A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast

Ending the Death Penalty w/ Joia Erin Thornton

October 12, 2023 Simon Doong and Lee Catoe Season 1 Episode 152
A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast
Ending the Death Penalty w/ Joia Erin Thornton
Show Notes Transcript

This week, Simon and Lee talk about the violence happening in Israel-Palestine and how we should work to hold multiple truths up at the same time. We stand against bigotry, anti-Semitism, the occupation of Palestinian land, and the murder against innocent people caught in the midst of this terrible time in our most holiest of lands.

Special Guest: (12:35)
Joia Erin Thornton, National Director/Founder,
Faith Leaders of Color Coalition

Guest Question:
How does the death penalty fit or not fit with our callings and beliefs as Christians? |

Faith Leaders of Color Coalition (flocc)

flocc Toolkit

PCUSA Policy on Capital Punishment & the Death Penalty
 



For Listening Guides, click here!
Got a question for us? Send them to faithpodcast@pcusa.org!
A Matter of Faith website

Speaker 1:

Well, hello everyone, and welcome again to a matter of Faith, the Presby podcast. The podcast where we respond to your questions of faith, justice, and church life. Don't forget to write in and send us your question because,

Speaker 2:

Because if it matters to you, it matters to us, and it just might be a matter of faith . And there are a lot of things that are happening lately that matter a lot. And before we even start talking about things, we are going to acknowledge that we're gonna be talking about some things that are very heavy. We're gonna be talking about the things that are happening in Israel Palestine. We're also, our guest also talks about the death penalty. So there is a lot of things that are happening and that we're talking about that are very heavy. So take care of yourself, know that this might be triggering. And yeah, just wanted to mention that before we even get started. But how are you, Simon? Yeah ,

Speaker 1:

I'm doing all right. Like you said, there's a lot of , a lot of heaviness right now , um, which, you know, that is, that is what it means to be alive, I think at times. You know, there's just a lot going on. And for folks who are only interested in our conversation with , uh, Joya Aaron Thornton about the death penalty, you can just find that timestamp for that conversation in the show notes. But we hope you'll wanna stay with us for a little bit of introductory conversation, like Lee said about Israel Palestine, because as many people are probably aware, in the last, it was the last week over the weekend mm-hmm . <affirmative> , um, there was an attack by Hamas on Israel. There have been abductions, there have been killings there. I mean, there's been some, there's been death on by on the Hamas and on the , uh, Israeli side. But a lot of, a lot of it's of this particular situation started with Hamas' attack abductions and killings. And so, first of all, we just want to acknowledge that this particular situation of, and I , and what I mean is the events that happened in the last week or so, that's really hard and that's really sad, and are a part of a larger ongoing , um, struggle and tension that exists in Israel Palestine. And something that Lee and I have been talking about is that it's sometimes it's hard to acknowledge a lot of nuance in a situation, particularly when there are two marginalized groups , uh, that are trying to co-exist, are trying to establish themselves and are trying to survive and to live in this case that being the PA Palestinians or the Palestinian, the Palestinian Authority. Correct? Mm-hmm .

Speaker 2:

Yeah.

Speaker 1:

And the state of Israel that said, that doesn't make an attack by Hamas on Israel Okay. By any means, in the same way that an attack by Israel on Palestinians is also not acceptable.

Speaker 2:

