Executing the Stations of the Cross
Wednesday, March 23, 2022
By: Rev. Joel Simpson, Pastor, FUMC Taylorsville
Executing the Stations of the Cross
Recently, the men on Tennessee’s death row painted the Stations of the Cross. Christian tradition says these events happened leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus. These stations have been used for hundreds of years to contemplate the death and resurrection of Jesus. While awaiting their own execution, these men contemplated the state-sanctioned execution of Jesus.
These images have been made available free via Red Letter Christians for us to post and print, but the artists have asked that they not be sold or reproduced commercially. Use them in your Holy Week worship or to start conversations with people.
You may access the low resolution images here.
You may access the high resolution images (for large prints) here.
As Christians, we claim to believe in redemption, mercy, and grace. Yet, somewhere around 90% of executions happen in the Bible Belt,[i] and nearly all of the states actively executing inmates have a Christian Governor. In short, executions continue to exist because we as Christians allow it.
This truth should make us pause and question whether we truly believe in redemption, mercy, and grace…or if we only believe in it for ourselves.
Our United Methodist Church says, “The death penalty denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore, and transform all human beings.” (Social Principles ¶164.G)
All life is sacred, valued, and never beyond redemption.
To complicate matters further, for every eight (8) people executed, one (1) person on death row has been exonerated.[ii] This statistic recently changed. It used to be that for every nine (9) people, one (1) person on death row was exonerated. (Why did that number change? Have we been putting more innocent people on death row or is there just more people working to show the injustice that has been done?)
How many innocent people have we executed? Rather than being crucified with Jesus, we may find ourselves standing with the centurion standing at the foot of the cross saying, “Surely this man was innocent” (Luke 23:47).
Ten of the eleven people executed in 2021 represented the most vulnerable or impaired of our society rather than the worst of us all. All but one had evidence of a serious mental illness, brain injury, developmental brain damage, intellectual disability, or serious childhood trauma, neglect, and/or abuse.[iii]
Being against the death penalty doesn’t mean being against justice. It means being against killing others to show that killing is wrong.
Being against the death penalty means choosing to believe nobody is beyond redemption.
May these images of our executed savior, created by men waiting to be executed, make us pause and wonder about mercy, grace, redemption, and forgiveness…our role in it all, and God’s role in it all.
From one of the men who helped create these images…
This piece of art is a commentary on the continuing battle for our collective moral worldview. It is a collaborative effort with several of my fellow artists, all of whom reside on Tennessee’s death row. Not all are Christians, or even religious. Several chose to be anonymous. I asked my fellow community members to help create this project to begin a conversation about what Justice looks like.
When Jesus was executed, Justice looked different than it does today. However, Justice today has some of the same components as it did back then. The guilty, as are the innocent, are subjected to this state-sanctioned process. As we understand it, state-sanctioned, means that, “We the People” – collectively speaking – uphold this system of Justice. So, based upon our support this system of Justice reflects our community’s sense of morals and values.
One of the biggest issues my sense of the “Christian” world has is dealing with the fact Jesus was not a Caucasian. This is also true here on death row, a microcosm of the larger “free-world” community. So we decided not to limit one another’s understanding of Jesus’ death or appearance.
During the two plus months it took to complete this project, we accepted criticism and positive critique from other non-participating community members. Some were fellow prisoners. Some were religious and secular volunteers. Some were correctional officers. It turned into a true community project.
I do not know how many opinions we changed inside during this project, but the dialogue was open and honest, beyond what even I imagined. Safe, open dialogue is a prerequisite for the community model created on this death row. We invited dialogue from anyone on how to change the paradigms of our collective lives with those that promote healing and reconciliation within our diverse communities.
In the Spirit of Love, Mercy, and Forgiveness,
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