Magazine article The Christian Century

Unmoved

Magazine article The Christian Century

Unmoved

Article excerpt

If ever there were a sympathetic figure on death row, Kelly Renee Gissendaner was it. She was repentant about her role in the killing of her husband (she organized it, though she didn't actually do it). She had reformed her life, made a powerful confession of Christian faith, and even graduated from a prison program in theology. At the end, she had the support of many church leaders, including Pope Francis, who pleaded for her life. It wasn't enough. Late last month the state of Georgia executed her, the first woman to be executed in Georgia in 70 years. (See the news story on p. 19.)

What does it mean for the movement against the death penalty that the Georgia Board of Pardon and Parole was not swayed by appeals for clemency in a case as compelling as Gissendaner's?

It suggests, for one thing, how much more work is needed to convince Americans--especially white Protestant Americans--that the death penalty is immoral. According to 2014 research by the Public Religion Research Institute, 59 percent of white evangelicals and 52 percent of white mainline Protestants favor the use of the death penalty.

One would think that a people who believe in the gospel of second chances would oppose a form of justice that closes off the possibility of changing one's life. Karl Barth wrote that "the death sentence imposed on human criminals has already been executed. God gave His only Son for this very purpose ... Which category of particularly great sinners is exempted from the pardon effect on the basis of the death penalty carried out at Calvary? …

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