Who is this who even forgives sins?: Kelly Gissendaner and the Law of Grace

Christians, like the Jews and Israelites before them, have ever been in an uncomfortable place in the world. We are an exilic people whose commonwealth is in heaven (Phil 3:20), who await a Kingdom not of this world (John 18:36), and whose Lord and Savior was executed by the state (Matt 27:24ff; Mark 15:6ff; Luke 23:13ff; John 19:1ff). Although Christians have enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) a privileged place in American society, we are—or, better, should be—like outsiders in the civic square that is American politics and jurisprudence. We must be strange; we must stand out. Whereas policy in the kingdoms of men follows the logic of retribution, Christians must be a people of grace.

How deeply and darkly ironic it is, then, that so many Christians join in stride with the clamoring crowds on the way to Golgotha, crying out for Barabbas and the death of the one whom God has already vindicated.

The state of Georgia has once again set a date for our Christian sister, Kelly Gissendaner, to die. If Christians remain silent, and if the powers that be remain cold-hearted, her execution will take place on September 29, 2015.

In one regard, Kelly’s story is totally unremarkable: she is set to receive a barbaric, cost-ineffective, and inconsistently-applied punishment that many before and, presumably, many after her will suffer.

But in another regard, Kelly’s story is remarkable and, for Christians, ought at least to give us a moment’s pause: while in prison, Kelly became a Christian, earned a seminary degree, and continues to minister to her fellow inmates. According to the Christian theological rubric, she has already been forgiven by the only one who can forgive sins. There is now no condemnation for her, for Kelly Gissendaner is in Christ.

Some will no doubt say that I am making here a category mistake by expecting Caesar and the state to follow the Lord and Law of Grace. Others will say that, while Kelly may be forgiven by God and can therefore expect to partake of eternal life, she still owes a debt to the state and that the state has the right to speed her entry into that life everlasting as recompense for her crime.

To those I ask: If God is real and the Gospel true, what is left for the state? If God is the real, if the Kingdom of Heaven is the true polis, how can the state and its policies trump the grace that the son of God died to extend? Christ is before and above all things, including the state, and he has already reconciled all things:

Colossians 1:15-20
[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Christ, in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, has already reconciled Kelly to himself and made peace with her through the blood of his cross. Christians, won’t you live into that truth and bear its witness to the state? Won’t you be a people of grace?

I make no bones to anyone about the fact that I am a Christian and that I think part of the Christian identity is to routinely and consistently choose life over death, in all circumstances, in the name of faithfulness to Christ and his Kingdom. Thus it should surprise no one that I am categorically opposed to the death penalty in all cases, and I think you ought to be, too.

But this is a more modest claim, a more limited request: if you are a Christian, if you seek first the Kingdom of God, if you believe in the grace extended us all while we were still sinners, please stand for clemency for your sister.






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