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The Death Penalty in Wyoming

When I arrived in Wyoming to serve the United Methodist Churches that I have been appointed to serve in Powell and Lovell, I was warned – this is Wyoming – it is different! And wow, they were right! Wyoming is a beautiful and rugged state, so very different from places I have lived in the past. Wyoming is a state that is fiercely proud of all that it has to offer. It has a history that is steeped deeply in the traditions of the “Old West”. In that tradition, it is easy to reflect on the figures in history that took matters into their own hands as justice (usually in the form of killing, was rendered.) But there is another side to that rugged individualism that served those who lived in the “Wild West” and that is the spirit that I have heard described more than once to describe in the locals telling me what it means to be a Wyomingian (or Wyomingite, or Wyoman – depending on who you are talking to). They told me: “In Wyoming, we live and let live.”

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is found in the book of John. It is the passage that tells of how a woman, caught in an act punishable in death by stoning, is brought before Jesus to be condemned. Jesus begins to write in the sand and finally challenges all of the accusers who were standing around waiting the decision, certain that Jesus would issue the punishment they saw to be fit for her crimes. But Jesus surprises us, as is often the case, when the reply is exactly opposite of what was expected. He says to the accusers, whoever is without sin among them, to go ahead to throw the first stone. He goes back to writing in the sand (some think he was writing the names of the accusers and what their sins may have been, but what he was writing is less important than what happened). The accusers who had brought her to Jesus wanting her immediate execution, death by stoning, surprisingly one by one, they left! Jesus keeps on drawing in the sand until he and the woman who had been accused were the only two remaining. She was no longer in danger of being killed, Jesus looks up and sees that the others have left her standing there. Now I want to be clear, Jesus still calls her out as having sinned. He does not ignore the fact that by the law, she has sinned, but then he forgives her! Jesus sends her back into the community to share the story of God’s amazing grace, mercy and love.

This scripture, to me is a bold declaration that humanity should not be the ones to choose that any person is condemned to death. If we silence the voices of every one of us who stands before our maker as sinful, the world would be a very quiet place, because there would be no one left who could stand there blameless before God. I will be the first to admit that I too have sinned and fallen short, along with many, but I also know that I have been asked to share my own story of grace, mercy and love.

We are all asked to try to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, as we love God and our neighbors (all of them, even the, dare I say it, the “sinners”). Sometimes we are more successful than others, to be certain, but we are also commanded to love one another, period. Put simply in this great state of equality, that the locals affectionately call “Wyo”, we should live and let live. Therefore, all voices, even those of the “sinners”, will be able to share their story of God’s amazing grace, mercy and love.

Janita Krayniak is the pastor of First United Methodist Churches in Powell and Lovell, WY.

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