg for her life- and share the story to ask others to do the same.)

Gov. Nathan Deal 

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Carolyn Sue Seepe

    While I fully agree that the change here should qualify for commutation of her sentence, I disagree with your premise that the death penalty is state murder. Capital punishment is a biblical concept. There is a difference between personal vengeance and the state using capital punishment. The incident where Jesus said that the one without sin should cast the first stone was a WOMAN caught in adultery – not a couple caught in adultery. Plus – catching someone in the very act required some degree of evil intent. That passage does not cancel out the state’s ability to use capital punishment.
    Having said that, I currently disagree with the death penalty in the US because it takes so long – 17 years!! That is terrible. It is extremely expensive and a better use of our tax dollars to proceed with life in prison instead of spending millions of dollars on endless appeals.

  • EJG2

    Amen. Praying.

  • Gematizoieighthday

    The death penalty is the state committing murder – the state, or the government, has simply monopolized the use of violence – for whatever ends it deems necessary. In some countries, Christians are “the enemy” and thus become victims of state violence; in the United States our government has legitimized violence against those whom Christ has taught us to pray, forgive and bless – therefore the state is wrong. In cases of capital punishment, Christians *should* abide by the power that has the authority over all forms of earthly government – Jesus Christ. We no longer live under a covenant that precludes grace – and metes out death to people because of their wrongdoing or because the state says they deserve death – because we believe…”but for the grace of God go I”…

  • Gematizoieighthday

    I read this today and realized that there was a person who I need to forgive; and that, I believe, is the lesson of all forms of non violence. We commit violence in our hearts when we justify our hatred or disdain of another person. Non violence begins in our hearts. So pray for me, brother, that I can remember that I am made for love – that I am made in His Divine Image, the God of Love – and that I may forgive the one who hurt me, who also bears His likeness.

  • Chaprich

    It is time to abolish the death penalty. It is applied so unevenly that there is no guarantee of equal protection for the condemned. DNA analysis is overturning convictions. The death penalty is not a deterrent. If the death penalty must remain, it should only apply in federal prosecutions for terrorism crimes. There has to be opportunities for repentance, restoration, and restitution. The death penalty squashes those opportunities.

  • docMfan

    Who Would Jesus Execute?

  • SakuVirta

    “And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.” -Genesis 9:5

    It might be a good idea to err on the side of caution on this.

  • willow

    Hi Ben! I wanted to thank you for your blog; I read it regularly, and it has been a great encouragement to me in my own journey away from fundamentalism. I know these questions are a bit off the topic of this particular post, but I’ve been intrigued by your position of non-violence (is that the correct term???); I honestly am not very familiar with this viewpoint, but find it a refreshing contrast to the attitudes I grew up with and more in line with my understanding of the Gospels.

    Anyway, just a couple questions if you happen to read this….. [1] How does this philosophy apply to self-defense/defense of family? Do Anabaptists believe it’s okay to use force in defense as long as it is not lethal? [2] Some crimes are truly hideous & publicly punishing the criminal may discourage others from doing the same and create a sense of justice/retribution for the victims; do you think this mindset is appropriate? How do Anabaptists believe society should address crime? And while I definitely think the death sentence is totally inappropriate for Kelly Gissendar, do you think there is a danger of invalidating the enormity of the pain and tragedy she has caused in our defense and sympathy for her? (I ask this more in general, than specifically for her situation; as someone who personally has suffered from domestic abuse and violence & witnessed many situations of abuse within ministries, I sometimes feel like it’s the victims who get brushed aside or trampled, while everyone rushes to provide support and redemption for the abuser. Getting off topic with this one, but basically, how are we to balance redemption against justice?) [3] I read your critiques of “American Sniper” and am curious how these beliefs apply to national defense. Is it really practically possible to defend the oppressed abroad or our own country without using lethal force? I definitely don’t think it is something to celebrate or glamorize, but isn’t it sometimes necessary for the greater good?

    Anyway, just curious. I know that you might not read this or and probably don’t have time to answer all of those questions lol, but if you (or other readers) have any suggestions for articles/books, I would appreciate it. God bless!