Right. And there's a , and there's many innocent people who are being murdered and killed as this is going on. And we don't want to kind of hold up this, we don't wanna generalize it too much. 'cause I don't think that's helpful either, because, you know, an Unbound Unbound published, not a statement on it, but just kind of acknowledging something that says, because these two groups of folk are marginalized people with, with their own histories, there is a lot of trauma that is deeply, deeply and generationally embedded in the people that we are talking about. And I think when it comes to the Holocaust for our Jewish siblings, that is a deep, deep trauma that is often, you know, in many ways, how do you deal with trauma of that magnitude? And then you have our Palestinian siblings who are going through the taking of land that has been a part of their family for generations and generations and generations and occupation and all these things by the state of Israel, which is also deeply embedded trauma generationally. Not to mention everything else that happens in the Middle East too. And I do think that that is something that we should all be kind of framing. So these things in it is not excusing what is happening, because we should be able to hold up multiple truths at one time. And I do think we often get into a oppression Olympics. We often get into, we can't, you know, hold these things up and have these conversations in more nuanced ways. And I think that's important. But the main thing here is, is that innocent people that are getting caught in this, this tension are being murdered and killed, and children are being killed. People are being taken hostage. And I think that is an important thing for people to hold center, is that yet Hamas started this particular event that needs to be acknowledged no matter where you stand on the issue of Israel Palestine, that needs to be acknowledged. They started this part and it was heinous, and it is awful. And it should be condemned because people have been killed innocent people. While also, as you said, Simon, in the larger context of this, it is a, I don't like using the word complicated, because I think people can understand this, and that is why that's fair . I'll stop saying it's complicated because I was talking to someone the other day, and some people just get so numb. They don't wanna say the wrong thing. They don't wanna make anybody mad, they just don't want to have the conversation about this particular thing and what, or they say it's too complicated for people to understand. If people can understand TV shows and movies and followed the plot lines of soap operas and everything else, and books and novels, they sure as hell can understand what is happening in Israel Palestine. Yeah.

Speaker 1:

We

Speaker 2:

Just have to be able to explain it and to sit in that discomfort with folk.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. Maybe the better term is nuanced.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. Yeah. There's nuanced

Speaker 1:

Might

Speaker 2:

Be better. And there's, and it's, and it is an ever evolving thing, but I think if we begin to center the humanity of people, we can often get into a big conversation about large political powers. And I think we need to do that. But when it comes down to it, it is always the innocent people who are going to be impacted the most and having two marginalized communities, innocent people being murdered, we are also, if we don't center that we are consciously or subconsciously perpetuating oppression, and we are consciously or subconsciously perpetuating antisemitism. Two , we have to keep that in the forefront here. There's a history generationally the murder of Jewish people. That is something that has happened over and over and over again in our world. And for that to happen to a group of people over and over again, it is generational trauma that we all have to stand in, that we all have to understand. That's what we, we have to do this work if we're going to have any conversation about it. And innocent people and babies and children, older, elderly people, people are getting kidnapped. It's absolutely, it's absolutely terrifying and awful. And we should be condemning it, right ? We should be condemning the actions of Hamas, no matter our stance on Palestine, pro-Palestinian conversations or issues we should be. And I think that that is important to do in this, is that innocent people should not be murdered. And that is something that we can say in this moment while also knowing the broader story.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. Yep .

Speaker 2:

I just think that's, that's a question we all should be asking ourselves. Yeah.

Speaker 1:

How , how

Speaker 2:

Do we hold up multiple truths? Yeah. Right.

Speaker 1:

And as people of faith, I think we're called to try to hold up multiple truths to stand in it. And if , you know, we, we sometimes talk about Jesus as if he just changed. He just changed the game entirely. Right?

Speaker 2:

Right.

Speaker 1:

But actually, what Jesus was doing was calling us back to the truth that always existed.

Speaker 2:

Right. We

Speaker 1:

Just forgot about it.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. The

Speaker 1:

Israelites in that situation forgot about it. Right. And, you know, yeah . When we think about the New Testament, and so yeah. Just folks remember that we are called to, to live in and to listen to those multiple truths and also to educate ourselves as well. Don't believe everything you read online, especially if it's in a comment, we should all do some research to make sure that we have a better understanding of the nuances, not just of an individual situation, but also of the broader story in the broader context.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. And give people grace.

Speaker 1:

Yeah.

