I’m having lunch today with a hometown acquaintance to talk about the Robert Glen Coe case; he is writing about it. Robert Glen Coe was the first person in Tennessee to be executed in 40-some years back in April of 2000. It was very early in the morning of April 19th, as a matter of fact. I was there.
The case touched me in many ways. I was a freshman in high school when he kidnapped, raped, and murdered a little girl, Carrie Ann Medlin, who lived in the same county as I did. I heard about it at school, came home mad, and for the first time in my life used profanity in front of my mother: “They ought to find a tree and hang the [S.O.B.]” Instead of scolding me, she simply replied, “Is that the response of a Christian?” Ouch.
My opportunity for redemption came over 20 years later, when I served as pastor for the family of Robert Glen Coe during his many stays of execution and, finally, on that foggy cool morning when his life was ended. I’ve been with a lot of families when they have lost a loved one… but I’ve never been with a family while they sat and waited for their loved one to be intentionally put to death. It was, in a word, horrific. This wasn’t covered in pastoral care classes in seminary. It was a long ride home back with his two sisters that morning.
Don’t mishear me – murder is wrong. When I was on the county rescue squad later in life, I saw the murder scene pictures. They were awful. I know of no crime more horrific than what Coe was convicted of. But when asked about the death penalty, Jesus was fairly clear about what he thought about the matter. And God makes it clear that vengeance is His, not ours.
A lot of Christians are of the opinion that abortion is wrong; it’s a premeditated murder. I find myself agreeing with that. It is interesting to note that on Robert Glen Coe’s death certificate, the cause of death is “Homicide.” In short – capital punishment is a premeditated murder. I’m not sure Christians have any business being in the premeditated murder business.
There is no doubt that both of these issues are emotionally charged. If it had been my daughter who had been murdered, would I want revenge? Quite possibly. And if my wife’s life were possibly in danger because of the child she was carrying, would I want abortion to be a consideration? I imagine so. It may be that when our faith is thwarted by our passion, that’s when we need God and the Church the most to keep us honest.
These issues certainly fall into the messy and "gray." However, God can handle the messy and gray. More importantly, Jesus gives us the model to be with those who are in the midst of the messy and gray: that’s when people need us – and Jesus – the most.