Unsettling Advent 2023, Day 2
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
Danger seems to be lurking everywhere. Not the danger that will kill you immediately. More so, the type of danger that will kill you slowly, one choice at a time. I never thought working to abolish the death penalty would be this hard. You see, I’m a purist. I believe in moral absolutes … or at least I used to.
There is nothing clear about working with guys on death row. Of course, there is no question that we’re called to befriend and defend the condemned. The message of Jesus makes that abundantly clear. But what happens when the condemned asks you to participate in their execution? Of course, you’re simply being asked to be the resistance of love amidst evil, but what happens when you start feeling like part of the process?
This year, I’ve served as a spiritual advisor for four different men during their executions (Scott Eizember in Oklahoma, Arthur Brown in Texas, Anthony Sanchez in Oklahoma, and Casey McWhorter in Alabama). Each time, I’ve felt complicit. Maybe I’m being too hard on myself, but I guess that’s what a purist does. Yet, there is nothing pure about this process. It ensnares us all. We all become a little less human every time it happens. Even those of us who have dedicated our lives to ending the death penalty are not left out.
We try to do good. We try to stop these executions, but they still continue in all of our names. Even for someone like me who is just there to provide comfort, the burden of participation feels immense. I guess that’s the only way that this heinous practice is going to stop. We must all feel the burden of our own participation.
Truly, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God — but these executions viscerally solidify it. I guess I still believe in moral absolutes. But sometimes it’s good to be reminded that we haven’t arrived. There is still danger lurking everywhere. We just have to navigate it the best we can and hope that God forgives us when we fall short. Of course, hope is such a strange word to use when talking about executions … but what other word is there?
Rev. Dr. Jeff Hood is a minister, public theologian, and activist living and working in Little Rock, Arkansas. Learn more about his advocacy against the death penalty and ministry on death row in an interview with him on the Dangerous Dogma podcast.