Charles Keith is the brother of Kevin Keith and Impacted Communities Liaison of Death Penalty Action. This Advent, Red Letter Christians is highlighting how God shows up for us at Christmas – as a homeless child, in a Brown body, as a refugee, as a victim of violence, and as a person who will eventually be put to death by the state. RLC invited some of our Co-Conspirators, like Charles Keith, to share with us how we can “show up” for God by showing up for those who shared these identities with Christ.
The following is a transcript of Charles’ remarks, which you can watch in full here.
I think showing up is very important, even if not in person. As far as a phone call or a letter. The guys incarcerated… a lot of them don’t have people on the outside that are educated toward the death penalty or have the savvy to talk to politicians or other people. So, we have to show up. These are humans. These are our fellow brothers. As Christians, we believe that “Thou shall not kill,” so we’re trying to bring people together to get them to understand that we have to live by that notation.
My family didn’t have a lot of people show up for us. As I traveled through the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Mississippi [to protest other executions], I started seeing crowds of people showing up. I started seeing pastors come from behind the pulpits and they were showing up. I wish that I had had someone like that, or that many people, show up for our family. I have come out to join these people and it’s just incredible to see the signs, to see the camaraderie, to hug people that you’ve never met before, because we’re all of one accord and that is to try to save someone’s life and to abolish the death penalty.
I really had never been to a vigil and I realized that, basically, it’s a funeral before the person dies, and it was one of the saddest things. When you go to some vigils, and there’s [only] three or four people, it’s just such a sad thing. It’s like no one cared for this man’s life. Then you go to certain other places and there’s a lot of people, so, you see different things traveling to different states. There’s different laws but we all have to come out as Christians, we have to come out, we have to speak up, we have to talk to other pastors, we have to talk to our politicians, we show up at the polls, in fact, they implore us to show up at the polls and vote, so now we have to show up for this and our vote is to stop executions and this is something that we have to get over to our politicians. We have to get it over to our pastors, families, and friends. We can’t let these guys just go out here and they’re being slaughtered; it’s just unbelievable the feeling you have before a person is executed and the feeling you have after they’re executed, and you ask yourself, could I have done more, could there have been more people here. What could we have done? So, I’m here in person, I’m trying to do the best, the very best that I can, I am fully dedicated, and I’ve met so many other people who are fully dedicated but we have to continue to spread the word into other states, we have to tap into other religions. This is a human thing, not necessarily a religious thing, and as humans, we know from the very beginning that it’s wrong to kill.
Red Letter Christians means an awful lot. I’ve always read through my Bible on numerous occasions, and I saw what was in red, and I never thought of an organization being called Red Letter Christians, so I kind of realized, what they’re focusing on within the Bible, it’s more of the Jesus stuff. That is what’s beautiful; working with Doug Padgett; Vote for Common Good. I had no idea that these things existed. I thought it was just Charles Keith fighting to save his brother but when I come out and I see these organizations, Red Letter Christians, Vote for Common Good, I see what happened to Reverend Sharon Risher, so many other things, it wasn’t just my pain. We come together to share our pains and to share our knowledge and we comfort one another as we reach out and try to comfort those in prison. We take their phone calls, we have people on the outside that are phone pals, pen pals; we don’t let them just sit there alone. That is one of the worst things in the world to do.
So, imagine having someone out there that cares so much about you that you don’t even know and this is the person that has become your newfound friend, the person that you don’t even know, because those people have a heart, and that heart tells them to reach out to these humans, you know, comfort them, you know, show them that you love them, because we don’t know if they’re going to die or not.
99% of the time they probably will but we want to let them know that we do not approve of it, and we want to let the governor, and we want to let everyone else know that we do not approve of it, so we have to come together in the masses and the numbers. The same way we go out to vote, this is the way we need to come in, together so we need to spread the word, we need to educate the people, and we need to show them that death is not necessary in our democracy, it’s not necessary.
Christmas is always [hard], even in my family it’s the most difficult because you can’t get the presents to them, they’re missing at the table, you miss their laughter, you miss their place, because these guys have not been on death row since birth, they’ve been a part of their families, they’ve always held their own positions, and now there’s a piece missing in your family, so when the holidays come together, it’s really, really sad, especially for those who have already had loved ones executed. You miss them, and there’s a piece missing in your heart, and sometimes, even as family, you ask yourself, could I have done more, and the guilt comes over the family, so, Christmas is really rough and we have to come together, we have to show love. Sometimes it’s great just to get a phone call from someone else who asks you how you’re doing during the holidays. Some families are large, some are really small, and it’s a sad time when it’s supposed to be such a joyous occasion.
I’d like to say this to Shane Claiborne. I don’t have very many heroes. Most of my heroes are athletes, but you’ve become one of my heroes, you’re there, I hear what you say, I agree with you, I am glad that I got introduced to the Red Letter Christians. I think you’re a very good advocate, Shane, I can just sit here and say so much. I hear you; I’ve gone through your book. I would almost say I’d like to model myself and or walk in your footsteps because you’ve journeyed, you’ve been places, you’ve done things, and myself, I thought that I was lost out here with a lack of information and people that cared but when the RLCs got involved and I met Shane Claiborne and I heard him come out and start talking about Jesus and the execution of Jesus, I said, wow, that’s my story too, so, he may not know this, but I connected with him immediately. If I was the right hand, I would feel that Shane Claiborne is my left hand.
My job with Death Penalty Action is that I am the Impacting Communities Liaison. I try to go in and help the families as much as I can, understand what’s happening to them, find out some of the things that they may want to do, or any information that could be helpful in this case and they don’t know how to deliver it, so, with the experience coming from myself and dealing with my brother’s death penalty case for the past 30 years, I have learned something and I’m trying to take and spread that knowledge amongst those others that are suffering.