Speaker 2:

There are, I mean, Jewish people all over the world will be triggered by this Palestinian people all over the world will be triggered by this. Not all, everybody is on board with what's happening that identifies in that space. And I think that there are multiple things out there that give a great kind of commentary on stuff, but it's also, yeah, learning what is happening and what the history is, and actually asking questions. I had a conversation with my mom for the first time ever about this when she called me and said, can you just tell me what exactly is happening? Because you see innocent people dying for something. And it is absolutely heinous. And people wonder what in the world is going on? And it is time for us to have a , a human centered conversation about it. We let the powers that be powerful entities redirect our conversations far too often. It is the, it is the people who are actually dying that should be centered right now. And people should be held accountable.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. And

Speaker 2:

Then we can talk about war and all those things, which, you know, we don't really agree with like that all the military complexes and how accountability is held, all those things. But it's, it's a conversation and it's only gonna get worse. So I, I hope people can kind of center the fact that people are being murdered .

Speaker 1:

Yep . Yep . And well, I think that's a, that's a pretty good transition to our guest segment in which we're talking about holding systems accountable. In this case, we're talking with Joya Aaron Thornton , who is the National director and founder of the Faith Leaders of Color Coalition, as we talk about the death penalty and capital punishment. So again, this is kind of a heavy topic, but it's important because in this conversation we're gonna get into how the death penalty does or does not fit with our callings and beliefs as Christians. And also what having a system like the death penalty says about us as a society and also what are some of the, like, historical implications and history behind capital punishment. So we hope that you learn a lot from this conversation with Joya . Well, we are so excited to be joined on this episode of a Matter of Faith a Presby podcast by a very special guest. Joining us is Joya Aaron Thornton , who is the National Director and founder of the Faith Leaders of Color Coalition. Joya , thank you so much for being with us. And tell us a little bit about the Faith Leaders of Color Coalition, which I think has a great acronym, which is Flock, F L O C C ,

Speaker 3:

<laugh>. It's definitely really great to be here. I appreciate , uh, you Simon and Lee for having me on this episode. I'm really excited to dive in and share the goals and also the mission of Flock. So the faith leaders of color coalitions began as a cohort of 21 black clergy , uh, divinity school professors, activists, organizers and lawyers who wanted to extend the access of policy information related to the American Capital Punishment System directly to clergy. So directly to black and indigenous clergy. We wanted to do what was called participatory policy. We wanted them to be involved in our policy creation and our litigation to eliminate the use of the death penalty in states and also our stop execution campaigns for individuals across the nation. Really excited. It is grown now to 111 members and organizations. So it has really taken shape in such a short time.

Speaker 2:

Awesome. Well, we are excited that you are here, Joya and all the things that Floc is doing, and to respond to a question and get our conversation started about the death penalty, but our question reads, how does the death penalty fit or not fit with our callings and beliefs as Christians? And this is a question that a lot of people ask specifically in the faith realm. And so we are really thankful you're here to respond and have a conversation to it. So how would you start us off

Speaker 3:

Scriptures that , uh, remind me of why the death penalty has no place and does not fit into our beliefs as Christians, as followers of Christ, as followers of God? Is John 1335 by this show ? All may know that you are my disciples. If you have love for one another, that scripture really rings true. We have to lead with love. Another one is vengeance is mine . Saying the Lord, not vengeance is the faith . Vengeance is a group of 12 jurors of your peers , um, say at the Lord. So when you think about our belief system and how we are now called under the New Testament, I don't believe that the death penalty system in America fits into our moral consciousness as Christians. So I'm going to stand on that and I will defend it against anyone. If we're leading with love. We have to trust that God knows what's best in every single situation.

Speaker 1:

I think that's really important. And it's good to start with scripture. Quite a lot of policy about capital punishment and the death penalty , um, primarily speaking out against it, particularly in the last, I would say, 10 to 20 years. But there's also a difference between making a policy statement and taking action to support that. And so as we're thinking more about some of the, the , I guess some of the wider conversations that are going on around the death penalty, I was wondering, Jo , um, what you would have to say. 'cause now that we've sort of taken a little bit of the conversation about whether it fits, what would you say about it, especially in today's political and also for lack of a better word , like criminal justice context?

