Late last night a member of my congregation was killed. She was someone who cared deeply about her spiritual life, who not only took classes through our church but also was moved to go through seminary. She was someone who believed, as Unitarian Universalists do, in growth, in possibility, in the urge toward the good, in the value of each and every human life. She believed, as Unitarian Universalists do, that redemption is not so much something that is granted to you as something you create. She never stopped working toward her own redemption.
The state of Georgia, however, doesn’t hold the same ideas about redemption. The state of Georgia declared that because of the heinous act that Kelly Gissendaner committed nearly 18 years ago, she deserved to die. Last night, in spite of legal appeals and an appeal from the Pope, they killed her. She went to her death singing “Amazing Grace.”
I believe, along with Gissendaner, in a grace that is nothing short of amazing. I don’t happen to believe in salvation by the redemptive power of Christ. That is not my personal theology. I know it is a theology that stirs and uplifts countless hearts, but it doesn’t happen to hold deep meaning for me. But Kelly Gissendaner makes me believe in a grace so deep, so broad, that someone who would do something so horrific as to arrange the murder of her husband could come around to deep remorse, and deep commitment to living a life of love and justice. That is a grace that I can see, a grace to which I can bear witness.
But the state of Georgia doesn’t believe in that kind of grace. The law of the state of Georgia does not have room for redemption. Deliberate murder is to be met with deliberate murder. Whether or not that state-sanctioned murder makes anyone safer. Whether or not that state-sanctioned murder makes anyone more whole.
I do not condone murder. Not the murder Kelly arranged to commit, not the murder that the state of Georgia committed. I believe that growth and grace and redemption happen to the living, and that murder robs a human being of their precious right to practice redemption and grace and growth. No one was redeemed by killing Kelly. No grace was present. And there was no justice as I understand the word.
Because I do not believe that justice is “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” I believe that justice is that which moves toward restoring that which is broken. Justice is not lenience. It is not ignoring evil deeds and hoping that they will go away. Justice is the detailed, difficult work or trying to set right what has gone wrong as far as possible, and preventing more harm from being done.
Killing Kelly set nothing right, prevented no harm. Justice was not served.
All that is left is for those of us who are still living to consider the work of redemption, and how we might work for a world in which murder is no longer committed in our names.