  • I pray for her husband’s family, who will never get to embrace him and share a meal with him again.

    It is just too bad that people forget all about the victim’s families and friends. It is as if they were swept under the carpet. Literally.

  • Tim Nickels

    “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” – 1 John 2:2.

    Erring on the side of caution might number you among the goats.

  • CroneEver

    ” For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” James 2:10-13

    “For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes (Matthew 5). But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course, that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere. “Blessed are the merciful” in a courtroom? “Blessed are the peacemakers” in the Pentagon? Give me a break!” Kurt Vonnegut

    As for myself, I want mercy, not justice. I know my own sins all too well, and in many ways, it’s irrelevant what they are and whether they were done in my thoughts or in my actions. Therefore, I MUST GIVE MERCY. Hard, but true.

  • Jason Rodenbeck

    This is an understandable response. However, it is based on the assumption that restoration always precludes restoration of the victim.

    If you’re interested in a treatment of this, Brita Miko’s chapter in “Stricken by God?” addresses that in detail.

    Stated briefly, the notion that I cannot show mercy to the perpetrator because it doesn’t show solidarity to the victim is out of line with the cross and resurrection. Peter’s statement in Acts 2 is that Jesus (the victim) was raised and vindicated by God. Therefore, the wrong they had done had been undone.

    This means that a murderer like Paul the apostle could still be an apostle (which he WAS because of the kingdom of God).

  • R Vogel

    I am against the death penalty for practical reasons, but I am not sure I follow your argument that because she is now a part of your tribe it should be considered even worse. It surprises me a bit, frankly. Society is well within its rights to exact punishment for certain offenses. If you disagree with those punishments, I think you are on solid ground criticizing them. But making the case that it is more tragic because it is someone from your tribe is unseemly. Why would I care that she got a theology degree? How does that matter one iota to the crime she committed? It’s lovely for her that she found religion, but there is still a dead man and consequence to pay for it.

  • Herm

    You are not expected to understand the significance of buzz words outside of your tribe, Christians are. The new found tribal logic from a couple thousand years ago teaches that taking one life in retribution or retaliation for another’s life fills no grieving holes, satisfies no justice and in the end is no punishment for the dead. When the offender truly realizes the repercussions of egotistical behavior and then embraces an altruistic behavior she becomes a conversion we should consider as a once destructive member of our society of mankind to have become a now constructive member. To destroy or isolate a cancerous member of a body/species makes logical sense to strengthen that body. To destroy the productive influence emanating from an habilitated member of a body/species can only serve to weaken that body further, even if the member in her self centered ignorance was once destructive. This is what is being argued in the above article in laymen’s terms.

  • R Vogel

    Yeah, I get it, it is just sad that you have to use the ‘she’s our sister’ dog whistle to motivate action. And if she wasn’t ‘your sister in Christ,’ then what? If you boil it down to simple tribalism it really loses a lot of its force, doesn’t it?

  • I may be wrong, but I think that Ben’s appeal to her theology degree was intended less as “this is even more tragic because she’s one of us now” and more as “this is an example of how a person we view as evil has turned from their evil ways.” The focus isn’t on how terrible it is to resign “part of [our] tribe” to death, but rather on how our society doesn’t care about improving and reforming people.

  • Guy Norred

    Hadn’t heard that from Vonnegut.

  • R Vogel

    I was poking a little fun at the theological degree – since when is that a sign of someone turning from evil anyway? – but he certainly did make an appeal to his tribe. I quote:

    While all Jesus people should grieve each and every time Caesar takes his sword against another, this moment should cause us even more pause as it is a member of our own family.

    Even more pause. She is even less deserving of the death penalty than other condemned because she is a member of ‘your family.’ Even introducing the concept of more or less deserving of the death penalty necessarily weakens the moral argument against it. If you believe that no one should be subject to the death penalty, than there should be no ‘even more pause.’ But, of course, in tribalism there always is.

  • Fair enough, I must’ve been reading just a tad too quickly.