Speaker 3:

Right. And I hear somebody in my ear, maybe they're in the car, maybe they're in their house and they're saying, but we're supposed to obey the laws of the land. Correct? Yes. But as Christians, Jesus came to disrupt the law . And sometimes the laws of the land when they are unequitable for all people, when they are marginalizing a certain amount of people when , uh, race can play an outside role or even your socioeconomic background can play a large role. So there are a couple of things that I pull out of my toolbox when people wanna have questions related to the American capital punishment system. First people say, you know, what about the victims? And the victims are at the herald of why I am against the system. Oftentimes , it takes , uh, cases that are going through our criminal legal system, capital cases, years, 25 years, 20 years, when there is an appeal that is made. It is not a swift justice. Folks do not get immediate solace when it comes to seeking death sentences. And oftentimes families, if you are a court watcher, and if you're not, I encourage you to go into your local courts. Anybody can watch if you're not disrupting the court process. Um, they are often traumatized through that process. They have to see evidence, they have to often sometimes see body parts of their loved ones, and they don't wanna see that through appellate process, after appellate process. So the first thing I would say, a lot of victims don't really want to seek the definitely continually. Second is not a deterrent crime. A lot of states that still maintain the death penalty system, they still have high crime and high pop , highly populated cities. Then third, that definitely is fiscally irresponsible. There was , uh, there was a publication in Louisiana that it takes $7.7 million to maintain Louisiana's death row, even though there has been no one executed in the past 13 years. Just think about where that money could have went to. It could have went to education, it could've went to roads . It could've been to higher livable wages. I know here in Atlanta, there have been more than 70,000 evictions since January. So just thinking about those things , um, also the race of the victim plays a huge role. And if district attorney's offices or , uh, attorney general's office seek death sentences at all. So in St. Louis, we had a case where there were two individuals. They were both 19 and they were from the same county. And one individual received a life sentence for the crime that he committed. And it was a murder. And another individual who was white, the first one was black, and another individual who was white, he also killed an individual, and he received a life sentence , uh, with parole. So oftentimes , uh, if you're , uh, an individual that is non-white, a capital sentence is sought in a murder case. And also it depends upon the victim felt tragic in the crime. So if the victim is white, then uh , a death sentence is sought more often than a victim is black, even if, you know, both , both crimes were identical. So those are things that we , uh, also have to talk about. Um, and then I would challenge pro-lifers out there that you, if you believe in the sanctity of life and the protection of life, it is from cradle all the way to if someone commits a murder, you believe in life and in all aspects, and you believe that the state just doesn't have that right to kill someone. So there are several tools that I use and then also I , I wanna make mention the most obvious is there have been 100 over 180 exonerations from death row. So it's 180 times states have gotten it wrong, and evidence has been shown that of the , that a individual did not commit the crime or there is enough sufficient evidence that they did not commit the crime which caused them to be exonerated from , uh, desper.

Speaker 2:

It's one of these conversations that, and , and how we think about accountability within our society and with our , within our systems and, and what that means in, in that to say, how do we hold folks accountable for what they do? Because obviously these crimes are very terrible,

Speaker 3:

Right ?

Speaker 2:

The, the victim's families have to have trauma that will probably be there for the rest of their generations. And so there is a need for some sort of accountability. So I always like to kind of ask in , in these kind of discussions about the death penalty because what is, what is to take its place or, or how are we to view how we do the work of accountability within our society? How do we do that better? And how do we do that well? And and what are the models that you would kind of lead people towards? As we're thinking about what does that look like as we continue to, to try to dismantle these very death dealing systems? How are we to kind of transition into models that are based around accountability, but also centered in love? As you were saying, that we are called to love everyone, and everyone is, is entitled to transformation in a way. Yeah.

