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Saturday, December 14, 2019

Chapter 4 - I stayed at Mary's house

I met Jim Douglass when he picked me up on the evening of the 9th at the Birmingham-Fred Shuttlesworth International Airport.  He drove me to Mary’s House Catholic Worker where I met his wife Shelley for the first time along with Jackson the dog and their parakeets, Justice and Joseph. Mary’s House offers hospitality to homeless families and they are actively involved in nonviolence and peace issues.  Mary’s House was undergoing annual repairs during the Alabama Journey of Hope and I was the only guest.  Jim, Shelley, Jackson, and the parakeets made me feel very welcomed and quite comfortable at Mary’s House. According to Marianne Arbogast, writer for the Witness Magazine:

Both Jim and Shelley Douglass credit the Catholic Worker with helping to shape their understanding of the Gospel and its challenge to wrongful authority.
Shelley Douglass, who grew up in a CIA family posted to Switzerland, Pakistan, and then Germany, was surprised when she returned to a U.S. that failed to match the picture she had been given.
"My family was Christian and we read the New Testament and I took civics at army high schools in Germany. When I came back to the States in the early 1960s I didn't know about segregation because that wasn't something that you read about in the military press overseas. It seemed obvious to me that segregation was wrong and we had a Christian and civic duty to do something about it, and the same for the Vietnam War."
Within the faith-based peace movement, the voices of Jim and Shelley Douglass carry a great deal of authority. Co-founders of the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, next to the Trident nuclear submarine base near Seattle, Wash., the Douglass’s helped build a community of resistance that spanned 250 towns and cities along the railroad tracks traveled by the “White Train” which transported nuclear weapons to the base. Living in a house so close to the tracks that it shook with each passing train, they vigiled at the base, engaged their neighbors who worked there in serious and respectful dialogue and went to jail repeatedly for praying on the forbidden side of the fence.

Jim Douglass discovered the Catholic Worker after a stint in the army, which he joined after leaving a nuclear physics program at the University of California in Berkeley.
"I kept turning in directions where I didn't have any sense of the end and wound up reading and meeting Dorothy Day. That brought me into an understanding of the gospels. It was through the question of nuclear weapons that I came to nonviolence, because how could one be a Christian and agree to the destruction of all life on earth? That was inconceivable when the question was raised to me by the Catholic Worker."
Taking up theological studies on war and peace, Jim Douglass found himself in Rome during the Second Vatican Council, where he advised bishops who were shaping the document to recognize conscientious objection as an option for Catholics.
"I talked to as many bishops as I could who seemed open to the question and, although I was a person of no import and didn't even have an advanced degree in theology, they listened to me more than I could have imagined, because there were very few theologians who had dealt with that question," he says. "I was able to work on speeches for some of the bishops and thanks to a lobbying group that included Eileen Egan, Jean and Hildegard Goss-Mayr, Dorothy Day and, at a distance, Thomas Merton, the bishops did reach a position that turned the church in a new direction on the issue of war and peace."

During her days with Ground Zero for non Violent Actions Shelley wrote:

“We wanted to experiment with Gandhi’s idea that the enemy has a piece of the truth, and with the religious teaching of love for the enemy. We wanted to learn to walk the fine line between hating the sin and loving the sinner, recognizing that we, too, were complicit in violence and thus also sinners.”  

Shelley also says:        

“Human beings cannot erase the evil they have done, but with God’s help they can overcome the evil in themselves and in others with good. We should not allow our own hard-heartedness to blind us to God’s mercy.”

