Yes, that’s right: I used to be a murderer. That probably comes as a shock to most of you. I mean, this is Pastor Mary Jo, champion of non-violence and believer in the holiness of all life–Pastor Mary Jo, who doesn’t even eat meat, for crying out loud! Besides, how can someone who was a murderer stop being one? Once a murderer, always a murderer, right?
Let me tell you a story. It could be a parable or a fairy tale… but it isn’t. It really happened, but because it involves people who probably don’t want their personal business bandied all over the internet, and because the details aren’t important, I’m only going to tell you that I was convinced that someone was such a threat to my family that I designed a detailed plan to commit murder if I thought it necessary.
I knew that even contemplating murder was sinful. I knew that it would cause God sorrow, that it would tear my family apart and cause them even more hurt. I knew that I would either be killed myself or go to prison for a very long time; I was willing to pay the price–even though I knew how evil it was.
Fortunately, that “someone” disappeared from the picture and I came to my senses in pretty short order… although I can’t say for certain which came first, his departure or my repentance.
The point is I am not the same person I was when I plotted to take a human life, the life of someone who had value as a child of God and who had people who loved him every bit as passionately as I loved my family. I am not even the same person I was when I felt angry at my spouse earlier this week.
You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.
(Matthew 5:21-22, RSV)
People who physically commit murder have a possibility of being rehabilitated. In the years that follow sentencing an individual may come to realize the wrongness of what they’ve done, to repent, to “find God, ” to become a better person, to grow. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. ” (1 Corinthians 13:11, RSV) When the switch is pulled or the poison injected all of that potential for positive change is destroyed.
Troy Davis may or may not have killed a police officer in 1989. Lawrence Russell Brewer was unquestionably involved in the brutal and racially motivated murder of a black man ten years later. What they have in common is that both were executed on September 21, 2011–one in Georgia, the other in Texas. Their deaths did not serve to resurrect the men who were murdered–Mark MacPhail and James Byrd, Jr. Their executions were not acts of justice; they were acts of retribution.
Thank God, I didn’t act on my sin of the heart. I had a chance to change, to grow, to contribute to the world in a positive way. With just a few different choices… it could have been me. I used to be a murderer.