It’s the primary time I’ve counted down the times to a pal’s execution. Until there’s a miracle from God or compassion from the state’s governor, Tennessee will kill Don Johnson by deadly injection on Might 16.
I’ve a mannequin of a lighthouse in my workplace that Don made for me, an indication of the friendship we’ve in-built my visits over the previous 5 years to Unit 2 at Riverbend Correctional Facility, Tennessee’s loss of life row.
Through the years we’ve laughed collectively. We’ve prayed collectively. Advised one another jokes. We’ve sung songs like “Amazing Grace” and he’s taught me the true which means of the phrases, “How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”
Don had one of the vital horrific childhoods of anybody I’ve ever met. He was abused, bullied, deserted, institutionalized. The abuse he endured, he transmitted, culminating within the loss of life of his spouse. In contrast to many on loss of life row who I imagine are harmless of the crimes for which they face execution, Don’s guilt was by no means in query for me. However neither was his redemption.
What’s most exceptional about Don isn’t what he did that landed him on loss of life row; it’s what God has finished with him since. His story is a grace story, a redemption story. It’s a Jesus story.
That story started within the Shelby County, Tenn., jail, whereas Don was awaiting trial. He heard one other inmate speaking concerning the therapeutic energy of Jesus. As Don was convicted and brought to loss of life row, he heard extra redemption tales. Quickly he devoted his life to Jesus. He was baptized on loss of life row.
Years later, he’s an ordained elder of his church. Of his 25 million-member denomination, he’s the one elder on loss of life row. Riverbend’s Unit 2 is his parish, and lots of contained in the jail and out can testify of how his religion has formed them, together with correctional officers and employees.
However essentially the most beautiful, and credible, witness of all is his daughter, Cynthia Vaughn.
After dropping her mother on the age of seven, she grew to become a champion for the loss of life penalty, particularly when it got here to the execution of her dad. She wished him lifeless. She hated him. The loss of life penalty appeared like justice, at first.
Cynthia finally discovered that her hatred was not hurting him, however it was killing her. She discovered herself in a jail of her personal anger and resentment, confined, in her phrases, “to my own internal house of hell.” The justice she sought turned out to be revenge.
I first met Cynthia once we each spoke at an occasion in Nashville. It was the primary time she would speak about her change of coronary heart, how she discovered a means out of her inner hell. I had lately launched a guide titled Executing Grace, on the loss of life penalty, restorative justice and the facility of forgiveness. Cynthia had come to embody all the things I wrote about — the facility of grace to heal the injuries of each the offended and the offenders.
I bought into Nashville early that day so I might go to Don. I hesitated to inform him concerning the occasion, as a result of I wasn’t positive concerning the dynamics of their new relationship. All I knew was that after 30 years of not talking, they have been working laborious to heal the injuries of their shared previous. I didn’t wish to additional complicate any of that.
I merely informed Don I used to be on the town for an occasion that night time. I might see in his eyes and his proud, ear-to-ear smile that he already knew. He mentioned, “You’ll be with my daughter,” and went on to inform me all about what a shiny gentle on the planet she is, what a present it’s to have her in his life once more.
That night, I heard Cynthia inform of being let loose from the jail of her personal hatred, concerning the energy of forgiveness to heal each the victims and the victimizers. She talked about with the ability to giggle once more, and with the ability to hear birds sing after so a few years in a solitary confinement of its personal type.
She forgave her dad, not so he might sleep at night time however in order that she might sleep at night time. Now she is combating to save lots of his life.
Cynthia is combating for alternate options to the loss of life penalty — for her dad and for everybody else. Regardless of its guarantees of closure and justice, the loss of life penalty extends trauma, exacerbates wounds, and creates a complete new set of victims, one thing Cynthia is aware of all too effectively.
The electrical chair utilized in two of Tennessee’s three executions final yr is a mirror of the evil it guarantees to heal. The “cure” is as unhealthy because the illness.
Violence is the issue, not the answer.
Regardless of the voices of oldsters like Mom Teresa, Pope Francis, and so many others, the loss of life penalty has survived in America largely due to the help of Christians. Almost 90% of all executions prior to now 40 years have occurred within the Bible Belt. As one loss of life row chaplain says, “The Bible Belt is the death belt in America.”
Grace is on the coronary heart of the Christian religion — this perception that God gave us grace once we didn’t deserve it. The United Methodist Church’s 50-year-old assertion places it effectively: “We believe the death penalty denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore, and transform all human beings.”
We undermine the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross and rob our fellow sinners of the chances of redemption each time we take the life of a kid of God by state execution.
Once we kill those that kill to indicate that killing is fallacious, we legitimize the very evil we hope to rid the world of, the evil that despatched Jesus to the cross.
The Bible is crammed with murderers who got a second probability, together with Moses, David and Saul of Tarsus. The Bible can be a lot shorter with out grace.
Martin Luther King Jr. known as execution “society’s final assertion that we will not forgive.” In 2017, Pope Francis declared that the loss of life penalty is “contrary to the gospel.”
Many Individuals, together with many younger evangelical Christians, see the disconnect between following Jesus and our capital punishment. In a nationwide survey, solely 5% of Individuals mentioned that Jesus would help the loss of life penalty.
In any case, Jesus mentioned, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Within the gospels, Jesus interrupted an execution of a lady responsible of a capital crime, saying, “Let the one who is without sin, cast the first stone.”
Nobody is above reproach. And nobody is past redemption.
This week, grace has an opportunity to be wonderful in Tennessee. We simply want Christians — and Christian lawmakers particularly — to ask the query: What would Jesus do? After which do it.
With just some months in workplace, Gov. Invoice Lee is going through his first loss of life penalty choice. He wants all of our prayers.
It’s my prayer that the leaders of my residence state will declare that execution isn’t the perfect model of justice we will provide you with.
I pray Lee will rejoice the facility of God to redeem a damaged sinner like Don — like Moses, like David, like Saul, like me. I additionally pray he will likely be moved by the facility of mercy and forgiveness embodied so superbly by Cynthia. And I pray that he’ll honor the injuries they’re actively working to heal … by not creating extra wounds.