Jewish Journal

‘Power in the Blood’: Praying for the electric chair

by Brad A. Greenberg

July 10, 2008 | 11:34 am


My (long-hyped?) interview with Jeff Sharlet will run in tomorrow’s Jewish Journal. Our discussion hinged heavily upon his new book, “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.” He originally dubbed the book “Power in the Blood,” but later dropped the working title—an obscure but strong reference to a classic hymn—at his editor’s suggestion.

The title had a deeper meaning for Sharlet. When writing “Killing the Buddha,” his first book, with Peter Manseau, the two visited a Florida pentecostal church that has lost one of its own to a murderer named Lucious Boyd. Boyd had just been convicted of the Dawnia DaCosta’s rape and murder, and the church wanted his blood.

“Let him suffer,” they prayed, a chorus of hate so deep it didn’t so much stain their faith as transform it. Even before they knew his name, the day they found Dawnia’s body, naked, raped, stabbed, run over, and oddly, tenderly, wrapped in a shroud of bed sheets, they prayed for him. The day the police caught him, they prayed for him, every day of his trial they sat in the back of the courtroom and prayed for him, the day the jury said guilty they prayed for him, and now, the Sunday after the verdict, a new holiday they called “Victory Day,” they prayed for him. Let him suffer, thank you Jesus; give him the chair, thank you Jesus; make him bleed, thank you Jesus. They were a prayer in a red dress, a red suit, red suspenders. “It’s the color of Jesus’ blood,” said the reverend of Faith Tabernacle, as if that explained why he and his church had chosen it as the special color of their celebration. “Today we’re celebrating Jesus,” a congregant said. “Today we’re wearing red for justice.”

I got chills reading this portion of “Killing the Buddha.” This is not the Christianity I know. This is not grace and forgiveness and redemption. This is vengeance. And, in fact, a woman in the back row confirmed that when she belted out:

“St. Paul tells us in Romans chapter twelve, verse nineteen, ‘It is written, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, sayeth the Lord!’”

The congregation roared. “Jesus!”

I understand being angry with God for what happened to Dawnia after her car broke down, on the way home from choir practice of all places. I get that. And I understand wanting Boyd to get his comeuppance. But that is not for us Christians to decide. That is not the message of the Gospels.

“It was one of the most thrilling and at the same time ugliest services I’ve ever attended,” Sharlet told me. “And the crescendo was an, ahem, electrifying version of “Power in the Blood”—a prayer for the chair for the killer.”

So they sang, with fire and fury: “There’s power! power! wonder-working power! in the blood! of the lamb!

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Since launching the blog in 2007, I’ve referred to myself as “a God-fearing Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks.” The description, I’d say, is an accurate one,...

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