  • Sharla Hulsey

    When I was in high school, in English class i had to write a paper on a “controversial issue.” I chose the death penalty. I called my pastor to get his input, and he said precisely what you’ve said here: “The death penalty removes the possibility of redemption.”

  • jefe

    That’s not true – the thief on the cross was put to death, but he was also redeemed.

  • Kevin Thomas

    It was a good thing Jesus was hanging next to Him huh?

  • Perspective

    good thing Jesus is always hanging around.

  • Perspective

    did you bother to type a blog about anyone else dying this way? what about the 10 men in Texas last year, were you so upset? were any of those men saved? shouldn’t that be more important? where is she? where are they? justice is not vengeance. she made a very bad decision, i’m sorry for her and those affected by her decision. there is a price to pay and she paid it, thankfully she found redemption. so many more do not, why don’t you write about that sir.

  • Kevin Thomas

    Yep…as for me though…I’d prefer Jesus in physical form….I think the thief on the cross and this situation aren’t the same.

  • Daniel Clingenpeel

    Have you bothered to do so?

  • jefe

    Indeed, a very good thing, for the thief, and for the rest of us

  • Perspective

    Im not a blogger :D

  • Herm

    “justice is not vengeance.”

    VENGEANCE – n – punishment inflicted or retribution exacted for an injury or wrong.

    RESTORATION – n – the action of returning something to a former owner, place, or condition.

    Depending upon one’s perspective, who gets punished most if the state exacts their vengeance on a now productive (depending upon your perspective) member of society?

    To aid in your perspective Kelly is still alive because the fluid was cloudy.

    Thanks for your perspective. Love you too!

  • racelessgenderlesshuman

    #1: At no point in this article have you mentioned what she did to get the death penalty or what she has done to redeem herself besides taking theology classes. These should be key pieces of information in this kind of plea.

    Further, would you be so eager to save her if she chose islam, judaism or any of the other religions in our world as her redemtion? What if she just renounce her deeds and made efforts to be a good person with no mention of any god? Converting to religion when you are on death row is not redemption, it’s not even uncommon.

    In general I do not support the death penalty but this article has done nothing to convvince me this case is different from any other.

  • I may be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure Ben blogs his opposition to the death penalty regularly.

  • Herm

    The article need not convince you but seems to me to be a well structured alert for those who care. If you had followed the links provided in the article you would have been apprised of her crime of instigation. If you would have googled her name you would know that the actual perpetrator of the crime received a penalty of life in prison. It is your responsibility to care or not, to judge or not, but I don’t know why you would be so critical as to take responsibility to judge and condemn what is purely a plea for only those who care to look further before they commit.

    It seems to me upon reflection that if you truly did not support the death penalty you would welcome this opportunity to be a voice to the governor in this regard.

    Thank you for making yourself vulnerable to what you choose to write! Love you.

  • The only thing she need do to convince me that she is worthy of life, is to prove to me that she is a human being.

  • I make my living by writing about nonviolence, so I do write about it as often as violence is in the news.

    Peace,
    Ben

  • hjones

    You still have to reap the consequences of your actions. She should understand this and accept it. Her husband didn’t get a choice. Why should she?

  • Guy Norred

    So many people so hung up on vengeance.

  • Maine_Skeptic

    “…While all Jesus people should grieve each and every time Caesar takes his sword against another…”

    We can’t wait until it’s “a member of our family” before standing up against the death penalty. When we do, it looks self-serving. As a Skeptic, I couldn’t care less that Kelly is a Christian; she’s a conscious human being, and her death serves no purpose but vengeance.

    Progressives tend not to demonize unbelievers as much, but for the record, being an atheist and Skeptic doesn’t “cheapen life.” It makes conscious life that much more valuable.

  • Maine_Skeptic

    Because two wrongs don’t make a right.

  • Maine_Skeptic

    Not knowing your beliefs, I can’t assume you’re an unbeliever, but I am. I’m glad any time I hear faith-based people expressing compassion for the poor, the sick, and those in prison. In this age of religious insanity, it’s a relief any time we hear from that segment of Christianity that isn’t absolutely controlled by their hatred and fear.