When Jim and Shelley moved from the West Coast to Alabama and became involved in the abolition movement, she wrote this piece for the Birmingham News:

Don't Write Off a Life, No Matter How Easy It Might Be To Do So

Alabama Attorney General Troy King believes those who oppose the death penalty are "do-gooders" and "bleeding hearts."
I oppose the death penalty, and I hope to be a do-gooder. I don't know about the bleeding heart, though. I do hope King would agree with me that those who are actually innocent should not be executed for crimes they did not commit.
Personally, I also believe it is wrong for us to kill anyone, even if that person has killed someone. I believe all human life is sacred, made in God's image, and that we do not have the right to take any life. It makes no sense to me to kill someone so people will know killing people is wrong.
That said, there is still an unconverted part of my psyche that wants revenge, an eye for an eye, and a life for a life. The Hebrew Scriptures limited revenge killing to payback -- one eye for one eye, one life for one life. Later, the prophets were to know their God as one of mercy, not vengeance, and Jesus was to tell us to love and forgive and not to judge. Nevertheless, I have a strong stubborn streak that wants people to get what they deserve. Why should a murderer go on living when the victim is dead?
Billy Neal Moore's life begins to answer that question for me. In 1974, Moore killed an elderly man during a robbery in Georgia. He was sentenced to die for his crime and spent more than 16 years on Georgia's Death Row, being less than a day away from death when the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles commuted his sentence to life in prison. Later, he was released on parole, and he has become a minister who works with prisoners and against the death penalty.
Moore is a sign of hope for me. Through his example, I can see that our lives are not over after our worst action. After the killing, Moore was horrified by what he had done and asked forgiveness of his victim's relatives.
They were, in turn, so moved by his sorrow that they became part of a campaign to free him, a campaign that included people like Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa, and that finally brought about his release.
While he was in prison, Moore faced his own demons, including alcohol, and made a decision that whatever life he had left would be lived differently, in service to others. Since his release, he has continued to live that decision.
Our lives do not end with the worst thing we have done. God always holds out to us the possibility of conversion and change. Nothing justifies murder, and nothing will return those who have been killed to our lives and our communities. We are left with the absence and the void.
Yet, we have a choice. We cannot bring back those who have been killed, but we as a society can choose how to memorialize them. Is the best way to remember them the deliberate killing of yet another person?
Not every person on Death Row is a Billy Neal Moore. Not everyone on Death Row will repent. But Moore's story is a lesson to us: Human beings cannot erase the evil they have done, but with God's help they can overcome the evil in themselves and in others with good. We should not allow our own hard-heartedness to blind us to God's mercy.


Reverend Billy Neal Moore is a friend of mine.  He is a great example of why the death penalty should be abolished.  He has given his life to God and Billy’s story shows the wonderful redemptive power of our creator. 
I wish the whole world had Shelley’s view of God’s mercy.   
Jim Douglass has written six books and coauthored two others with Shelley. Jim gave me a copy of his book, JKF and the Unspeakable:  Why He Died and Why It Matters.  I love how he inscribed the book-

    To Bill,
Thank you for your inspiring Journey of Hope through Alabama, as you continue to proclaim your good news of forgiveness to the world.
        In peace & friendship,          Jim Douglass                                   February 3, 2012

