For those who dare to turn the nightly news on or reading the morning paper you see it every day. Bloodshed. Murders, hatred, violence, anger, and the acceptance of degrading others. If you do not turn on the news or have canceled your newspaper subscription, you need only log into your social media account to see the hatred that is spilling over in this life. We are bleeding humanity and the church is doing it wrong.
Before I get into how to perhaps address this bleeding, I want to clarify something. The “church” is more than your deacons, priests, bishops, and the pope. The “church” is YOU. It is the laity and those who are faithful. It is those who attend Mass, teach their children prayers, observe Holy Days, and those who give of their time, talent, or resources. The “church” is YOU. So, when I use the word “church”, I am referring to you and not just those in leadership.
On February 20, 2020 the State of Tennessee executed an inmate named Nicholas Sutton. He was sentenced to death for killing another inmate while in jail. He had been sentenced to life in prison for several other murders he committed when he was in his late teens, early 20s. He was a drug addict and committed heinous murders. He was denied clemency by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and, therefore, was executed despite the pleas of many individuals – including prison guards who said he saved their life. Some family members of his victims even asked for his life to be spared, including jurors who initially sentenced him to death said they saw a change in him and asked for his life to be spared. But, Governor Lee denied the clemency request and the state executed him. Why does it matter? Let’s take a brief look not specifically at his case but at how his case reveals a severe problem in the society and why our culture is bleeding humanity.
Three prison guards, according to Sutton’s clemency application, said Sutton had saved their lives while he was in prison. Now, I have worked as a counselor in a prison and my husband still works in a segregation unit in a prison. If you know anyone in law enforcement, you know there are not many of them who will take a stand in support of inmates. But, not one but three claim Sutton saved their life.
Tony Eden said Sutton escorted him to safety and protected him during a prison riot and hostage situation that, according to Eden, he believes he would have died in having it not been for Sutton. Cheryl Donaldson said she slipped and fell while carrying her keys and radio and, rather than taking advantage of the situation like most inmates would have done, Sutton helped her stand up and alerted staff to come to her aide. Sheriff’s Deputy Howard Ferrell said Sutton prevented another inmate from hitting him in the back of the head and potentially killing him.
Sutton said he had become a Christian and had told many, including his family members, that he had conversations about God with others in prison that eventually led to him asking for forgiveness and turning his life around. Why does that matter? Because in the end, all life is of value and every life has dignity and worth. Yes, the Catholic Church and even some great saints have said there are situations in which the death penalty should be carried out but those are rare and extreme circumstances. It basically says a person should be executed if they pose a potential harm to society. Sutton was on death row and was not a harm to society. He even showed he was an asset and had helped others, despite never seeing freedom again. The three Catholic bishops in Tennessee sent letters requesting clemency for Sutton, yet were not successful.
If we, as Christians, are going to say we are pro-life then we have to be pro ALL life, not just the unborn. We have become a culture that tolerates, and even approves, the killing of life if we believe it to be justified, such as the death penalty. If we support the execution of a person, any individual, and yet stand on the sidewalks with signs proclaiming we are pro-life then how are we any different than others who just have political opinions. Our pro-life advocacy becomes about politics rather than the sacredness and dignity of human life.
In a statement regarding pro-life legislation Governor Lee introduced in January 2020, just a month before denying clemency to Sutton, he said “I believe that every human life is precious, and we have a responsibility to protect it. Today, Tennessee is taking a monumental step in celebrating, cherishing, and defending life at every stage.” Does that “every” life include those who have been convicted of heinous crimes? Does that “every life” include those who have wasted most of their life in doing evil rather than good? Who does “every life” include and exclude?
I am not attacking Governor Lee for his decision because this is not about politics. I am simply using his statements and example as an example of the problem we as a society have, including Christians. Most of us, I would dare to say, could fit into the same category as Gov. Lee. We are pro-life for the unborn and pro-death penalty for those who have murdered.
“This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost.” (I Timothy 1:15). The apostle Paul writes to Timothy that he is the worst of all sinners but that Christ came to save those just like him. Paul was a murderer. He was a modern day terrorist in a sense. Yet, he became one of the most powerful voices of the Church. He wrote most of our New Testament, yet we yell “death” to those who kill in today’s society.
Would you be pro-life if you knew the unborn child you are wanting protected would grow up to be a killer? Would you be pro-life if you knew the unborn child you are asking to save would grow up to be a drug addict, rapist, and thief?
If we are going to be pro-life then we need to be ALL-LIFE. Perhaps, maybe when we begin defending ALL-LIFE and not just that of the unborn then our voices will be heard much louder. Perhaps then we can stop the bleeding of humanity. Perhaps then we can make a real difference.
Ending abortion will not stop the bleeding. Pro-life legislation will not stop the violence and hatred in our society UNTIL we stand for ALL life, not just some lives.