The Sept. 21 execution of Troy Davis affected me the way it did many who saw his picture and read the details. It made me feel sick, and it made me grow even more determined to end the death penalty.
When I say "it made me feel sick," I mean horror at the ritual killing, and sadness about the tragic death Georgia's courts were trying to address. But it also put me in touch with the widespread sickness in which our country's history of violence makes many Americans comfortable with our public executions.
Of our nation's regional histories of violence, I am most familiar with the Deep South where I've lived most of my life. Georgia, where Troy Davis was killed, has one of the worst histories of lynching for example. A Mississippi woman has quilted listings of each lynching victim by state.
Viewing her work at a Louisville museum, my god-daughter asked, "Where's Georgia?" Then we saw an entire separate quilt displayed on the next wall, just to make room for Georgia's list.
Perhaps this history of violence blinds our Bible-believing region to the fact that biblical standards for just executions have never been, and cannot be, met in this country. Instead, the Bible calls us to participate in God's endless mercy.
This recent execution also made me grow more determined to end executions. Over the years I've sent thousands of emails against the death penalty, written to governors and visited one in person, signed petitions and more.
What I needed now, emotionally and spiritually, was a way to express the deep groaning prayer of the Holy Spirit in many of us, a prayer for repentance and a turning toward God's new creation.
Do you remember the Bible story in which God sent a reluctant prophet, Jonah, to give the Ninevites another chance to repent?
When they repented they covered both themselves and their animals with "sackcloth."
Just imagine all the U.S. tools of execution being draped with sackcloth as our society repents and turns to God. To take one prayerful step in that direction, I draped my mailbox with sackcloth and will keep it there 40 days and explain the unsightly drape to my neighbors.
Another action has been to promote the training sessions for pastoral leaders that will take place in Louisville on Nov. 16 and Berea on Nov. 17. We opponents of the death penalty need to support each other and become more effective. Please read about it at the Kentucky Council of Churches web site, sign up and spread the word.
I spoke at a church-related college just before Davis was killed. An undergraduate from Norway said that people in many countries were trying to prevent this execution. Frederick's anguished questions about the death penalty, a practice repudiated in most of the world, kept my audience riveted.
Frederick, if you're reading this, please forgive us for failing to stop it — and pray for us.