We’re getting right down to the wire, here. It’s Sunday morning. And most likely, David Powell will be poisoned to death by the state of Texas in Huntsville on Tuesday evening.
Imagine what this morning would feel like if you were a member of Ralph Ablanedo’s family–Ralph Ablanedo being, once again, the police officer, husband, and father of two who was murdered by David Powell thirty-two years ago.
And imagine what this morning would feel like if you were Marjorie Powell, David Powell’s mother, and you woke up knowing that your son only had two days left to live.
Now, I was raised in the Baptist church, and I became an Episcopalian. And before anybody laughs too hard, I’d like to repeat once more, I am a very, very bad Episcopalian. Mainly, I’m a crummy Episcopalian because the principles of Christian charity and compassion in which I believe, more often than not, have scant to do with my behavior. And I’d be an even worse Baptist, because not only am I gay, but I’m merry, and I’m also a proud feminist, and all that other jazz that Episcopalians go for and Baptists don’t.
So, just to summarize: I’m the world’s worst Christian, and any moral high-horse I might want to ride would buck me right out of the saddle.
That having been said, it does seem like those of us who were raised in Sunday school were raised with all these unimpeachably beautiful ideas that were intended to make us unimpeachably beautiful grown-ups. I mean, I’m not going to go into a whole lot of specifics, because I don’t want to get all preachy. But remember “Love thy brother as thyself?” And, “‘Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me?” And “The kingdom of God is within you?” And “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone?”
I wonder now, if were we just being told that because they wanted us to be real sweet to each other? Because they were terrified that we’d grow up to become homicidal maniacs unless they gave us a big fat dose of Christian goodness before it was too late?
I mean, I feel like as a child in the Christian faith, I was raised in the New Testament, and then, as a grown-up, I was expected to graduate into the Old Testament.
In general, I feel like when I was a kid, being a Christian meant being sweet and loving and forgiving. You know, the kind of forgiveness that HURTS. The kind of forgiveness that doesn’t MAKE ANY SENSE. Like, “Turn the other cheek.” Remember when your mother said that to you as a kid, and you thought, basically, “WTF? What the HELL are you talking about? Why would I want to turn the other cheek? Are you completely INSANE?”
Or when some grown-up, who seemed like an idiot at the time, basically explained to you the concept of radical Christian compassion? That Christianity is a faith without weaponry? That the reason Christ was so fundamentally dangerous to the government under which he lived was because his example of love and compassion was undermining the authority of the state? That Christ practiced his love so completely that it was actually a subversive act? And that THIS was the ideal we were meant to try to live up to?! UGH.
I mean, I’m sorry, folks. It’s pretty insufferable of me to repeat all this, like I’m telling you something new. Because I know I’m not.
It’s just that we were ALL–Christian or whatever–raised on “Turn the other cheek.” NONE of our mothers ever said to us, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” I mean, can you imagine? Can you imagine your brother kicks the shit out of you, and your mother looks at you and says, “Well, Robert, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. You’d better go kick the shit out of your little brother, kiddo.” Who would want to live in that family? That sounds terrifying.
In fact, it’s not until you’re a teenager that anybody starts seriously saying to you, “Well, the Bible says, ‘an eye for an eye….” And that “an eye for an eye” somehow becomes the real world, grown-up, mature position. Radical compassion may be appropriate for the nursery, because we don’t want kids getting out of hand, but then you have to grow up, and GET REAL. Because even if nobody ever actually says it, you absorb the message that the New Testament is for children and dreamers, and the Old Testament is for grown-ups and getting real.
Anyway, here’s all I’m trying to say. I wish I hadn’t been taught all that “Love your brother” crap, if I wasn’t supposed to really believe it. If it was like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, and all that other pretty, sentimental bullshit that I wasn’t supposed to believe after the age of seven or eight. I mean, I actually think that’s a pretty sound metaphor. Saying to somebody, as a grown-up, “well, the kingdom of God is within you,” sounds just about as absurd and creepy as a grown-up believing in the Easter Bunny.
And that’s why, when you’re talking about the death penalty, and somebody says, “an eye for an eye,” it sounds reasonable. And when you’re talking about the death penalty, and somebody says, “love thy brother as thyself,” you just want to roll your eyes and throttle that person.
I wish, that if those nice old Baptist ladies who taught Sunday school really hadn’t meant all that “sweet” Jesus stuff, if it was all just a sucker punch for the big dose of Leviticus that was coming later, that they would have just shut up about it to begin with. Because if nobody really ever intended us to practice radical compassion as grown-ups, then Sunday school was just a big waste of time, wasn’t it?
I mean, hell, you know what I still don’t know how to do? Sew a button. I can’t sew a button, or change the oil in my car, or speak Spanish, and all of that would have been really, really useful to me as a grown-up. But I CAN quote these big, useless chunks out of the Book of Matthew! Which is all completely useless to me, if I wasn’t really expected to take it seriously.
Anyway, folks, I’m just thinking out loud here. What the hell do I know? I can’t even sew a button, for Pete’s sake.
And in the meantime, David Powell, who killed Ralph Ablanedo thirty-two years ago–has two days left to live, before he’s poisoned to death by the state of Texas.
Here’s a photograph of “The Death Chamber.”
And here’s a clip from a movie about David:
And here’s a website devoted to David’s case:
And here’s a link to the Texas Moratorium Network’s petition campaign on