As Teresa Lewis approaches her execution on Thursday, Sept. 23, my own process as her former chaplain has been painful.
Teresa has been cast off as a disposable person. She is borderline mentally retarded and in prison for a heinous crime for which the triggermen got life sentences. Sometimes I think it would be nice not to care. But I do.
Working with women in prison for 11 years changed me. I became someone who had to believe that redemption and transformation were more than mere words. I had to be the person to give them their chance. I was their chaplain. If God couldn’t believe in them anymore, how could they even try to believe in themselves?
Women in prison really do change. Not all of them – but enough to believe change is real. It comes as no surprise to me that Teresa Lewis changed. Or that people would be skeptical.
When confronted publicly with the worst decisions and moments of our lives, most of us would want to change and work toward something better.
Teresa is no different. The problem here is that the cost she exacted cannot be repaid. Two victims and one co-defendant are now dead. Countless lives have been destroyed or affected by this crime.
In my experience, evil works that way. It gets a hold of one and breeds easily and rapidly, enveloping anyone without the skills or immunity to avoid it. Once it has ravished all, it moves on, leaving destruction in its wake.
What is the antidote to all this pain and evil?
The woman caught in adultery was to be stoned to death. Her crime, a capital crime, applied only to one of the two caught in the act. She was a pawn in a power game – a disposable person. But, Jesus intervened saying, “Go and sin no more.”
What a crazy expectation – to sin no more – but he gave her that chance.
Our ability to allow God in – for good to grow from evil, by saying “sin no more” and giving people a chance – is the antidote. Allow people the dignity to choose a different way of being.
I came to a place where I no longer believed we were either good or evil. Likewise, advocating for something does not mean I am an adversary of something else. Without copping out, I strive to bring love to all facets of a circumstance.
God does not abandon us – one for the other. So I want to love as fully as my heart and mind can.
I’ve read many posts of hatred for Teresa. What she did cannot be undone. Yet the women in prison showed me that anger – even righteous anger – festers as it lingers.
If we do not wrestle with the choice to allow good into even the most awful evil, we risk becoming the monsters we detest.
“But we’ve earned our anger and it is ours!” we cry. That is the hard work of faith; struggling to become a new creation in Christ given the life we now face.
I hold in my heart the community that Teresa’s scheduled execution will affect. I hold the victims’ family and friends, the perpetrators’ family and friends, the staff assigned to this act, the media who cover it, the chaplain there now, the women at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women and their heavy grief for their fellow sojourner, the governor and his team with the decision-making power, the activists, the angry, the apathetic.
My faith says that if Teresa is executed as planned, she will go straight to the arms of Jesus. She’s going to be OK. Those of us who know and love Teresa will necessarily learn to live with her loss just as others had to do with their losses. Perhaps some will perceive that as just.
But I see such hostility, too. Teresa isn’t a saint. No one ever said she was. Yet Teresa is different now.
Beyond Teresa, what is behind our desire not to give anyone a chance to be more than their worst selves? Do we no longer believe that Christ transforms lives? At what point will we allow the possibility that good might come from this evil?
With all I’ve seen and experienced, I resign myself to this truth: What we do with her life says far more about who we are as a people of faith than it does about her.
Lynn Litchfield was chaplain at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women from 1997 to 2009. She is an ordained Baptist minister. For more information about this death row case, go to SaveTeresaLewis.org.
Editor’s note: If you would like to sign the petition to save Teresa Lewis, go here. The deadline for submitting signatures is today at noon ET.