  • Maine_Skeptic

    As an unbeliever, I’m often asked “what if you’re wrong” about what happens when we die. I wish conservative Christians would ask themselves that. If they’re wrong, then they’re being casually murderous when they smugly call for war and the death penalty. They’re “playing god” because they think they own one.

  • Maine_Skeptic

    “…I fully agree that the change here should qualify for commutation of her sentence…”

    Is the change that she’s “saved” now or that she no longer harbors murderous thoughts? I’m glad to hear people speaking up on behalf of ANYONE on death row, but my sense is that a Skeptic, no matter how reformed, would still be considered as evil as the moment he or she committed the crime.

  • Maine_Skeptic

    The death penalty as practiced makes us all complicit with murder. Past history tells us that some of the people on death row are not guilty of the crimes for which they are to be murdered.

  • Sharla Hulsey

    Agreed. I think we can safely say the thief on the cross was a special case.

  • Sharla Hulsey

    Have you seen that cartoon where a guy arrives at the pearly gates and wonders why he’s not being let in? “Yes, you got the ‘Christian’ part right; but you missed the ‘not being an asshole about it’ part.”

  • Sharla Hulsey

    Fear is absolutely an idol in certain segments of Christianity at this point. Jon Pavlovitz wrote a pretty nice blog post about it awhile back. (http://johnpavlovitz.com/2015/01/15/the-greatest-false-idol-of-modern-christianity/)

  • Daniel Alverson

    A reprieve! The state came through! You see? It’s not enough that we answer death with death we must also make sure we won’t be asked to stop due to a technicality that can be averted.

  • gimpi1

    I frankly don’t care about Biblical or not. The biggest issue I have with the death penalty is that it’s irreversible. The Innocence Project has managed to get many death-penalty cases overturned, showing how often (scarily often) we convict the wrong person. The fact that our system breaks down often is, in my view, the number one reason to not use a penalty that we can’t make good, if we are mistaken.

    People are much more likely to be wrongfully convicted if they are a minority, if there has been another high-profile crime in the news recently, if the economy is in a downturn, anything that stands to make the jury feel insecure or unforgiving. I’ve come to the conclusion that we simply will never be objective enough or understand enough to enforce the death penalty with any semblance of justice.

    We’re flawed. Many Christians regard it as because of the Fall, I just regard it as part of human-nature. I think it’s time to accept that we don’t have the wisdom to make use of a penalty that, if we were in error, can’t be reversed.

  • gimpi1

    I haven’t, but I’m sure I’d like it. I fully endorse not being an asshole about anything.

  • Herm

    What if what “she’s “saved”” from is the ignorance that would give any positive value to “murderous thoughts” and feelings as any kind of a solution? Could she then, in your skeptical judgment, possibly be fully forgiven by the Father or her species for knowing not what she was doing in instigating the death of her husband?

  • Noah

    Uh, she’s been in jail since.

    Where does taking the life of one who took one make things all better?

  • Noah

    Well, ok. Killing a person before their redemption removes the possibility of redemption…

  • Noah

    Ben’s response to similar accusations here is along the lines of ‘if you’re human you shouldn’t be put to death’.

    The site is primarily for Christians and this is a call to those who favor the death penalty. Using the fact that someone who came to faith on death row is absolutely an valid argument to push against the death penalty.

    It’s speaking to the inevitability of tribalism.

  • Noah

    The stronger argument should be that killing folks mostly takes away the possibility of them finding Christ. Basically playing God.

    Unfortunately, ‘she’s our sister’ plays more for many folks.

  • Noah

    People don’t forget. It’s why she was slated to be killed…

  • Noah

    If Ben doesn’t respond, my understanding is that there is a difference between force and violence. Force can be used, but not violence (something like uncontrolled anger).

    Jesus didn’t defend himself and told his disciples not to. They all got killed.

    Love our enemies. That means we can’t kill them.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anabaptists#Today – go to legacy

  • Noah

    Uh, not a biblical concept in the NT.

