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Liza Fletcher: An American tragedy

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Unsplash/Ari Spada

Correction Appended

This nation has now had time to digest the horrifying story of the abduction and murder of Liza Fletcher. Many of us are aware of the surveillance video of Liza’s violent abduction near the University of Memphis campus while she was on an early morning jog.

Liza Fletcher was a remarkable young woman, a mother of two young children, and a beloved and remarkable kindergarten teacher at St. Mary’s Episcopal School. Their yearbook described her as “a teacher who knows each student individually and does whatever she can to excite them for learning.”

The man arrested in connection with Liza’s abduction and murder had an extensive record of encounters with the legal system from 11 years of age onward. He was charged with rape at 14 and when he was 16, he kidnapped a local attorney for which he received a 24-year prison sentence.

Unfortunately, Liza’s alleged murderer was released from prison before his sentence was completed. After his arrest for Liza’s murder, it was discovered through DNA testing (woefully stacked up and delayed in Memphis) that he had allegedly kidnapped and raped a woman last year in Memphis.

The shocking, heartbreaking truth is that if Liza’s alleged murderer had not been released early from prison, she would still be alive and another woman would not have experienced the horrific trauma of rape.

The societal response to this atrocity has revealed some disturbing facts about the current state of American society.

Some of the immediate responders criticized Liza for jogging alone so early in the morning (before daybreak). Others criticized her jogging outfit as perhaps too revealing. These criticisms are insulting and absurd. Liza, like every other American, should be able to jog on the streets of our cities at any time of her choosing without having to fear predatory males. (And she should be able to wear whatever attire she finds comfortable and appealing as long as they avoid the legal definition of indecent exposure). There must be no blaming of the victim here.

Unfortunately, such criticism is indicative of a disturbing trend in America. As a consequence of the truly significant surge in violent crime in America’s major cities, too many Americans have begun self-limiting themselves, avoiding certain areas of increasing crime. Too many Americans are acclimatizing themselves to such circumscribed lives and the loss of their freedom.

For example, in Memphis, a Methodist pastor, the Rev. Dean Emerson, newly arrived in the area, was traumatized by the July murder of the Rev. Autura Eason-Williams, 52, shot and killed by two 15-year-olds in a carjacking in her own driveway. Eason-Williams, the Memphis area superintendent for the Methodist church, had very recently been to Emerson’s church to welcome him to his new Memphis pastorate.

The Rev. Emerson confessed, “Now I don’t walk outside without thinking about where I am and being aware of my surroundings. It is very much in the forefront of my mind.” The Rev. Emerson’s heightened sense of danger is echoed by millions of his fellow citizens across the land.

A far more healthy, and more American response would be to say, “We are not going to tolerate these limitations to our freedoms and we insist that government (the civil magistrate) pursue criminality vigorously and remove convicted criminals from free circulation in society.”

Another telltale societal response has been the rush to complicate this case with the racial discord currently impacting our culture. The fact that Liza Fletcher was white and her alleged killer was black should be irrelevant.

I am a fervent believer in Dr. King’s dream of a society in which people “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Consequently, the race or ethnicity of the perpetrator and/or the victim should be irrelevant to societal outrage in response to these crimes.

I know that Dr. King preached the power of love and forgiveness, and I agree that as Christians we are commanded to love our enemies and to forgive those who wrong us. It is absolutely true that an unforgiving spirit poisons the heart that holds it. Forgiveness is our individual responsibility and obligation as Christians.

However, the civil magistrate has been ordained by God to punish those who do that which is evil and to reward those who do what is right:

“For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid,…for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (Rom. 13:4).

In other words, if someone were to murder my wife, I would have no right to hate that person. God commands me to forgive them. However, I also have the right to expect the God-ordained civil magistrate to do its divinely ordained duty and punish the evildoer.

The world is wracked by evil, and God ordained civil government to control evildoers and to protect the innocent.

I am aware that some people in our society come from “disadvantaged” backgrounds, and many have a far more likelihood of growing up fatherless, which often has an extremely negative impact on boys. As a society, we have to be committed to ameliorating those disadvantages. However, what we must not do is allow violent offenders back on the streets to prey on innocent people like Liza Fletcher. The Liza Fletchers of this world must not be allowed to become virtual human sacrifices for the shortcomings of our society.

An earlier version of this column said Mrs. Fletcher worked at St. Michael’s Episcopal school; however, she worked at St. Mary’s Episcopal School

Dr. Richard Land, BA (Princeton, magna cum laude); D.Phil. (Oxford); Th.M (New Orleans Seminary). Dr. Land served as President of Southern Evangelical Seminary from July 2013 until July 2021. Upon his retirement, he was honored as President Emeritus and he continues to serve as an Adjunct Professor of Theology & Ethics. Dr. Land previously served as President of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (1988-2013) where he was also honored as President Emeritus upon his retirement. Dr. Land has also served as an Executive Editor and columnist for The Christian Post since 2011.

Dr. Land explores many timely and critical topics in his daily radio feature, “Bringing Every Thought Captive,” and in his weekly column for CP.

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