Today, I, along with Christians worldwide, recognize the darkest day in humanity’s history: the day we killed God. The day we sentenced Love to death. The day we gave in to our darkest impulses and, fearing what we didn’t understand, humiliated it, brutalized it, murdered it, and desecrated it. Today is Good Friday.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus was first flogged and tortured both emotionally and physically, and then forced to walk nearly half a mile carrying the instrument of his death on his back. When he arrived at the hill where he was to be killed, thick stakes were driven into his hands or wrists and ankles and he was lifted to hang from a cross until he died. The Bible describes his death as lasting six hours, approximately 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Some contemporary crucifixions were reported to last as long as four days with the cause of death one or more from a list of indistinguishable possibilities: asphyxiation, heart failure, sepsis, dehydration, or animal predation. This was a death reserved for slaves, pirates, and enemies of the state, designed as a gruesome spectacle to serve as an example.

Next Wednesday, John William King will be strapped to a gurney and attached to heart monitors. Orderlies will stick two needles into his most accessible usable veins and connect them by long plastic tubes to IV drips that are rigged to release on command rather than immediately upon hook up. On the warden’s signal, a curtain that hides John from his onlookers, the family of his victim and any reporters or other people who have been chosen as witnesses, will be pulled out of the way. Then the IV drips will begin one at a time: a saline drip will start everything off, get everything moving in the correct direction, then an anesthetic will put John to sleep, then a full-body paralytic agent will stop his breathing and prevent his limbs from convulsing as the final drip of potassium chloride stops his heart. Moments later, a doctor, who is ethically disallowed from participating in the actual execution, will pronounce him dead. This kind of death is, in Texas, reserved for people found guilty of criminal homicide with at least one of nine aggravating circumstances as defined under Texas law.

A week from next Thursday, Dexter Johnson will undergo the same procedure. In the past four months, Texas has executed two other people in the same manner—fifteen in the past year. We long ago decided that flogging, humiliation, and nailing people to beams to hang for hours or days until they succumb to whatever elements take them first was inhumane, unethical. Instead, we have gone through the centuries trying to find the least unpalatable way for the state to kill its people. Murder of one human by another is almost always considered a crime, though sometimes an excusable one given certain circumstances. Murder of one human by their government is sometimes considered necessary. In Texas, it has been considered necessary more than in any other state, since 1976. It has been considered necessary more often when the victims of the homicide were white. It has been considered necessary disproportionately often when the criminal under consideration was black.

Pending before the Texas state legislature right now is House Bill 896, which would expand the definition of “criminal homicide” to include instances where the victim is an unborn or stillborn child. In such instances, a child’s death may be considered homicide if it is brought about by any person, any medical procedure, or the dispensation of any drug. HB 896 specifically states that “Any federal law, executive order, or court decision that purports to supersede, stay, or overrule this Act is in violation of the Texas Constitution…and is therefore void.”

If this bill were to become law, it is conceivable that a doctor who terminates a pregnancy in order to save the life of the mother could be charged with homicide and imprisoned. If this bill were to become law, it is conceivable that a woman whose child is born fatally premature due to that woman’s use of drugs could be sentenced to death. If this bill were law two months ago, it is conceivable that the twenty-four-year-old Honduran woman who delivered a stillborn baby while in an ICE detention facility in Texas could be strapped to the same gurney that Dexter Johnson will see in two weeks, and administered the same drugs for what would be considered an equivalent crime.

Today is Good Friday. Today we mourn what we did to our God, who so loved us that he offered himself as a sacrifice for our sins against him and against each other. Today we sing songs that lament the treatment of humans by other humans, that decry the injustice of state-sanctioned murder, that thank God for his unending forgiveness and grace that allows us to move on after committing such atrocities.

Next Wednesday is just a Wednesday. No one has written any songs for Wednesday.

post calvin direct

Get new posts from Mary Margaret Healy delivered straight to your inbox.

Comments