The Gospel of Kelly Gissendaner

By Shane Claiborne 3-02-2015
Hands on prison bars. Image courtesy Kaspars Grinvalds/shutterstock.com
Hands on prison bars. Image courtesy Kaspars Grinvalds/shutterstock.com

Georgia clergy just delivered 500 signatures of faith leaders and 40 boxes of names from around the world — calling for a stop to tonight’s execution of Kelly Gissendaner. And there are more than 55,000 folks on the Groundswell petition that launched just yesterday, and more than 1,000 new names are coming in every hour. 

But some suggest it is like speaking into thin air — that there is no chance the governor or the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole will listen. After all, Georgia has already executed two people this year, more than any state other than Texas.

But there’s a Georgia case that would suggest otherwise, that all this may not be in vain — that of Billy Moore.

After 17 years on death row for a murder he openly confessed to doing, Billy Moore’s execution was stopped — by a groundswell of support from faith leaders (including Mother Teresa), people of conscience, and even the victim’s family. And it was the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole that stopped his imminent execution. In fact, they eventually decided his rehabilitation was so complete and compelling that he was eligible for parole a year later.

So thousands of Georgia citizens and folks around the world are hopeful. Tonight there is an opportunity — not to be “soft on crime” or to ignore wrongdoing, but to bear witness that redemption is possible. Tonight Georgia leaders have a chance to recognize that people can be healed, rehabilitated, restored — and that they do not have to be forever held hostage and defined by the worst decision they made.

Like Billy Moore, Kelly Gissendaner is the quintessential story of a life converted, transformed, saved by faith in Jesus. Not only is she a Christian, she is now a pastor — just like Billy Moore.

And her life is a sermon, a much-needed sermon in the heart of the Bible belt. The message is this — God so loved the world, that Christ came, not to condemn to the world but to save us (John 3:16). 

We were worth saving. And Kelly certainly was not saved in order to be executed — she was saved so that her life can be a witness of God’s love and grace. 

We are wounded healers. Those who have made terrible choices, just like Billy Moore and Kelly Gissendaner, often become some of the most credible voices in the world of the power of God to redeem sinners. 

That is the truth of the Gospel — no one is beyond redemption. If we don’t believe that, half of the Bible is discredited, because it was written by folks who committed murder — Moses, David, Saul of Tarsus. The Bible would be much shorter without grace. But thank God we have people like them, like Kelly, like you and me who remind us that the Good News is that God’s grace is bigger than our sins.

The Gospel of Kelly Gissendaner is still being written. I hope and I pray, along with hundreds of thousands of others around the world, that the Gospel of Kelly is not cut short tonight by the state of Georgia. 

Shane Claiborne is a Red Letter Christian and a founding partner of The Simple Way community, a radical faith community that lives among and serves the homeless in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. He is the co-author, with Chris Haw, of Jesus for President.

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