Speaker 3:

Lee , you hit it right on the nail. Um, instead of always saying the American Death Penalty system, I call it the American Death System because it's so akin to historical , uh, racial terror violence of lynching in this country, particularly in the deep South. Um, the states that held on to lynching practices are the same states that are holding on to executions today and often the most heinous forms of execution today in this past Tennessee of 13th Leg , a hundred and 13th legislator of Tennessee , um, there was a representative who , uh, from Sparta, Tennessee, who wanted to bring back hanging by a tree, he wanted to amend , uh, executions to include hanging by a tree. So right now, most states have done away with the electric chair. You know, the electric chair now makes us uncomfortable. Um, we are just doing a lethal injection , which also has some complications, which is why Tennessee was under a moratorium or stay of executions for a while. So those are the things we have to look at historically, when it comes to systems of death , is what I use . You know, we have to think about the historical implications of it, especially in certain regions. And to your question, as far as what do we replace it with, I would go back to saying, do you feel safer that the death penalty is in place in your state , um, knowing that the death penalty is there? Do you feel safer walking out , um, at night down the street because the death penalty is there? Right. That's what people should fear, the death penalty. Um , I always ask that question. Now, this doesn't make it right, but most often when murders occur, it's usually victims that know each other. Usually it's people that know each other. People usually offend where they live or in close proximity to where they live. It's never something random where people will say, you know, because of the death penalty, I'm not gonna commit this crime. It's usually a crime of passion. It's usually , um, something that is not premeditated. So those are just some of the data that we're looking at when it comes to violent crime. People don't just <laugh> not kill because they know that the death penalty is in their state.

Speaker 1:

I think that's a great point. Like you said earlier, that it's not necessarily a deterrent , uh, because I think also, and I , I'm grateful that I've never been in a situation like this, but if there is a, whether we call it a crime of passion or something more serious, a lot of times the consequences, regardless of whatever they were, didn't matter to that person in that moment. And so then it, then the question is not really about that person, it's about who we are as a society that would think that this is the proper way to always deter someone from doing something.

Speaker 3:

Absolutely. Absolutely. And you know, that's something that I, I ask myself all the time. Uh , we did some polling down here in Atlanta of a neighborhood that felt unsafe and some of the things that they said with more lights , um, if the community center was open a little longer, if we had livable wages, none of that was related to more policing. And if more people were sentenced to the death penalty or if the death penalty included more crimes like rape and things like that, it was all things related to what an individual makes them feel safe. And I always ask that when I'm up public speaking, think about where you feel the safest. What do you see? Do you see water? Do you see a cozy toy? Do you see your family? Is it food available? And there's no food deserts, it never has to do with crime. And, and it never has to do with punishment. And more and more and more policing, it always has to do with access to better resources. That is what many communities need. You know, fathers have to be able to afford rent and food for their families. Mothers have to be able to afford daycare. Um, in Memphis, when I started our court watch program, what we saw a lot is , uh, crimes of poverty. So moms that were stealing diapers at a Walmart and Target, and we were really asking those , uh, institutions, do you really wanna prosecute this mom? And we reached out to local churches and nonprofits to say, can you just have a , a bank where mothers can come and get diapers and get wipes and get feminine supplies, versus prosecuting an individual for $8 or , or $20 because of what they needed for their child.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. It's how these systems are all connected. And I think in how we have created what America is today and how these systems feed off of each other, it is a , it , it it is systems based out of fear. And I think that fear often creates narratives and realities that only continue a system that is beneficial for those of privilege and the police and the death penalty and the justice system. All these things are kind of that, like that fear factor within it, but also this false reality that, that brings safety, like meeting violence with violence. Right.

