by Rev. Karl Kroger
(Written for the Pierre, SD Newspaper (www.capjournal.com) for September 23, 2011)
As I write this, a man I deeply care about is about to be executed. Unless a miracle occurs, when you read this, Troy Davis will be dead. Despite overwhelming evidence that casts doubt on his conviction, the powers that be in the state of Georgia are not concerned. Though Troy Davis and I have never met, I consider Troy Davis my friend. What do you do when someone is about to kill your friend?
Three years ago, while helping with a colleague’s youth retreat, I felt the call of God to help save a man’s life. In between the boat rides and the campfires, I could not stop thinking about the very real possibility that Georgia might execute someone who was innocent.
It seemed as if very few people even cared that the criminal justice system might have gotten it wrong. It seemed as if a flawed conviction only mattered, if it personally affected you. For most of the people and most of the churches in Georgia, permanently punishing the wrong man was not important.
But it was important to me. How as a society could such an ugly distortion of justice be tolerated? Furthermore, what if it was you or me, who was wrongly accused of a crime, and no one cared? Wouldn’t we want people to wake up and demand that all the facts be taken into account?
Praying for God to lead and guide me, trusting in the Holy Spirit to convict my heart, and compelled by Jesus’ command to love my neighbor, I surrendered myself to God to be used for the Kingdom. And so began my intense battle to save Troy Davis’ life.
Soon I began calling upon people to pray, to fight, and to offer advice. Within days, I recruited a few seminary friends to join me in the fight. We then rallied our seminary and our entire university, joining in with the people all across Atlanta, the state of Georgia, and around the world.
Momentum began to build and we started working with other organizations already fighting for Troy, including the NAACP, Amnesty International, and Georgian’s for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. The state was committed to killing Troy Davis, but we were determined to do everything we could to stop them.
And because of our actions, the intervention of the courts, and miracles, we did; three execution dates were put on hold. The instantaneous shouts of joy and songs of praise on those days were glorious! Millions of people worked to save Troy Davis’ life. We marched and we protested, we held vigils and we prayed, and we wrote letters and hung banners on the freeway.
All of the details of the case, the trials and appeals, the four execution dates are too lengthy to expound upon here. You should know however, that Troy Davis was found guilty of killing a cop, Officer Mark MacPhail. His death was wrong and is extremely tragic.
This week I watched as MacPhail’s daughter Madison, just a toddler at the time of her father’s death, spoke about the pain of growing up without a dad. She said there was something not right about living beyond your father’s final age. He died when he was only 27 years old.
As a Christian, I take seriously Jesus’ commands to love God and love my neighbor. Love, peace, kindness, and goodness are fruit of the Spirit and they are values of the Kingdom. They are part of the ways of God and they stand in contrast to murdering and executing people. Christians don’t all agree on that unfortunately, but surely we can agree that executing someone who is innocent or who has a strong case of innocence is stupid, unjust, and evil.
I grieve for Troy Davis, for his mother Virginia who died last year. What privilege to have known, embraced, and prayed with a woman of such grace and love. I grieve too for Officer MacPhail’s death, and for the pain his family still bears. May God bring healing and comfort to them.
Tonight my friend is scheduled to die. My heart breaks, but my hope is in Jesus Christ. And I know Troy’s is as well.
Rev. Karl Kroger's extensive work on behalf of Troy Davis began as a Candler School of Theology student in 2008. This advocacy inspired thousands to get involved with Troy's case and eventually led to Karl being awarded with Emory University's prestigious Humanitarian Award in 2009. Karl now resides in Pierre, South Dakota, where he is the pastor of Southeast Pierre United Methodist Church.
This article has been cross-posted with OnFire's blog, found at umonfire.blogspot.com.