Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world…have mercy on us.

A.Hanson, Minnesota, 2013
I am finding myself singing the Agnus Dei this morning, "Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us…"

This morning at approximately 12:21am Eastern time, the state of Georgia executed Kelly Gissendaner.  

Lord have mercy on us all.

My first experience with hearing about the death penalty in my life was when the state of Montana executed a man in 1995.  I remember being horrified with the sensibilities of a child that someone could be put to death by the government for killing someone else.  It just did not make sense to me then, and it still does not make sense to me.

A friend of mine was murdered in 2007 by a random stranger in a suburb of Minneapolis. I was devastated and outraged.  But I did not want her killer put to death, because that was not going to bring Katherine back and it would not honor her memory. The death penalty has tremendous costs, and they are not just financial.

I think about the people who are charged with carrying out executions. The wardens and guards and nurses and techs. The medical professionals who put an IV into the condemned person's body. Who are using the training that was obtained with the intent of preserving life and using it to end another person's life. I think about the person charged with pressing the button on the other side of a wall that will transmit the lethal drugs into the veins of the one being executed. The executor does not see the executed, because if they saw what they were doing, one would hope that they would not be able to do it. I wonder how those people feel at night when they go home from work and caress their spouse and hold their children. If their hands carry the blood of another. I wonder how this weighs on their hearts.

I wonder how the legal team feels and how the judge feels and how the supreme court felt when they denied Kelly Gissendaner's final emergency appeal. How they must feel when upholding the law of the land which is so senseless and horrifying.

I wonder how the family members of the victims feel as they watch an execution. Do they feel relief?  Or do they feel lingering hurt? Are they happy to put this chapter behind them?

I wonder how the family of the condemned person feels.  Do they feel relief as well? Are they weighed down by shame? Do they bury the memory of their once-loved one?

I would not say that I am "pro-life" because that is so politically charged.  I am PRO-HUMANITY. I am in favor of anything that reminds us of how we are all interconnected. I am in favor of preserving life. This extends to abolishing the death penalty, but also addressing the systemic racism and injustices inherent in our legal and penal systems.

Why do we kill people who kill people to show people that killing people is wrong? 

I also remember when I signed my first petition against the death penalty (an Amnesty International petition) at a church event as a high school senior.  And the many that I have signed since. Some days I feel hopeless.  Today is one of those days.  I am inspired by the ministry of Sister Helen Prejean, a Roman Catholic sister who has dedicated her life's work to speaking out against the death penalty.

I understand anger and the desire for revenge. I understand deep grief and hurt. I understand wanting vengeance for death.  But in the end, if death wins, we all lose. And that is why I am singing the Agnus Dei so fervently this morning.

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world…have mercy on us.  Mercy on us.  Mercy on us.

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