Speaker 3:

And,

Speaker 2:

And I think that narrative is, is often something that I hear a lot. It's like, well, this person did this, and I don't even think it, it necessarily has to do with theology whatsoever. I think that's just how people have been conditioned to think that like, you're gonna, if you do this to me, that I need to do this to you. Okay . And , and , but then that justice system is added on top of it with guns and with that culture here in the us and now it's fine to, to have instruments of violence even in our own pockets for, you know, just to have. And so it's just kind of this like fear-based system that kind of thinks that it can answer everyone's problems with, well, we'll just, we'll just answer this violence with violence when in reality we don't even know where this violence is stemming from and what is causing it. It's only the symptom. And we haven't gotten down to the, the actual illness or disease of these systems and how they impact us all. So it is just all very, very connected. And the death penalty is just one of those things that it of slaps you in the face because it is so, it is actual death happening in front of people's eyes and a state sanctioned. And it's kind of one of these things that is , yeah. It's a very wild thing to think about now.

Speaker 3:

Right, right. It's definitely, it's definitely judic judicial homicide. Mm-hmm . Um , when that happens , um, I, like I said before, like we have to ask ourselves the question every day . Um , we kill someone in the state of Florida, <laugh> has killed about six people already. Uh, governor DeSantis has signed more than six death warrants this year, and yet there is still violent crime in Florida. Uh , I believe in restorative justice circles , um, and often, let's humanize this, right ? So often when I meet people on the row , they tell me about different ACEs or adverse childhood experiences that they have experienced that they have experienced since birth. So whether it was a failing educational system, whether it was , um, one or two parents didn't have access to mental health care , whether it was living in a neighborhood that was already riddled with drugs and crime and , and prostitution. Um , these individuals often are traumatized before the ages of 12 and 13. So they are conditioned that violence is normalized. Like, this is how you get things, this is how you get people to hear you. One individual that I met on the road and I just wanted to be heard, I was angry and I just wanted to be heard. Now again, I'm not excusing any of the crimes that were committed. What we're asking here and what we're doing here and suggesting is challenging the system. We don't believe the system has a right to kill anyone because the system gets it wrong too many times, one of my partners, the Innocence Project, who I worked with on a case in Tennessee, Hervis Payne , we were able to not only get him off of death row, but change the laws for intellect persons with intellectual disabilities in Tennessee that were sentenced to deaths. Uh, we have to think about all the times that the system gets it wrong, but also humanize these individuals. Um, even when we read some of their crimes, you know, I know a lot of people who watch a lot of crime stories or on Wikipedia, it's kind of like murder topia, I think something like that on the internet. And you can read these crimes , some of them are heinous, I'm not excusing that, but there were a lot of individuals that had a lot of trauma in their life that led them to where they are now.

Speaker 1:

And like you , we've said earlier, there's issues of privilege and access to resources. And, and you mentioned earlier Joya that , um, the, the, I mean just the , the tendency for the system to punish black and African Americans more with the dental death penalty than white Americans. And that also is backed up by the fact that the , for the tendency to put black and African Americans behind bars more often as well, it's, it's already set up that way. And so when the system is already feeding itself based on a, a mindset and a perspective, it is, it, it is gonna just keep di disproportionately impacting people of color, and particularly black and African Americans in our communities and in our country. And if we're Christians that just can't be tolerated , um, we can't, we can't set people up for failure and then act like the system was fine when it never gave them a chance in the first place.

Speaker 3:

