A Meditation on the Occasion of the Killing of Kelley Gissendaner by the State of Georgia

I have the capacity and willingness to kill.

In spite of my deep ethical and religious commitment to the principles of nonviolence, I could and would seek to kill someone who hurt me or the people I love.

I would do it without hesitation or remorse.

And I would do it even though I firmly believe in the sanctity of all human life and the life of all creation. I would do it in spite of a belief that even the most evil among us can be redeemed, that even in our worst moments we have the Spirit of God living within us.

I aspire and work daily toward wisdom and love and truth and Spirit.

I could still kill somebody.

But here’s the thing – I count on people and societal institutions who are bigger than me to prevail as wisdom should such a horrible thing ever come to pass.

I believe in the capacity and the need for our culture to hold us to a higher standard than our own most dangerous inclinations.  I believe in the rule of law and in the Christian Gospel.

Our laws and our codes are supposed to call us to a standard of interpersonal engagement that precludes killing. Killing happens, but it happens as a violation of the law.

Tragically, sometimes it happens as a result of the law.

It happened tonight. Tonight the state of Georgia executed Kelley Gissendaner for the 1997 murder of her husband. The man who actually did the deed will be eligible for parole in 7 years. Kelley Gissendaner, a woman who repented, studied theology, and dedicated her life in prison to helping others, is dead.

She was guilty of crimes and deserved punishment. But we ought not to have killed her.

I believe it likely that at the time she died Kelley Gissendaner was a better human being than I. She had much to give and found a way to do so within the confines of her later life. We are all diminished by her death.

The power of life and death does not belong in human hands. We are all diminished by our willingness as a collective people to kill.

This means that even though I could genuinely identify with Kelly Gissendaner – as a white woman in her mid-40s who studied theology, practiced repentance, and tried to help people – the killing of anyone by the state on my behalf is also unacceptable. Black and brown men and women. Those who are mentally ill or permanently damaged by early childhood trauma. Poor and uneducated and sometimes flat out mean and unrepentant people. The God in whom I believe holds each of them in the palm of God’s hand. They are all precious children of God. They are accountable to society for their crimes, but we are accountable before God and one another for the violence that we do.

May we find ways in our own individual lives to honor the example of Gissendaner’s later years.

May we find ways to create a world of true justice and mercy.

May we learn not to kill.