the theology of killing: jesus and our brother romell broom

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Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

the theology of killing: jesus and our brother romell broom

death penalty

right now, at the southern ohio correctional facility in lucasville, ohio, 53-year old romell broom is awaiting his execution.

for the second time.

yesterday afternoon, an “execution team” (wow…there’s a team we can all rally behind…) spent over 2 hours trying to find a usable vein that would accept the IVs that carry the 3 lethal chemicals that induce death. each time the executioners attempted to access a vein, it collapsed when attempting to introduce the first chemical. stephen majors, an ap reporter, covered the story with literally nauseating coverage. you can click here to read the full story, but here’s a snippet of the account:

After the team spent nearly an hour trying to find a workable vein, Broom tried to help them bring him a quicker death. He turned over on his left side, slid rubber tubing designed to clarify his veins up his left arm, then began moving the arm up and down while flexing and closing and opening his fingers. The execution team was able to access a vein, but it collapsed when technicians tried to insert saline fluid.

Broom then became visibly distressed, turning over on his back and covering his face with both hands. His torso heaved up and down and his feet shook, as he appeared to be crying. He wiped his eyes and was handed a roll of toilet paper, which he used to wipe his brow.

He sat up at the end of the bed and talked with his execution team.

The team had been asking Broom whether he wanted a break, but he chose to push ahead, as did the execution staff, prisons director Terry Collins said. Collins then insisted on a break and contacted the governor to let him know about the difficulties.

he goes on further to say,

At about 3:20, the team tried to insert shunts through veins in Broom’s legs as he sat upright on the table. He looked up several times during the process and appeared to grimace. A member of the execution team reached over and patted him on the back.

please read these lines again:

Broom then became visibly distressed, turning over on his back and covering his face with both hands. His torso heaved up and down and his feet shook, as he appeared to be crying.

A member of the execution team reached over and patted him on the back.


after hours of unsuccessful attempts, the prison director terry collins contacted the governor, stating that a temporary reprieve would be necessary. so, mr. broom will have to sit in a cell, facing his imminent death for another week.

it’s no mystery to people who know me or read my blog that i’m 100% against the death penalty. in fact, this is one of my most passionate issues. regardless of the scenario, i believing killing of any sort—especially state-sanctioned killing—is wrong.

many, of course, do not share my opinions. many of those who disagree, at very least, agree that the death penalty shouldn’t be “cruel and unusual” (although there are certainly many people who take great pleasure in people actually dying in cruel and unusual ways). while i, as stated, am against the death penalty completely, surely most of us can agree that “cruel and unusual” is against our moral standards as a society.

the botched execution of romell broom and now, the subsequent week-long postponement of his death is both cruel and unusual.

can you imagine what it must be like to sit in a cage for 20+ years waiting for this one day and the emotions that must well up as you approach that day? to let that build and build and then be told, ‘sorry, we messed up. wait for another week. we’ll do it all again.’ that, friends, is cruel and unusual.

to broaden the conversation, it’s time for our society to take a long, hard look at the death penalty. i could rattle off a bunch of statistics about overturned convictions thanks to dna or the cost of killing someone vs. imprisoning them for life or other relevant numbers, but that’s not the primary appeal that i believe is necessary.

i want to ask what kind of society are we when we kill other human beings? street violence is terrible. but state-sanctioned killing is horrendous. and cruel. and unusual. we lower ourselves to a place of utter barbarism and moral depravity when killing is our solution for some of our deepest problems.

why do people engage in horrendous acts of violence and criminal activity? is it because they are terrible people? is it because they are forever broken? or is it something much more endemic of our culture? is it something that jesus people have a mandate to engage with but haven’t?

for me, killing people who do bad things is less about basic moral principles and more about jesus. who, statistically speaking, supports the death penalty the most? christians. people who claim to follow jesus. let me unequivocally state that endorsing the death penalty is incompatible with living in the way of jesus. period. killing others for revenge or to “settle the score” or even as a deterrent presents not only false analogies, but concepts contrary to jesus.

what’s compatible with jesus? grace. mercy. turning the other cheek. transcending “an eye for an eye.”

what’s compatible with jesus? loving a man who raped and murdered an innocent little 14 year old girl named tryna (which is what romell broom did). it’s showing grace to someone who seems unworthy of grace. it’s saying to mr. broom that he is just like me because he was made to look like god. it’s knowing for sure that someone is guilty of a crime and, in spite of that, engaging in relationship with him or her as a friend and brother or sister.

romell broom was treated cruelly and unusually. and so is every other person killed by our hands. let us—especially my christians brothers and sisters—have a consistent ethic of life that says that all humans—guilty or innocent—deserve life and mercy and love. let us see our enemies as we see ourselves.

i’ll leave you with a song that i’ve shared several times before here on the blog.

derek webb: my enemies are friends like me


  1. Jesse says:


    The hardest part for me is the forgiving. An eye for an eye just leaves a room full of blind men. (thanks Dave Matthews for the lyric.) We have to learn to forgive and view each other as equals.
    It seems the label of "criminal" or "felon" carries a heavy burden in the US. But while I may have never stabbed someone in the chest I let people die every day when I trade comfort for human life. (thanks Derek Webb for the song lyric) While I have never raped another person, I have intentionally taken advantage of other people for my own benefit.
    I'm a flawed human like anyone else. We all need to be cured of this sin illness. And love is the only cure. Revenge is not the cure. Showing love for hate can do one of two things cure the hate or at least contain it. Returning hate for hate (also known as revenge and "justice") only spreads it.

  2. Holly says:

    Sleep deprived and not even close to lucid, I can only think to say this: thanks so much for this post. Like you, the death penalty is one of the causes I'm most passionate about, and you've just made an absolutely ineffable appeal not only to common sense, but to anyone who claims Christ. I'm moved.

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