Book Review: The Executioner’s Redemption
Author Timothy Carter, now a pastor for the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, documents his fascinating journey from a confused, self-righteous, often violent correctional officer to a redeemed child of God who struggled with how to serve his Savior in a challenging environment. Along the way, Tim served on the Texas “death squad,” personally filling various roles during more than 150 executions by lethal injection.
Seeking a way to pay for his college expenses, Tim Carter began working as a correctional officer in Huntsville, Tex. He often experienced various conflicting influences in this antagonistic environment. While believing he was a part of the war against evil criminals and an agent of God’s wrath, Carter used physical force and hate to help maintain order. Then the moment arrived when he considered what he had become, and he didn’t like it. Dr. Beto, a criminology professor at Sam Houston State University, advised him to consider the words of Jesus found in Matthew 10:16: “I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Over the next two decades, Carter sought ways to implement these words by dying to self and walking humbly before the Lord.
After being appointed to the death squad, he carefully considered how inmates, victims, and the families of both were affected by the suffering caused by sin and evil in the world. Moreover, Carter grappled with his own uncertainties regarding God’s will for government executions. A spiritual struggle of justice versus mercy followed. Carter realized that he couldn’t fix troubled people, but God could. He witnessed this firsthand with an inmate named Karla Faye Tucker, who spent time on death row after committing an extremely brutal double murder. When she first entered the prison, she was unrepentant, manipulative, and defiant. However, after the gospel permeated her heart, she became one of God’s sheep. The peace of God emanated from her countenance before, during, and after her execution. Her life and example left a lasting impression on Carter and many others.
During his years on the death squad, Carter witnessed many profound spiritual battles where the devil sought to destroy lives created by God. He observed death row prisoners cling to God’s promises after prison ministry volunteers visited and shared Scripture with them. The patience and love these volunteers showed for the condemned prompted Carter to reexamine his role in the lives of those with whom he came into contact. He realized not only was he an agent of protection, but he was a conduit for God’s love. By praying for the condemned, the victims, and their families during the execution proceedings, God used Carter to convey his peace. He came to understand that sin is the problem. Jesus is the answer. When particularly difficult circumstances arose, he drew the conclusion that things went awry if he focused on his own authority and on the earthly kingdom. However, when he focused on Jesus’ authority and his kingdom, circumstances fell into line as they should.
After ending his career as one who wielded the sword of the state, Timothy Carter wrestled with the idea of becoming one who wielded the sword of the spirit. After attending and completing seminary studies, he was called as the Care Ministry Pastor in his home congregation of Tomball, Tex., where he ministers to individuals in hospitals, nursing homes, and hospice care. In addition, he frequently visits the incarcerated from his own congregation. It is no coincidence that he serves those who are suffering or near death in his current career just as he did while employed at the penitentiary. While conducting one-on-one counseling in prisons, speaking at high schools and church youth gatherings, he relays experiences he encountered as a correctional officer, applying Scriptural truths. Believing the only answer to man’s broken relationship with God is faith in his son’s redeeming work on the cross, Carter hopes that many will join “to honor God’s provisions for protecting his sheep while loving the wolves.”
For any reader, Pastor Carter relates a journey first to faith and then in faith that clearly shows the power of God’s Word, both law and gospel. His struggle to live his faith and his recognition of how God was using him, even in seemingly small ways, encourage us to seek and act on those opportunities in our own lives. He provides vivid insight into prison life that will help any volunteer better understand the souls we seek to reach and their environment. Ultimately, the book is a powerful testimony to Christ’s saving love regardless of which side of the bars the soul is on.
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