    If anything capital punishment is a God concept. He hasn’t told the US to use it. I doubt we have the moral authority to take life.

    Love your enemies, I think, cancels it.

  • R Vogel

    I know Ben’s position vis a vis the death penalty which is what makes this post disturbing. This site is located in the progressive christian section, you can’t cast a stone without hitting a non-violent advocate (see what I did there?) so there was no real need to go there.

  • R Vogel

    Of course that argument would work mostly for a non-believer than a believer, so we can’t use that one! In theory Christians should be less concerned about one of their own getting executed.

    And how about the poor sap who she had murdered who may have never gotten the chance to get to know Jurgen Moltmann? His soul gets annihilated while she get a bunch of people who say they believe in immortality rallying to save her life! Ironic.

  • Noah

    I dunno, I see a healthy portion of disagreement on here.

    Plus, when it’s shared.

  • Noah

    Sorta. Christians are called to care for their own above others (the most obvious is when Paul, I believe, mentions it). But with executions, I agree, I’m more concerned with non-believers.

    Not ironic w/Christianity? That’s kinda the whole gospel. It’s not supposed to be an eye for an eye anymore.

  • R Vogel

    Well, it’s not really eye for an eye, yeah? Given the right set of circumstances she would be the agent for the destruction of his soul and she is just facing the destruction of her body. This, of course, gets to the injustice at the heart of eternal rewards and punishments. She, and her tribal supporters, should be happy she got the time to work things out. Time her victim did not get. If justice was swift she might not have either.

    The irony I was pointing to was that the guy she murdered, if you believe in a certain form of christianity, may have lost his soul and people who believe her soul will live forever with their G*d are sweating over the destruction of her body because she is now part of a tribe that believes her soul will live forever with their G*d. Maybe you have to be outside to appreciate it.

  • Noah

    Ah.

    I’m not sure there’s any justice by killing someone. At least, in the restorative sense.

  • Maine_Skeptic

    Many people do grow and mature over time, Herm, whether they’re Christians or not. The status “saved” is undetectable, and it should carry no weight under the law. For that matter, neither should the existence or non-existence of a “the Father.”

  • R Vogel

    You can define it however you wish and then work to convince enough people to buy-in in order to implement it. That’s how society changes after all.

  • R Vogel

    Hear, hear. I wonder where is the blog post and public outcry for Manuel Vasquez set to be executed tonight…..

  • Jim Braman

    “Her husband didn’t get a choice. Why should she?”

    He shouldn’t. So, why does God give you choices YOU don’t deserve?

    Jesus doesn’t negate all forms of justice in favor of some pathetic mercy, but your presumption is that there exists no justice outside eye-for-eye.

    ‘One-size-fits-all’ thinking is valid in some situations, but it seems a fair question whether it is useful in regard to sentence selection for executions. The very fact that more than one sentence exists for almost every crime on the books should be a strong clue that there is room for mercy when truly merited.

  • Jim Braman

    I understand your logic R Vogel, and agree. Sometimes it seems that the people who talk the most about Jesus live in greatest contrast to his life. I am probably no longer an ‘insider’, because I don’t take divine intervention stance on the total content of the Bible being not subject to human choice, however, having served 25 yrs on life-row inside the evangelical box, I know the blind power of tribalism (and anti-tribalism!) and am refreshed to read honest, less-emotional dialogue here in this space.

    I still believe in an intelligent, creative, loving force that also has relational attributes found in the Bible, and I indulge my beliefs by carrying on regularly in conversation (or monologue, if I am incorrect in my beliefs) with this God-force-being. I also try to live like the Jesus I read about in the Bible, and listen to an intuition of how to think and act truthfully and lovingly …known to some as the Holy Spirit.

    This intuition-spirit has been pushing me toward an increasing sensitivity in my use of words, and increasing my desire to experience, listen, learn (and laugh when at all possible!)

  • Jim Braman

    Great expression of the poignant and painful irony of a society blinded by ‘the light’ of religion, and lost to the life of the founder.