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As Tennessee Gov. Invoice Lee confronted his first execution final week, he stated that he was “upholding the sentence of the State of Tennessee and will not be intervening.”

It feels like an harmless bystander deciding to not push somebody out of the best way of a transferring automobile. However the reality is, Lee is driving the automobile that’s about to run over them, and he has the facility to steer it one other path and save their life.


In any case “states” don’t execute individuals. Governors do. And governors have the facility to cease executions. That’s precisely the case in Pennsylvania, the place Gov. Tom Wolf has halted executions despite the fact that the state nonetheless has not abolished the demise penalty. It’s the identical case in a number of different states, and most radically in California. Although California narrowly voted to maintain the demise penalty alive, and regardless of having the biggest demise row of any state within the nation, Gov. Gavin Newsom determined to face up for all times. Satisfied the demise penalty is “immoral,” Newsom halted executions and truly dismantled your entire demise chamber so it may by no means kill once more.

Again to Tennessee: Lee talks usually about his religion. He has some nice non secular advisers. I genuinely consider that Lee doesn’t need to kill anybody. I doubt that he would have killed Don Johnson on his personal — however he was prepared to have another person kill on his behalf.

READ: Will Grace Prevail as Tennessee Execution Looms?

We weren’t meant to kill individuals. After we do kill, it does one thing to us. In writing my e-book Executing Grace, I interviewed a former executioner who advised me how he was haunted by the spirits of the boys he executed, whose souls visited him at night time and sat by his bedside.

Deep down we all know that killing is flawed, however by some means we persuade ourselves that it’s completely different when it’s carried out by the “state.” There’s a third-century Christian named Cyprian who noticed the irony of all of it. He identified how odd it’s that when a person kills somebody we name it against the law however when the federal government kills we name it virtuous. Cyprian and the opposite early Christians constantly stood towards all killing, whether or not it was carried out by a prison or by a Justice of the Peace.

So we find yourself creating numerous cogs within the equipment of demise to hold the burden of accountability. In any case, killing somebody is a heavy burden to bear. And lots of shoulders make the burden a little bit simpler to bear.

We’ve a system that kills, however no person desires to be a killer. The burden of demise is fastidiously divided within the hopes that nobody will get crushed by its full weight — at the very least that’s the intention. However on darkish nights, maybe everybody carries the burden, even the governor. In any case, on the finish of the day there’s a lifeless physique, and the governor is aware of that with a 15-second telephone name, he may have saved the lifetime of Don Johnson.

As a person of religion, I hope the governor will acknowledge the eerie similarities between those that killed Jesus and the place he now finds himself in. Jesus was executed not simply by some Roman troopers, but additionally by a number of different contributors, none of whom needed to hold the disgrace and burden of the execution — Judas who betrayed him, and the Sanhedrin, and Caiaphas, and Herod, and the indignant mob … and Pontius Pilate washing the blood from his arms. And so it goes.

We’ve attorneys who open the door to demise.

We’ve a jury that finds somebody responsible.

A choose (or judges) who sentences the convicted prisoner to demise.

A governor who nods in approval or indicators a warrant.

A clemency board that removes all obstacles.

A warden who oversees the execution.

Jail guards who put together the individual to die.

A “death team” that performs the execution.

A doctor who inserts the needle.

And a coroner who pronounces the defendant lifeless.

We’ve a system that kills however that has no killers. However on the finish of the day, there’s a corpse, and the state has no arms or arms however ours. On the demise certificates of an executed individual, the style of demise is listed as “homicide.” Authorized murder.

That’s why we construct these bureaucratic partitions. We devise methods to create distance between the killers and the killed; we work exhausting to make sure that they can’t see one another as human. Guards are a part of the equipment of demise, “just doing their job.” Inmates are numbers, not names. They’re statistics, not individuals.

Once I visited the boys on demise row final week, I requested them what we may do to persuade the governor to cease the executions which can be lined up in Tennessee this subsequent 12 months.

The boys stated, “Invite the governor to come and pray with us.” So easy. But additionally so profound. Nothing transforms individuals like proximity, and nothing would transfer the governor like attending to know the boys on demise row.

There’s historic proof of this proper right here in Tennessee within the 1960s — Gov. Frank Clement, the 41st governor of Tennessee.

After overseeing six executions throughout his first two phrases as governor, Clement started to be terribly tormented, particularly as he noticed the humanity of the boys on demise row. He met with the victims. However then he additionally made common visits to the jail to spend time with the boys on demise row. On one event he even took Billy Graham. As he bought to know the boys on demise row, executing them turned insufferable. Finally, he commuted the sentences of everybody on demise row — in 1965!

However what moved him was proximity.

I do know that if the governor met these males that I’ve had the privilege of understanding for a number of years now, he would see the facility of God to redeem and heal — and it could be tougher for him to kill them.

READ: Christians Are Why the Loss of life Penalty Lives On

The scriptures communicate of these we’re up towards as “principalities and powers” (Ephesians 6:12), not flesh and blood. It isn’t the individuals themselves however the system of killing that we’re preventing as we search to abolish the demise penalty. And individuals are certain up within the cogs of that system all alongside the best way. Tennessee can’t kill with out Gov. Lee. And Tennessee will be unable to kill if Lee decides to be constantly pro-life and stand towards demise.

It’s our obligation, our shared accountability, to change into the monkey wrench that stops the wheels of demise from turning. The state is us. So allow us to refuse to kill. Let the medical doctors uphold their oath to do no hurt and refuse to take part in executions. Let the guards and wardens and employees refuse to be accomplices to homicide.

The state can’t kill with out Gov. Lee. And it can’t kill with out us.

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