I’ve been doing my best to avoid writing about this. I’ve been avoiding it because it’s complicated and emotional. It’s a dividing line and I can’t stand division. Give me addition or multiplication but save me from subtraction and division.
This week the stories of two death row inmates crossed my news feed, the stories of Lawrence Brewer, in Jasper Texas and Troy Davis of Savannah, Ga. They hold in common their executions for murder and perhaps little else. The headlines in my news feed were “White Supremacist Set To Die For Texas Dragging” in Brewer’s case and “Furor surrounds scheduled execution of Troy Davis in Georgia” for Davis.
When I read the accounts of Brewer’s conviction I was disgusted, horrified and outraged. Then I turned to the article about Troy Davis and I felt grieved, hopeless and outraged. Two different men, two different states, two different crimes but the same punishment…and then I was reminded why I am against the death penalty. I’m against the death penalty because I call myself “pro-life.” I am in favor of life.
Let me be clear about this. My being in favor of life, my “pro-life” stance should not be confused with ProLife™ which seems to now merely mean “anti-abortion” in the political/religious realm. My kind of pro-life won’t fit on a bumper sticker or billboard very easily. It needs flesh and voice and time and understanding. As a descriptive, the term has been ruined for me and I’m sad about that.
I favor life. I think there’s still redemption among us. I have no idea when “life” begins but there is certainly not much doubt about when it ends, no matter what Pat Robertson may think. I don’t like the death penalty. I’m not “for” it. I cannot imagine how I can be “for” it just as I cannot imagine the grief and fear and pain of the family of those who were murdered. I have no way of knowing how I’d feel if either of these men’s story lines crossed my personal family roads. I might feel very differently if it was me. I’ll allow for that. I hope not.
I’ve had the privilege of walking with a number of friends as they went through the process of labor. When we meet and talk about their birth plan I will tell them very clearly that the birth plan isn’t about success or failure, it’s not about the right way to do labor or the wrong way. The reason we want to have a birth plan ahead of time is because in the moment it’s a good reminder of what we envisioned when we weren’t in a great deal of pain. That’s not to say that in the moment we won’t also say, “Yeah, this ‘no epidural’ idea isn’t working for me” and moving from there. Pain changes things, a lot. The thing about labor, though, is that when it is progressing “normally” then pain happens and then it shifts and then it happens more often and for longer. It’s gets stronger. It gets worse before it gets better. A good birth plan and a supportive community is there to help remind of us the kind of birth we hoped for. In a way I guess I see statements of Faith in this way, not as rigorous and rigid rules meant to exclude and bring shame but rather a reminder of the kind of life I hoped for…the kind of person I hope I’d be in times of pain and grief.
And so I’m pro-life when it comes to the death penalty because I favor life, because I believe there is some redemption left in the world and because in moments like this what I want most is to model grace and peace and mercy. I suppose I am hard-wired for grace and peace and mercy. My only response to a man who murdered another human by dragging him from the back of a pickup truck is mercy. My only response to the man who professes his innocence at killing a police officer is mercy. I can only muster mercy, little else. I cannot speak for justice, it feels too unwieldy a sword for me to carry. I only know that in the face of the death penalty I favor life, mercy is all I have.
So tonight I lit a candle for Troy Davis and next to it I lit a candle for Lawrence Brewer, a small thing, a tiny prayer, for us all to remember what it means to be in favor of life.