*Lecture delivered in Columbus, Ohio on 10/9/2015
Queer theorists and theologians push against boundaries and borders until they are no more and the individual is liberated to exist in the perfect freedom that is being. Cosmologists study origins and the development of the universe. Tonight, I intend to push us into a queer cosmological experience. The spiritual experience of thinking about the last questions of those on death row teaches us about our origins and helps us to think about how we can move to a space beyond boundaries and borders.
Just a few short weeks back, I spent a few hours visiting Juan Garcia. Though we only knew each other for a short time, I’ve loosely based my talk tonight on some of the questions that Juan asked in our final meeting.
“Are you prepared to stand by as they kill me?”
The enormity of our cause should never be lost. We are participating in a struggle to save lives. Often, we are the last line of defense. The question of effort is a spiritual question. Do you believe in life enough to do all that you can to save it? To cede the question of life to the forces of death is a spiritual disease that has afflicted us for far too long. We must get rescued from our malaise. We must learn to push against the borders and boundaries of our laws that allow for executions to continually execute our consciences. Will we allow the machinery of death to continue with no resistance?
“Do you believe in forgiveness?”
We can’t expect to change the way that people think about the death penalty until we change the way that we think about ourselves. Some of the most hateful and unforgiving people I know are abolitionists. How are we going to encourage our society to show mercy to persons on death row when we refuse to show mercy? Did you begin in hate? Abolition begins pushing against the borders and boundaries within.
“Is there redemption?”
The death penalty is a moral cancer on our society primarily because it refuses to acknowledge the possibility of redemption. Redemption is a critical component of a morally and ethically healthy society. Redemption allows people to change and blows up our categories of good and evil. I believe redemption is the only way to guide people to love. Do you remember love?
“What will the end be like?”
In order to get where we want to go…we have to know what direction we are going. The eschatological question of the end is critical. Do you remember when we didn’t have a death penalty? Do we want to be a society where all life is valued? I believe the end is love and that our job is to work toward getting there. Do you believe that abolition is possible? You must first learn to believe before you can start heading that direction. The borders and boundaries of the mind are always the most difficult obstacle to abolition.
Imagine that you have engaged all of these questions with someone who is condemned to die and the guard knocks on the door to tell you, “It’s time.” The doors open and you take the final steps with the condemned. As tears roll down your face…you enter the execution chamber. Walking up to the condemned on the gurney, you look down to offer one last word and you are shocked by the face you see…it is your child.
This is how serious we must begin to think about our origins and abolition of the death penalty.