Monday, June 8, 2015

Book Review: Change of Heart: Justice, Mercy, and Making Peace with My Sister's Killer by Jeanne Bishop

From Goodreads:
When her sister was murdered in cold blood some twenty-five years ago, along with her sister's husband and their unborn child, Jeanne Bishop thought she could forgive the teenage killer and move on with her life. She became a public defender, an outspoken opponent of capital punishment, and a supporter of mandatory life sentences for juvenile killers. But all the while she never once spoke the name of her sister's killer aloud, never once cared what had happened to him after he was convicted of the crime.

Over time she realized that God was asking more of her. Her responsibility as a Christian was not to simply tell herself that she'd forgiven the young man while secretly hoping he languished in prison the rest of his days. As Christians we have an obligation to work to reconcile with those who have harmed us.

"Change of Heart" is the story of this transformation, from someone who actively sought the killer's imprisonment for the rest of his life to one who now visits him regularly in prison. It has not been an easy journey, and at times the personal cost has been high. But this change of heart has brought Bishop to a better understanding of what it means to be a person of faith.
I was quite impressed with the quality of Bishop's writing, both in terms of its literary merit and in terms of its thoughtfulness.  I expected it to be mainly memoir with some musings about forgiveness, with a mostly inspirational bent.  And while Bishop's story is certainly inspiring, I was very pleased to find that she spends just as much time discussing her belief that Christians should oppose the death penalty as well as her own personal views regarding Christianity and the imposition of a life sentence without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders.  It took a much deeper intellectual and theological route than I expected, but in a challenging and thought-provoking way that I greatly appreciated.

Entertainment Value
I think this will appeal to a pretty wide range of readers, although it should be noted that the author is a Christian and comes at the issue from a decidedly Christian viewpoint.  A large portion of the book examines her work in the justice system attempting to outlaw the death penalty and her growing concern and activism against sentencing juveniles to life without parole - most of her reasonings coming from a Christian worldview.  Of course the book is also filled with inspiration surrounding forgiveness and what it means to forgive without condoning or excusing criminal behavior based on the author's personal experiences.  I found it to be very compelling reading and devoured it in just two sittings.  I had planned to read it a chapter at a time over the course of a few weeks, but found that I couldn't put it down.

I think this is definitely a must-read for Christians who have an interest in issues of social justice, as well as those who enjoy inspiring stories centered around forgiveness and mercy.  It may also appeal to those who oppose the death penalty and are interested in looking for ways to discuss their opposition with Christians from a theological stance.  I also think it's a book that can appeal to those who do support the death penalty, but who are interested in hearing other points of view.  And it's absolutely idea for readers like me who are or have been on the fence.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review.

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