Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday: Witness to an Execution

He who hung the earth upon the waters : today he is hung upon the cross.
Common Prayer, from the litany for Good Friday

Remember Troy Davis?

Perhaps not, with all of the news lately about Trayvon Martin. The media has a way of creating a feeding frenzy on one issue before losing interest and moving on to something else. Let me refresh your memory: Davis was a man from Savannah, Georgia, who was convicted of the 1989 slaying of a police officer. After 20 years on death row, and against both mounting evidence of his innocence and massive public outcry, Davis was put to death by lethal injection by the Georgia State Corrections Department in September. Near the end, support for Troy became an international phenomenon, drawing pleas from Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, and even Pope Benedict XVI to halt the political gears of death. The entire world watched eagerly to see just what America would do. And we used that spotlight to spread a message of violence and inhumanity: we are in the business of denying clemency.

It is ironic, I think, that a nation—an empire, even—whose government clings so fiercely to the faith of an executed rabbi does not recognize the injustice of condemning others to death. A religion borne out of a political killing eventually became the unofficial religion of a country which seemingly takes delight at the mere thought of carrying out political killings. Texas Governor Rick Perry, who operated his presidential candidacy on a Christian base, was even applauded at a September 2011 political debate because of the record-breaking number of executions that have been carried out under his watch:

We like putting people to death so much, in fact, that a recent study ranks the United States fifth in the entire world when it comes to execution numbers. As in, fifth out of over two hundred other countries. Fifth place. Right behind Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, China.

And here we are this morning, eating breakfast and drinking tea to observe the day that Jesus was nailed to a Roman cross as an insurrectionist (and tax evader?) and died as a martyr. What is wrong with us?

The only way that our rituals and traditions—even our religion as a whole—can possibly be of any use to humanity is if through them we somehow learn to love more, to forgive others, to gain an understanding of solidarity with the marginalized and oppressed. If Jesus's death means anything to us at all, it should help us realize more fully that the Reign of God is not like the empires of this world, and give us the fortitude to resist a culture of death by clinging to the hope of new life in the here-and-now. The Church is not a vehicle of Empire, and Empire is not the deputy of the Church. In fact, we are adversaries. When the Empire of this world says "condemn," the Church is (or should be) there to say "forgive."

Not long after Troy Davis's last day on earth, a transcript of his final words was made public by the Georgia Department of Corrections. There are echoes of the Jesus Way in his words:
Well, first of all I'd like to address the MacPhail family. I'd like to let you all know that despite the situation—I know all of you still are convinced that I'm the person that killed your father, your son and your brother, but I am innocent. The incidents that happened that night was not my fault. I did not have a gun that night. I did not shoot your family member. 
But I am so sorry for your loss. I really am—sincerely. 
All that I can ask is that each of you look deeper into this case, so that you really will finally see the truth. 
I ask to my family and friends that you all continue to pray, that you all continue to forgive. Continue to fight this fight.
For those about to take my life, may God have mercy on all of your souls. God bless you all.
Amen, Troy Davis. Amen.