Ted Wilson: Spare Adventist on Death Row
13 May 2019 | Elder Ted Wilson, the president of the General Conference of the Adventist Church, has asked for mercy for an Adventist elder scheduled to be executed in Tennessee this Thursday, May 16.
According to the Associated Press, Wilson’s letter on behalf of Donnie Edward Johnson was hand-delivered to Tennessee Governor Bill Lee. It bolsters his appeal for clemency that focused on his conversion and Christian ministry.
Wilson asked that Johnson’s life be spared so he could continue his “important spiritual ministry.” The leader’s appeal joins others from the denomination’s North American Division and the Episcopal bishops of middle and east Tennessee.
Meanwhile, Johnson has said that he is “too blessed to be stressed” about his execution.
He made the comment in an answer to a series of questions by the USA TODAY network via written responses facilitated by his legal team.
When asked what it was about the Adventist faith that appealed to Johnson, who was converted in prison, he said that two Adventist inmates had “opened up the Bible to me in ways I had never thought possible.”
One of the inmates whom he named as Willy Sparks had, according to Johnson, studied theology at Southern Adventist University before coming to death row.
Johnson said that Sparks “explained the scriptures in a clear way. He taught me how to read the Bible so I could understand and learn on my own.”
Even with his execution days away, Johnson said that he accepts “whatever the Lord allows to happen, even my death. If my work is done, then I am content.”
Asked if he had a message for the people of Tennessee following his story, Johnson said, “Trust that the Lord’s will be done.
“Only through a full surrender to Christ can we achieve the peace we all look for. With that understanding, all people may realize that they too can be too blessed to be stressed.
“How? Take your burdens to the Lord and leave them there.”
Governor Lee has confirmed that he is currently considering a plea for mercy for Johnson.
“It’s a thought process and something that I’ve never had to consider in my whole life,” said Lee, according to the Tennessean. “And the power is profound.”
Asked by the USA TODAY network what his message to Governor Lee was, Johnson said, “I ask that Gov. Lee pray about this, consider why the Lord has placed him in this unique position — maybe it is for a time such as this — and then do what the Lord moves him to do. I trust in the Lord. I trust Gov. Lee. If I am chosen to die on May 16, I trust that something good will come from it.”
Cynthia Vaughn, daughter of Connie Johnson, whom Donnie Edward Johnson killed, has asked Governor Lee to show the death row inmate mercy. At the time of her murder, Johnson was married to the victim.
Vaughn said that she had forgiven Johnson of her mother’s murder. According to the Tennessean, this forgiveness is the centerpiece of the clemency petition put forward by Johnson’s legal team. The document claims that Johnson has been transformed from “a liar, a cheat, a con man and a murderer” to an ordained Adventist elder “with a flock in prison.”
Johnson was baptized as an Adventist while on death row and was ordained as a church elder at Riverside Chapel Seventh-day Adventist Church in Nashville in 2008. He now preaches to other inmates and listeners to his radio program What the Bible Says.
Governor Lee stressed his Christian faith during his campaign for office. In the appeal to Lee, Johnson’s legal team describes his as “an extraordinary case, where mercy, forgiveness, redemption and the miracle of rebirth in Christ all come together to warrant an exercise of your constitutional powers.”
Johnson reached out to Vaughn after his initial execution date was delayed in 2006. Vaughn visited him in 2012.
“After I was finished telling him about all the years of pain and agony he had caused, I sat down and heard a voice. The voice told me, ‘That’s it; let it go,’” said Vaughn in the clemency petition. “The next thing that came out of my mouth changed my life forever.
“I looked at him, told him I couldn’t keep hating him because it was doing nothing but killing me instead of him, and then I said, ‘I forgive you.’”
Image of Ted Wilson by Tor Tjeransen via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.