GRACE, JUSTICE, AND TROY DAVIS
Who should have the authority over when to end a life?
Roughly an hour before I sat down to write here, across the country, Troy Davis took his last breath. The State of Georgia had him killed under the conviction for the murder of a policeman. There was never a weapon or DNA evidence to link him to the event, he was convicted completely under circumstantial evidence. Since his conviction, seven of his nine witnesses retracted their statements. In short, he was killed by the state with a lot of question marks hanging over the case.
This situation has gotten me rethinking a lot of what I thought I believed about certain things… the death penalty, in particular, which is something I’ve shifted ground on a bit in recent years. But namely, what happened tonight in Georgia is not okay with me. It goes against some of my most deeply held beliefs.
And two of my most deeply held beliefs are a belief in justice and a belief in grace. The two compliment each other in such a strange, and almost paradoxical way. But in this situation, neither of them were given.
It’s my belief that Troy was denied justice. I think that the case was about a very sensitive issue, and that there were a lot of emotions that probably went into his conviction. I think there is a reason why seven of the nine witnesses have retracted their statements, and I think the lack of hard evidence is very disturbing. I am not God, so I cannot say with any certainty that Troy is innocent for a fact, but I do believe that the very existence of that possibility should have been enough to halt his execution. I believe that sometimes, a half-hearted attempt to administer justice can actually result in a much greater injustice, and it would appear that that’s what just happened. Justice is far too important to take half heartedly. Justice isn’t revenge. It’s an intolerance of oppression. It isn’t true justice if it isn’t out of Love.
Although I can’t say for an absolute fact that Troy was fully innocent, either way, I don’t believe I can deny him grace and still be true to what I believe. This is a hard belief to fully explain to people who don’t share it, but I believe in second chances at all times. True our past mistakes cause consequences that we have to pay, and sometimes it’s within a government’s duty to enforce such consequences, but I still believe all should be given a second chance. Killing a person effectively takes away their second chance.
I believe in a second chance because I’ve been given one. I believe that everything unloving I’ve ever done were acts of injustice, acts that violated God’s plans. Sometimes we look at a moment like tonight and think that if God was around, he couldn’t possibly allow something like this. I think it’s only because of God that we have a standard that causes us to see something wrong in that picture. He gives us a picture, sense, and desire for perfect justice. And since I believe that perfect justice is rooted in Love, every time I acted in a way that wasn’t 100% Loving was a violation of that perfect justice, and because of that I’m guilty. And anything that falls short of perfect cuts us off from God, because if perfect had any room for imperfect, well then, it wouldn’t be perfect.
But at the center of my beliefs is that I’ve been given a second chance through Jesus. And so, seeing myself in that light, I can’t bring myself to deny anyone a second chance. To do so would be to be like someone who had a huge debt erased that keeps on heckling people who owe him a dollar here and there. I believe in extending grace and second chances.
And also, I believe in the incredible value of a human life. When it comes to life, I believe that if you do not have the power to give life, then you should also not have the power to take a life. Justice isn’t revenge. An-eye-for-an-eye is a failed strategy. Love works. See, when we have people looking to enact revenge in the name of justice, more and more people get hurt in the process. People who have been hurt have a great tendency to hurt others, and the hurt only gets passed along until it absorbed by someone who can take it without returning it. And that’s grace.
I’m disappointed with everyone who had the power to stop this execution but did nothing. The State of Georgia. The US Supreme Court. I know I can’t possibly know the full story, but neither can the court, really.
Most of all, though, I feel for Troy. My prayers go out to his family. I’m sorry that his name to many may only be associated with his execution, and the surrounding injustices. But I know he was a lot more than that. I wonder what the guy was like in high school, or what his sense of humor was like. Again, I don’t know him personally, and I don’t know what truly happened that one night where a police officer was killed. But I know that I want justice and grace to guide the decisions that I make, and I hope for that practice to catch on.