On my first morning in Alabama I went to a peace vigil at Five Corners, a prominent location in downtown Birmingham, where there is high visibility during rush hour traffic. The vigil lasted for an hour and I met some very interesting people as I stood holding a sign calling for peace.  We went to a local Chinese Restaurant where the sponsoring group meets each week after the vigil.  I enjoyed a nice meal with Tom and Doreen Duley, Fisher and Caroline Humphries, Shelley and several others.  I knew I would be doing some traveling and speaking with Tom and Fisher so it was especially good to meet with them before we did any public speaking.  Tom and Doreen are Methodist ministers and Fisher is a retired Baptist theologian who most recently taught at Samford University, one of our stops along the Journey.  
My first speaking event came that night at Bluff United Methodist Church.  The event was hosted by Tom Duley who is actively involved with social justice issues in Alabama.  I presented with Fisher Humphreys.  Fisher provided excellent information about Alabama capital punishment system.  I think all of the people who attended our first talk are what we in the movement refer to as “members of the choir.”   One person in attendance was a nun from Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman. 
Sacred Heart was my second speaking event.
Cullman is about an hour drive north of Birmingham.  When Shelley and I pulled off Interstate 65 at the Cullman exit, snow flurries were dancing in the headlights of her car.  I thought I had left the snow behind me in Alaska where record breaking amounts of snow were being recorded.
Shelley and I had dinner with the nuns at Sacred Heart and then we spoke to an opening meeting for the public.  There were about 50 people that gathered for our talk.  Shelley told a story about Leroy White, a man on death row that she and Jim had befriended.  She told us of the many incidences where the courts in Alabama had failed this man.  After a ten year relationship, Jim and Shelley witnessed his execution.
A popular priest, who I had been told earlier was a murder victim family member, was present.  His brother had been killed years earlier.  As I spoke I would always look at him when I used a Bible reference, knowing that he would affirm what I was saying.  When it came time for comments he spoke up first.  He told us about his brother’s murder and how he was conflicted on the subject.  He said that he had been struggling for years about forgiveness and the death penalty. 
I assumed that of all the men present that night that he would be in agreement with our presentation. It turned into a very powerful dialogue with the group. I felt the presence of God’s grace and His power. 
At the end of the evening he gave me a big hug.  I hope to hear someday that he has completely changed his view.  I know he was close that night.  He would be a great leader for the movement.
I left the next morning, Friday the 13th, for Washington DC and the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty Board of Directors meeting.  I made the quick turn around after the meeting on Saturday and returned to Alabama.  On Sunday morning I went to the Baptist Church of the Covenant in Birmingham.  Although I graduated from a Baptist College with a degree in Pastoral Theology I am rarely asked to speak in Baptist churches.  I went with Fisher and Caroline Humphreys to the morning worship service where I was introduced by the minister.  I then spoke to the “Peace Mongers” Sunday school class. 
We went to a nice restaurant where we were joined by a young couple and their little girl after class.     
I got to know Tom and Fisher pretty well during my short stay in Alabama.
Tom and I drove the two hundred mile journey from Birmingham to Mobile for a talk at the St. Luke Episcopal Church near the golf coast. Tom presented about his involvement in the abolition movement and provided Alabama facts and figures.  After the evening events we drove to Atmore (where AL executions take place) and spent the night at a Holiday Inn.  The next day we drove to Montgomery.
In Montgomery I met up with Judy Collins.  Judy then drove me to her part of the state for three events taking place later in the day. Tom is a graduate of Florida Atlantic University and Asbury Theological Seminary. He retired from the North Alabama Conference in 2011. He has served as pastor of several churches in the conference and most recently served as Executive Director of Urban Ministry in West End. Urban Ministry is an inner city mission of the United Methodist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Tom’s wife Doreen is also an ordained United Methodist minister who serves as the Director of the Pastoral Care Department at Children’s Hospital. They live in Vestavia.
Tom is as anti-death penalty as you can get.  He meets the men on death row, visits with families of the executed on the nights the state kills, and he is very versed in the facts and figures of Alabama’s death row system.  It was a real blessing to work with Tom; he was a great inspiration to me.  We hope to work together in the future in conjunction with the Journey of Hope, even outside of Alabama. 
Tom wrote this letter to Alabama Governor Ronald Bentley on September 30, 2011, only 8 days after the state of Alabama had executed Derrick Mason:

Rev. Tom Duley to the Governor, Not in My Name!

September 30, 2011
The Honorable Governor Robert Bentley
State Capitol N 104
11 S. Union St. # 600
Montgomery, AL 36130-2751
Dear Governor Bentley,
As you are aware, Christopher T. Johnson is scheduled to be executed on October 20, 2011. I am sure that Mr. Johnson’s execution will go through as scheduled because he has stopped all appeals and has said that he will not ask you for clemency. However, I want to take this opportunity to tell you once again that I am opposed to the continuation of state sponsored killing. I am disheartened to know that the State of Alabama has taken even one life in my name as a citizen of this state.

