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.
Gov. Nathan Deal