Melissa Browning, Ph.D.
Atlanta, Georgia USA

Melissa Browning is a theologian, ethicist, and activist who studies congregational and community-based responses to injustice. Melissa teaches at McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University where she is the Assistant Professor of Contextual Ministry. For the past 17 years Melissa’s study and fieldwork has been tied to East Africa. Her recent book, "Risky Marriage: HIV and Intimate Relationships in Tanzania," builds on a year of fieldwork completed in Mwanza, Tanzania where women were asked to re-imagine Christian marriage as a space of safety and health for women. Melissa is also active in death penalty abolitionist work in Georgia and is an ordained Baptist minister.

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Death Penalty

Lending Our Voices to Kelly

By on May 2, 2015

This post originally appeared at Huffington Post on May 2, 2015


Last week, I wrote a blog post about Kelly Gissendaner’s life and I’ll admit that when I wrote the post I felt somewhat hopeless. I didn’t think that changing the story would do much to save Kelly. I didn’t think there was much we could do. But then yesterday I learned something. In the state of Georgia, the Board of Pardons and Paroles (who denied Kelly’s clemency) can reverse their decision at any time.

As long as Kelly still has breath, hope is still alive.

Hope has been a major theme in Kelly’s life. I imagine it sounded strange, even presumptuous, for members of the GA Board of Pardons and Paroles to hear people who know Kelly talk about her theology of hope. It probably seemed odd to hear that Kelly was in correspondence with a famous theologian named Jürgen Moltmann — a name who is associated with the “theology of hope.” (And if you haven’t heard this amazing piece of Kelly’s story, then you must read more here)

But the idea of hope is irresistible for people of faith. In reading Moltmann, Kelly learned about a hope that finds the pinnacle in the exodus from Egypt and the resurrection of Christ. And this resurrection hope is not just for some future by and by, the heaven beyond this life, but it is a resurrection that can change the world, here and now. It is a resurrection that can set us free. Yes, this idea of hope is irresistible.

As Kelly sits on death row, waiting for an execution on Monday (only six days before her birthday), Christian churches are in the season of Lent. We are waiting for Easter, waiting for the resurrection of Christ to break again into this world again. We are waiting for the world to be reborn in God’s goodness.

The good news for this faith — a faith of the exodus and the resurrection — is that God has mercy, even on the worst of of us. Scripture reminds us that God called people with murderous pasts — King David, Moses, the Apostle Paul — they all had a role in taking the life of someone else yet even after this, God still uses them and calls them to God’s work.

So today I invite you to join me in hope and act in hope that Kelly might live. You can listen to Kelly’s story in her own words by watching this powerful video. You can share her story through social media and help change the conversation about Kelly’s case (#KellyOnMyMind). You can contact the GA Board of Pardons and Paroles and ask them to reverse their decision. You can call Governor Deal’s officeor reach out on Twitter and remind him (as a fellow person of faith) that his hands are NOT tied. He can put politics aside and take up the Christian mantle of mercy and ask the Parole Board to reconsider Kelly’s case. You can encourage faith leaders you know to sign this letter. Or you can sign a petition here.

No, we are not hopeless. As Kelly said in her graduation speech from her program in theology, “Hope is still alive!”