Tonight I will be attending my first execution vigil. I will be standing in a dark field outside the Greensville prison in Jarratt, Virginia when Teresa Lewis is killed by the Commonwealth of Virginia at 9 p.m.
This is new for me. Before I understood that there are two models of justice, I thought the death penalty made sense. I reasoned that there were some people who committed such heinous acts that they no longer deserved to live in our society. They deserved to be killed. It seemed logical for the state to carry out this killing on behalf of citizens like me.
I remember when my thinking about this began to change. It was 1987. I had just begun to read A Course in Miracles after a young woman who I had hired as an associate in my law firm recommended it. I could understand little of this unusual text, but knew that it was describing a world very different from the one I inhabited as a busy trial attorney.
Eventually, I came to a concept that was patently clear. I had no difficulty understanding this: there are two models of justice, vengeance and love. I immediately knew that I was deeply immersed in the vengeance model of justice. I also knew that I had to find out what a model of justice grounded in love would look like. This was a foreign concept to me, and yet I knew that it had to exist.
Then and there this journey began. Questions that I had never heard asked began to tumble around in my head. Could these two models of justice be related, in some way, to the impetus for founding our nation? Would the discoveries of quantum physics that prove our interconnectedness help see the world through this different lens? What does the Bible have to say about these two models of justice? What do other religions teach that may be relevant to two models of justice? I began to see things differently.
In this frame, the Sermon on the Mount took on new meaning. Jesus commanded us to give up "an eye for an eye" justice in favor of a model of justice that extends love to those who persecute us. He said to turn the other cheek, not answer harm with more harm. I realized that the Sermon on the Mount is talking about these two models of justice, vengeance and love!
The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden fit within this context, as well. The couple was told not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Justice as vengeance depends on our dividing the world between good and evil, so that the "good" people can do the same thing the "evil" people are doing (such as killing), but see their acts as moral, while condemning the "evil" people's similar acts. Not infrequently, those who throw the stones are no better than those being stoned.
When we divide the world between good and evil, we get caught in this trap of dual morality, thinking its insanity is sane. When we label some as evil, while considering ourselves as good, not seeing that the differences are far less than we would like to think, we cannot live in the Garden of Eden. It withers and dies. In this mindset, we evict ourselves from a peaceful, harmonious world and replace it with vengeance, retribution and death.