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Global theologians rally around death-row inmate, call for clemency
The story of death-row inmate Kelly Gissendaner has inspired an international conversation about religious teachings on capital punishment. - photo by Kelsey Dallas
The impending execution of Georgia death-row inmate Kelly Gissendaner has an international audience. Her transformation from convicted murderer to budding theologian is inspiring blogs, outcries from religious leaders and a social media hashtag.

Gissendaner was the subject of this weekend's "Beliefs" column in The New York Times. Writer Mark Oppenheimer highlighted her pursuit of a theology degree while in prison and her four-year friendship with Jrgen Moltmann, an acclaimed religious thinker.

"I have found her very sensitive, and not a monster, as the newspapers depicted her. And very intelligent. She has changed her mind, and her life," Moltmann told The Times.

The column, as well as impassioned pleas for a stay of execution from Gissendaner's religious mentors, brought her case to the attention of people of faith around the world. A petition to stop her execution had more than 75,000 signatures on Groundswell by Monday evening, and a news release distributed through Religion News Service noted that around 100 theologians have written letters of support.

Although her supporters said it was their faith that called them to speak up, majorities of most of America's large religious groups favor capital punishment, according to a March 2014 study from Pew Research Center.

"Roughly six-in-10 or more white evangelical Protestants (67 percent), white mainline Protestants (64 percent) and white Catholics (59 percent) express support for the death penalty," Pew reported.

These results contradict the official teachings of the Catholic Church and most mainline Protestant denominations, Catherine Woodiwiss noted in a piece for Sojourners.

Gissendaner was convicted in 1998 of conspiring to kill her husband. Her boyfriend carried out the brutal murder and received a life sentence, NBC News reported.

As The New York Times' column noted, "a lot of convicted felons find God while in prison." Conversion stories are thought to benefit requests for parole, because redemption stories add to a convict's claim to have changed. It's a situation that cast a shadow over Gissendaner's story.

Georgia's State Board of Pardons and Paroles denied her appeal for clemency last week and a request for reconsideration on Monday, NBC News reported.

Scheduled for 7:00 p.m. EST on Monday, the execution was postponed late in the day when offcials encountered problems with the lethal-injection drugs. Officials were also waiting on the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on Gissendaner's appeal, the Associated Press reported.

Regardless of what happens this week, Gissendaner's legacy will live on in the work of her theology professor, Jennifer McBride, as well as in the prayers of Christian leaders like Moltmann, Oppenheimer wrote.

"If the State of Georgia has no mercy, she has received already the mercy of heaven," Moltmann said.
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