I am saddened to note that once again you allowed an execution to be carried out. This time you took the life of Derrick Mason even though the sentencing judge in the case said he administered the wrong sentence and asked you to grant clemency. It makes me wonder what it might take for you to stop even one execution. Murder is murder even when it is done under the cover of the law. Just because something is legal doesn’t make it moral or right. Unfortunately, Alabama’s history has proven that many times over.
Mr. Johnson has chosen suicide administered by the State of Alabama rather than a vigorous pursuit of his rights to appeal. That is his choice. However, I want to be very clear that I choose not to support the policy of Capital Punishment. To you I say, not in my name. As a fellow Christian I find your leadership on this issue lacking and your decision regarding the administration of the death penalty profoundly disappointing.
Sincerely Yours,
Reverend Tom Duley
Birmingham, AL 35216-1931


Well written Tom.
Fisher Humphreys is well recognized and respected in Baptist circles.  He is a Professor of Divinity, Emeritus, at Samford University in Birmingham.  He wrote this for on Sept 26, 2010:

Three Reasons to Abolish the Death Penalty

On the death penalty, as on so many issues, Will D. Campbell has been out in front of many of us. Perhaps you have heard the story about a debate he had on this subject. His opponent made a case for capital punishment that was reasoned, balanced and thorough. The moderator of the debate then turned to Campbell and said, "Mr. Campbell, why are you opposed to the death penalty?"
He replied, "It's tacky."
You can never top Campbell, but my answer to the moderator's question would be almost as brief as his. I would say, "I oppose the death penalty because Jesus said, 'Blessed are the merciful.'"
I believe Jesus meant what he said, and I want my nation and my state to be blessed. Refusing to execute people who deserve to die is an act of mercy and so is blessed.
For me, Jesus' teaching is a sufficient reason to support the abolition of the death penalty, but I realize that this isn't a sufficient reason for everyone, so I'll mention two others.
One is that apparently it is impossible to administer capital punishment in a way that is just. For example, since 1973, 139 people have been released from death row after having provided evidence of their innocence. It is unjust to imprison someone who is innocent but at least, when that is done, it is possible to offer the person an apology and some compensation, which obviously isn't the case with those whom we execute.
Another example of injustice concerns economics and race. People who are poor or non-white are more likely to be sentenced to death than people with financial resources or who are white. People who are poor cannot afford the most effective attorneys, and people who are non-white are at a disadvantage both in the selection of juries and at sentencing.
I am not alone in thinking it is impossible to execute justly. The American Law Institute (ALI) comprises more than 4,000 law professors, judges and lawyers. In 1962, the ALI created a "model statute" to help states achieve some consistency in their death penalty laws, and in 1976 the Supreme Court largely adopted the ALI's framework when it re-instituted capital punishment after a decade without executions. But last year the ALI pronounced its own project a failure and abandoned it.
Earlier this month, Michael Traynor, president emeritus of ALI, wrote in the Los Angeles Times: "It is impossible to administer the death penalty consistently and fairly, and it therefore should not remain a punishment option in this country. The institute could no longer play a role in legitimizing a failed system. How much longer can any of us?"
How long, indeed?
Another reason I'm against the death penalty is that it's expensive. Many people assume that it's cheaper to execute criminals than it is to keep them in prison, but that's wildly inaccurate.
For a variety of reasons, keeping people on death row is much more expensive than keeping them in the general prison population. Death row inmates must be kept in special cells and guarded by special guards, and they must be provided special arrangements for dining, exercising, showering and medical care. The greatest costs are legal. Death row inmates must be provided special legal counsel because some appeals for death-row inmates are automatic. Usually death-row inmates are effectively given a second trial (in which they are no longer presumed to be innocent), and of course the government must pay its own attorneys to prosecute these appeals cases.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, California spends in excess of $100 million a year more to keep people on death row than it would have to spend to keep the same prisoners in the general prison population. Florida spends $51 million a year more to keep people on death row than it would spend to imprison its death-row inmates for life. The federal government and the 35 states that still have capital punishment could save themselves a lot of real taxpayer money just by commuting all death penalty sentences to life sentences.
In summary, I am against the death penalty because it is unjust and a waste of taxpayer money, but mostly because Jesus said, "Blessed are the merciful."

Is there any doubt about why I love Jim, Shelley, Tom, and Fisher so and why we all really hit it off?