Professsor sees hope in Gissendaner’s life

Melissa Browning was an organizer of a grassroots campaign to save the life of Kelly Gissendaner, who was eventually excecuted on Sept. 29 in Georgia. Despite that, Browning said she was encouraged by the anti-capital punishment passion she saw develop during the campaign.

By Jeff Brumley

Melissa BrowningMelissa Browning’s Facebook page tells the story. More specifically, it tells Kelly Gissendaner’s story.

Post after post describes the life and death of the Georgia inmate executed by lethal injection last week.

“The amazing grace of Kelly Gissendaner,” “Kelly Gissendaner execution is Georgia’s latest worldwide saga” and “Georgia executes first woman in 70 years” are just a few.

But these and the other headlines also reveal much about Browning — an assistant professor at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology — and her devoted service to the small army of organizers who waged a months-long public relations and social media campaign to save Gissendaner’s life.

While disappointed in the state’s refusal to show Gissendaner mercy, Browning, who had earned a theology certificate in a prison-based program provided by McAfee and other local divinity schools, said she was encouraged by the fierce determination of students and preachers, and especially Cooperative Baptist ministers.

– See more at Baptist News

In the news

Rev. Rick MixonA couple of years ago, at the behest of some of our members, we began the practice of occasionally using our Sunday morning adult education hour (Adult Spiritual Formation) to share and reflect on what is in the news. It’s had a couple of incarnations. This month (October 4) we will hold a session I’m calling “What’s New in the News?” Now I’m sure someone is bound to quip that “there’s nothing really new under the sun.” Our modern media just recycles the same old sad tales over and over again. Be that as it may, there are things going on in the world around us that cry out for our concern and comment, our compassion and our confession.

I started down this path because there are a couple of things all over my Facebook thread today that weigh heavy on my mind and heart. The first has to do with the threat to withdraw government funding of Planned Parenthood. To make this important health organization a pawn in the ongoing culture war over reproductive rights is to play with the vital health care of millions of women, largely women who are dependent on the high quality, inexpensive or free care that Planned Parenthood provides.

Today, 44 nationally recognized religious leaders, including my friend, Larry Greenfield, Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metropolitan Chicago, released a statement supporting Planned Parenthood and urging Congress to resist efforts to deny federal funding to Planned Parenthood’s health centers. Their simple statement reads:

“As religious leaders, we urge Congress to resist efforts to deny federal funds to Planned Parenthood’s non-profit health centers that provide crucial reproductive health care. We ask for an end to politically motivated attacks on women’s sexual and reproductive health. We know that Planned Parenthood provides essential lifesaving services to almost three million people each year, including the most vulnerable families in the U.S. As religious leaders, we support family planning as a means of saving lives, improving reproductive and public health, enhancing sexuality, and encouraging intentional parenthood. We stand with people of faith who have supported Planned Parenthood for nearly one hundred years.”

I would gladly sign this statement if asked.

Part of what moves me in this direction is the personal testimony of friends and acquaintances over many years to the value of the organization. I was particularly moved today when someone posted a picture of my dear friend, Elizabeth Patrick, in her pink t-shirt, demonstrating in support of Planned Parenthood. She worked for them for several years and believed deeply in the importance of their services. The caption read, “Elizabeth, you were there standing with Planned Parenthood! We felt you among us.” As do I. Culture wars aside, Jesus said some things about caring for those most in need. I believe Planned Parenthood does exactly that and deserves our support.

The other heart-wrenching story is that Kelly Gissendaner, scheduled to be executed on Tuesday night by the state of Georgia for her role in murdering her husband, Douglas, 15 years ago. Kelly’s story of repentance and redemption, plus the reports of assistance and hope she has provided for other prisoners notwithstanding, execution by the state is still a barbaric practice. State-sanctioned murder is still murder and rights no wrong. Again, Jesus had some things to say about nonviolence as a way of life that ought to speak loudly in situations like this.

Baptist ethicist David Gushee posted this today:

So unless the drugs come up cloudy again, Kelly Gissendaner will die tonight in Georgia, despite the protests of the Pope and many others. The fundamental reason to oppose the death penalty, as a Christian, is because it is bad public policy, especially in light of the kingdom of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It chooses death when life imprisonment is an option; it chooses merciless punishment over even the tiny measure of mercy signaled by life in prison as an alternative punishment. Georgia is not made more secure. Justice, at least as the “justice from below” of the prophets and Jesus, is not advanced. A dangerous person is not removed from society; that person, no longer dangerous, has already been removed from society off to a highly secure prison. The fact that the death penalty is applied so arbitrarily, so capriciously, so much tied to good or bad lawyering or good or bad social and geographic location, is of course all the more reason to think it is bad public policy whether you care about Jesus or not. No one wins tonight. Many grieve.

In spite of the pleas of all three of her children, a former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court and Pope Francis himself, Kelly was still scheduled to die Tuesday night. Justice is not served. Life is not served. The God of second chances, of compassion, mercy and grace is not served. Indeed, “no one wins tonight” and many of us will grieve the unnecessary loss of another human life.

There is much more that is new in the news. If you get this in time, join us Sunday to share your own concern and comment, compassion and even confession. This is a place where all are welcome and will be heard.

Yours on the journey.

Pastor Rick