For a long time, I was a proponent of the death penalty. Growing up in a world where an eye for an eye and a tooth of a tooth was the extent of my moral and theological understanding, offering grace to those who I deemed were undeserving clouded my ability to fully see how grace could really apply to them.
I had the same kind of limited view when it came to issues like suicide, too. I figured, if you took your own life, then you were destined to an eternity of hell because there was no way to repent for killing yourself.
It wasn’t until I met people who had friends and family members that committed suicide because their darkest days were inky black and death was the only way they could enter into any light. It wasn’t until I, too, stood in the inky blackness of depression that I could fully understand why some would choose death over life.
Likewise, it wouldn’t be until I learned about Troy Davis who was found guilty of killing a police officer in 1989 — I staunchly believed his case had too many holes in it to solidify the punishment of the death penalty. I learned through his story, and subsequent protests, letters to the State of Georgia, and countless conversations about how our ability to play judge, jury, and executioner does not allow space for grace. It does not, in fact, allow for grace to do what grace has always done: open the door for radical forms of change of heart.
Like Troy Davis, the State of Georgia has decided to execute one of its daughters, Kelly Gissendaner, the first woman to be executed in the state of Georgia in 70 years.
This matters, even now, as I have friends and colleagues who personally know Kelly. They’ve laughed and talked with her. They’ve walked with her through new theological understandings and guided her to completing a certificate in theological studies through the Candler School of Theology and the Lee Arrendale Prison, where she’s currently housed. The partnership between Candler and Arrendale has provided women like Kelly the opportunity to transform their lives — from the inside out. It has given her a fresh start on a life that took a terrible turn. It was a full extension of God’s grace in action. Below is an excerpt from her clemency application:
*you can read her entire clemency application here.
But, in moments like this, we wonder if grace is even enough. Is the power of grace, the ability to embrace the full human experience, one that rights wrongs, one that restores and establishes people back to their rightful place before God, is enough.
I keep seeing this photo of Kelly in the news — a mug shot, I guess. I read news stories about Kelly’s last meal calorie intake and the kind of “fat shaming” that was associated with it. I even learned that the man who carried out the murder of Kelly’s husband is serving a life sentence while she spends her last waking hours preparing for a death date pre-determined by the State.
But what about this Kelly, the one that graduated from the Theological Studies program at Arrendale Prison in 2011? Happy, supported, loved — through grace.
Every once in a while we hear a story, learn about someone who changes our outlook on hard-pressed issues like the death penalty. Perspective always changes when it hits close(r) to home, right? We are then able to put down our political or religious ideals that cloud our ability to see people and begin to allow our hearts to ache for others as God’s heart aches for us.
I don’t look to offer any resolve or concrete answers to this. But I am reminded of 2 Corinthians 12:9: “but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.“
Kelly, God’s grace is sufficient for you. Mankind may not think so — the State of Georgia may not think so, but there are those of us who know God’s grace is sufficient. It is enough for you — and in your weakness, you were made PERFECT through Jesus.
We all are.
On the Grace Chase,
9 thoughts on “When is Grace Enough?”
Alisha, thank you for writing this. Indeed, grace abounds even when it does not look like we want it to look.
Reblogged this on Carter's Blog Corner and commented:
Teaching at Arrendale State Prison has been one of the most rewarding opportunities of my life. Although I never sat with Kelly one on one, I often saw her on my way out peering through the small window that separated her from us and heard flattering stories from other students who served as her teacher during one period or another. I join the numbers of those praying for her and her family during this time. Thanks for the dedication Alisha!
Thanks for bringing that insight to us…I’ve heard of this story but I didn’t know the back story…
We don’t connect enough — but I am seriously compelled to deepen my relationship with Him when I read your stuff. So much perspective and so much clarity. Our world has been waiting for people like you. Thanks.
We definitely need to connect more. Kudos to you and the radio show! So proud! Thank you for your kind words!
How much do you really know about the Troy Davis case? The megaphone in the public arena was controlled by his supporters at Amnesty International and other groups. they skewed the facts of the case to make it sound as if Davis had been a railroaded innocent man, while they failed to mention circumstances which certainly pointed towards his culpability.
They did not mention that earlier that night Davis had shot Michael Cooper during an argument outside of a nightclub where he had been thrown out. The bullet which was lodged in Coopers jaw matched the bullets that was later shot into officer Mark MacPhail.
The supposed recantations of 7 out of 9 eyewitnesses was a dubious claim given great mileage in terms of media airplay. None of them ever claimed to be at the scene of the McPhail murder. Rather most of them claimed that they were at a party and had heard another man, Sylvester Coles, apparently confess to the murder of Mark MacPhail.
Yet Troy Davis’ attorneys have never subpoenaed Coles to testify before any of the courts about his activity that night. Why wouldn’t they have done so, given they had several of the recantation witnesses who claimed they heard Coles confess to the Macphail killing at a party years later? Without his being put on the stand, those others witnesses claims are considered hearsay and thus inadmissible in court.
Let’s also consider the rationale of Sylvester Coles having gone to the police **voluntarily** (with an attorney) to talk with police. Any coherent attorney, if they suspected their client had committed a particular crime, would not be advising their client to freely talk with police. I am not suggesting Coles is a choir boy by any means, but he stayed put in the city whereas Troy Davis fled to Atlanta almost immediately after the shooting until he surrendered three weeks later. Who had something to hide?
The state called 34 witnesses at Troy Davis’ trial, not 9 as Amnesty was claiming. Several Air Force officers, whom Amnesty forgot about, watched the crime unfold from their van parked in the lot.
They clearly saw Troy Davis being chased by Officer Macphail, his turning and shooting Officer Macphail. The shell casing ballistics from the Macphail scene matched those at the shooting of Michael Cooper committed by Troy Davis earlier that evening, Troy Davis was the only person at both crime scenes.
Davis was given the opportunity to call his recanting witnesses to be heard at the special June 2010 innocence hearing in June 2010. He chose not to do this, instead remaining silent. The federal judge conducting the hearing – Judge William Moore, issued a blistering 172 page decision which questioned all of the Davis claims and ruled “this man is not innocent”.
Despite the media megaphone being controlled by Amnesty International in the weeks and months before the execution of Troy Davis, the facts won out. Davis was indeed guilty of murdering officer Mark Macphail and also of shooting Michael Cooper and wounding him in the jaw. Justice was served in this case.