Editor’s Corner: Last meal

Amy Forbus

“What would you have for your last meal?”

It can be a whimsical question asked among friends, similar to naming one’s fantasy dinner party guests, but for Ledell Lee on April 20, the question of what he would like as his last meal became all too real. This death row inmate, who proclaimed his innocence until his life’s end, chose Holy Communion as the last food he would eat.

I’m not weighing in on Lee’s guilt or innocence; I don’t know enough about his case to declare an opinion. What I do know is that he was denied an opportunity to have physical evidence in his case examined with current DNA testing technology. And that he was once represented by an attorney who showed up drunk.

I also know the difference between justice and revenge, and I believe that on the night of April 20, the State of Arkansas carried out the latter.

Lee was given two opportunities to speak last words. He declined both. None of us can presume to know what was going through his mind in his last moments.

But when I awoke April 21 to news that his execution had been carried out just before midnight, I know that my mind filled with the words of Jesus: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Like many other people of faith who oppose the death penalty, I haven’t always felt that it was wrong. But the more I study the words and actions of the One I claim to follow—the only person in human history to quite literally defeat death after an unjust execution by the ruling powers—the more I believe that we cannot kill as an effective way to show people that killing is wrong.

I never met Ledell Lee, or anyone associated with his case or with the murder victim. I know I’m far removed from that particular situation. But if I take at face value his final meal on the last day of his life, it sends the clear signal that he was my brother in Christ. And if I take seriously my status as an Arkansan, it means I had a hand in killing him.

If I were to receive an opportunity to order my last meal, with no input from outsiders, I’d probably make sure it included a steak and a giant dessert. I cannot say in all honesty that it would even occur to me to choose Holy Communion. Does that make Ledell Lee, convicted murderer, a better person than I am? I don’t know. But, at least in that moment, it does make him a better witness to the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

To reach me, send an email to aforbus@arumc.org.