The state of Georgia is prepared to execute Kelly Renee Gissendaner by the end of the day today. Her story is grotesque and grace-filled.
Seventeen years ago, Ms. Gissendaner conspired with her lover to kill her husband. The lover, who evidently carried out the act, was sentenced to life in prison. Ms. Gissendaner was sentenced to death. During her time in prison, Ms. Gissendaner has undergone a remarkable transformation. She has accepted full responsibility for her actions, earned a degree in theology, and become a powerful voice for redemption. To be honest, her story makes me weepy.
Over the past few days, a growing movement of support has called for a stay of Ms. Gissendaner’s execution. Hundreds of clergy from across the country signed a petition asking for Ms. Gissendaner’s life to be spared.
Would Christian clergy be as willing to support a death prisoner whose path to redemption led her to Islam or Wicca?
Mother Nature seemed to concur when the initial date of her execution was postponed due to weather. As the second date (today) has approached, Twitter, Facebook and the blogosphere are all clamoring for the governor of Georgia to halt the killing. My churchy-type friends are churning out hashtags and retweets urging mercy.
I hope the governor of Georgia does stop the execution.
But here’s what I have noticed. The voices calling for this stay of execution are largely white voices. Kelly Gissendaner is a white woman.
Among the signers of the clergy petition to stop the execution are several friends of mine — very good people. Many of whom want to overturn the entire, vicious eye-for-an-eye cycle that is the death penalty in America.
But I wonder about this case. Did Kelly Gissendaner capture our attention because she is white? Did she capture our attention because she is a woman? Yes, her story of transformation impresses me. As I said, it moves me to tears.
But surely there have been stories of transformation of black death row prisoners. Have any male death row inmates become teachers and voices for rehabilitation? Would Christian clergy be as willing to stand in support of a death prisoner whose path to redemption led her to Islam or Wicca?
Maybe Kelly Gissendaner’s story is another glimpse into the racial blinders that narrow our vision.
Maybe the problem is me. Maybe I’ve missed those stories. Maybe I don’t have enough diverse social media contacts. Or maybe Kelly Gissendaner’s story is another glimpse into the racial blinders that narrow our vision. Maybe we see someone who looks like us and we want to help that person more than we want to help someone who doesn’t look like us.
I am opposed to the death penalty. Period. Full stop. I do not think any government should execute any person. Injecting a woman with poison in Georgia is as abhorrent to me as beheading a woman in Saudi Arabia. I believe the redemption that Kelly Gissendaner found is possible for anyone.
But I have questions of concern for my white clergy friends who are asking to save Kelly Gissendaner’s life. Are you as willing to save the life of a black crack addict who raped a person? Are you as willing to stand up for the Muslim convict or the Wiccan convert? What about the unrepentant killer? Does he deserve our compassion also?
The initial petition to spare Kelly Gissendaner’s life stated, “All of life is sacred.” Do we believe that?
The opinions expressed in this piece belong to the author.