Worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church leaders have asked for mercy for an Adventist on death row in Tennessee. Leaders are asking for church members to pray for Donnie Edward Johnson, scheduled to be executed on Thursday, May 16, 2019.
Johnson is on death row for the 1984 murder of his wife, Connie Johnson. Johnson, 68, who suffocated his wife, has served 33 years on death row in a maximum-security prison near Nashville, within 10 miles of the Riverside Chapel Seventh-day Adventist Church where Johnson has been an ordained elder for more than a decade.
In a letter hand-delivered to Tennessee Governor Bill Lee on May 13, Seventh-day Adventist Church President Ted N.C. Wilson writes, “I am told that [Mr. Johnson] has brought other prisoners to Christ, leading them to make a full surrender to God, and that this is having a positive influence throughout the prison and beyond.”
Wilson asks Lee to “prayerfully consider granting mercy to Mr. Johnson by sparing his life so he may continue providing this important spiritual ministry.”
Daniel R. Jackson, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America also sent a letter to Lee on May 13. Jackson, acknowledging the “vile crime” for which Johnson has been sentenced, writes that Johnson “turned his life around and now serves as a Christian mentor to his fellow prisoners. . . . The multiple lives he helped transform via his prison ministry are only a glimpse into the many potential lives he can touch and help transform.”
According to a May 9, 2019, Tennessean report by Holly Meyer, the letters are part of a series of appeals from church members and religious leaders who recognize Johnson’s apparent remorse and transformation. This group includes the Episcopal bishops of middle and east Tennessee.
Meyer reports that Johnson, who was raised Christian, “found religion” in 1985. Five years later, two incarcerated Adventists, one who was paroled in 2007 and another who recently “made parole,” introduced him to their faith.
According to the Tennessean article, Johnson holds Bible studies inside prison and started a radio program called "What the Bible Says.” He works with about a dozen people who comprise Riverside Chapel church’s prison ministry team.
In a Tennessean video interview (by Larry McCormack, as part of the USA Today Network) published with the May 9 article, Furman Fordham II, Riverside Chapel pastor, says that he has seen Johnson serve and minister on the inside of the prison.
“In general, it is a little difficult for me as a Christian to ignore what I believe Jesus’ counsel is in John 8,” said Fordham. “Not suggesting at all that we should ignore a crime, or that we should have no consequences, but I do think there is a place for forgiveness and grace. And Don’s situation, as I understand it, is one that I think perfectly fits right in there.”
CLICK HERE to read an additional report from the Tennessean, published on April 30, 2019, which includes part of an interview with Johnson.