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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

This blog started as a kind of discussion board on which I could comment on current topics and interact with the students in my classes at Shaw University Divinity School. This summer I am teaching a course called Religion in Contemporary Life. It was listed on the schedule with no professor's name, so I volunteered. I reasoned that with such a broad course title, I could squeeze in a variety of readings and topic that I have not had opportunity to work into my usual theology and ethics classes. I'll be using this site to promote conversation with my summer students on topics from our course, and anyone else who happens along is welcome to add to the discussion.

On May 19 we had opportunity to hear from Scott Bass of Nazareth House in Raleigh. Nazareth House is in some ways like a Catholic Worker House. They are a house of hospitality who are also engaged in efforts to end the death penalty in North Carolina. Scott talked about weekly vigils as a witness against the death penalty and nighttime vigils when executions are scheduled. But beyond these public protests, he and his family have provided housing, meals, and friendship to families of inmates on death row. They offer assistance from afar, host them on visits to Raleigh, provide a sounding board, and in a variety of ways try to be present as God's people for these people with acute needs.

Bass explained that the primary insight he has gained in recent years of working with families of death row inmates is that the punishment goes far beyond the one executed. The long process and the killing of the inmate is a devastating experience for family members. The fact that it is drawn out for so many years and constantly relived by the families of victims causes serious harm to those people as well.

A number of factors have converged to stop the executions in North Carolina for an indefinite period. The first was a court case in which a pro-death penalty judge ruled that the lethal injection procedure in North Carolina was "cruel and unusual punishment." A study presented in an appeal entered for one death row inmate demonstrated that the procedures used to execute human beings did not measure up to the standard of care required of veterinarians who are often required to humanely put animals "to sleep." The research done on humane treatment of animals was more comprehensive than the research done on humane execution of human beings. This ruling has implications for the entire protocol for executions, and extensive research and rewriting of the law is probably necessary.

Besides this ruling, another development came from the NC Medical Board. Discussions of the protocol for lethal injection executions among physicians resulted in a sudden interruption of scheduled executions. The Medical Board released a ruling that any doctor who assisted in an execution would have her or his license revoked. The law about lethal injection executions requires that a doctor be present to oversee the proper carrying out of the procedures. Because of this ruling, no doctor can remain certified to practice if he or she cooperates with this legal requirement. Thus, the law cannot be carried out because one of its requirements cannot be fulfilled.

A third problem arose when the judge also discovered that the law requires the NC Council of State to approve the protocol, method, participants, and other details of an execution. This requirement has apparently not been carried out for many years. This is another reason that the judge has stopped the executions for now. How long will this stoppage go on? No clear way out of the current problems is apparent. Months or years may pass before the legal hurdles are overcome. Bass says he hopes that the barriers will be so great that the legislature will choose to abolish the death penalty rather than try to write a new complicated law that will probably only bring up new problems for carrying out the deadly sentence.


haitianministries said...

Mike, Does the Nazareth House (or similar program) by chance have a DVD or video that gives an overview of their work? Or, perhaps, has the local paper done an in-depth feature story on them? I'm always looking for resources to show my students good alternatives to "business as usual" in the church.

Mike Broadway said...

Hey, Daniel,

I found an article written in 2006 which is very good. You can access it at http://www.demaction.org/dia/organizations/ncadp/news.jsp?key=2714&t=.

I don't know if they have a video, but there is a good website with a photo essay at http://www.langleycreations.com/photo/deathpenalty/index.html.

I hope that helps.

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