Wow. Wow. You , you said a lot right there, and it leads me into some more stats. Um, so roughly 13% of the US population identifies as black or African American or native black American, but 40% of death row prisoners are black or African American. We have to look at that. We have to think about whose lives matter in 2020. There was such a polarizing effect that, you know, do Black Lives matter? Why should Black lives matter? All lives matter. Of course, we know all lives matter, but what we're saying is, do Black Lives matter? Because in our system, in the capital punishment system, the system that I'm fighting, they don't matter because death sentences are solved more often for black people who commit violent crimes. And black people do commit violent crimes than white people who commit , um, violent crimes. They're often given , uh, a much better deal when they are. And because they have access to better lawyers, they have access to more re re , uh, resources, but also just the stigma of race period. Um, there's a really great book by a , a author, her name is Jennifer Eberhart , and it's called Bias. And what she does is a series of , um, of different experiments where she flashes different faces in front of an individual, and she stops on a face and, and asks the person whether they're black, white, other, doesn't matter , um, who's the more violent person or who's the more dangerous person based on your perception? And more often our minds are conditioned that the other people, the non-white people are the most dangerous, they are the least educated. Where does this come from? You know, why is this embedded in our mindset? So that's something that just wanna make mention of that those book , book like Bias really talk to our biases in the system.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I'm so glad you brought that up. And some of my work is focused on gun violence prevention, and one of the things I did was I coordinated a webinar series on gun violence and what faith communities could do about it. And one of those webinars focused on the media and the role of media and perpetuating myths around gun violence. And a, we had a, a guest who was from the , uh, bureau of Justice Statistics who shared a newspaper clipping, and it was a picture of a young African American woman, and it was talking about a gun violence incident. And she said, when you look at this article based on the title in the picture, it looks like this person perpetuated this crime when in fact this is a picture of the victim in this situation. And the way that the media portrays violence and gun violence impacts the ways that we think about victims and perpetrators and who deserves to have their violence interrupted. And as you were just saying, what you were just saying, I was like, wow. Like, yeah, <laugh> , it, it really does. And so we need to work on that bias, not just in our media, but in ourselves as well. And that's something that's really hard to interrogate. Um, but that's an important part of this as well. So thank you for mentioning that.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, yeah. You have someone like Dylan Roof , who a couple of years ago shot up , uh, the a m e church in South Carolina who was given Burger King when he was captured right before he was taken to, to jail the prison to be processed. Um, that just feeds into our bias. Like yeah, he just , he just killed a bunch of people in a church, but I think he's hungry. Let's allow him to, to get Burger King. But you have an individual like , uh, Michael Brown who was possibly accused in Ferguson, Missouri, of stealing something out of his store who was immediately shot by police once he left that store . And , um, left, left on the ground for a severely, severely , uh, long time. And I actually just left St. Louis and spent some time with the Brown family , uh, because I think it was the anniversary of his death in Ferguson and the uprisings from Ferguson. So we just can't ignore things like that of how the system treats , uh, black and white people. Our race continues to play an outside role in whether we treat people one way and treat other people another way. And

Speaker 2:

I've often had conversations about the death penalty with people on all spectrums of the political sphere. And, and I think from my , I hear from a lot of people, it's one of the issues that could be something that people find a common ground on, specifically because of this pro-life rhetoric specifically because I mean, nobody wants anybody to be dead. I mean, I mean , if, if you are a good person, <laugh> , um, but I, I do think it's one of those things that, you know, how do we have these conversations in our churches and within church folk? Because the church though, it is going in a, a downward way trajectory of the church and membership is declining and many, in many communities, a church is the center of said community. And when these conversations happen, you know, a lot of people's minds or a lot of people's lives could be transformed and something could be done about it. So I wonder like, what are some tools, what are some things that y'all teach at Flock for people to begin to have these conversations in their churches? Because it is something that I think is kind of that, even though we're so polarized now, it is something that I think I have seen many people of all different perspectives come to the table and say, this needs to change. So I wonder what tools people can have or use, obviously contact flock if they want to, but also what would you say to some church folk or people of faith that may want to begin to start doing something?

Speaker 3:

Sure. So Flock creates space for black and indigenous pastors, faith leaders who are seeking to singularly focus on their questions and concerns around our American capital punishment system. We have folks who are already doing the action. We have folks that are still questions, and I'm ready and willing to unpack those questions with them. There are a lot of tools out there. So E J U S A has a division evangelical network and they have a toolkit that talks about the church injustice . And in that toolkit, it is a link that says How to have a Death Penalty Sunday, or a Definitely Wednesday. And it's a series of questions and guides that churches can reflect and talk about. And I'll definitely send you the link to send to your listeners and folks that follow you. Um, but also there are so many great books out there. One of my favorite authors, Maurice Shema , has a book called Let the Lord Sort him . And he talks about , uh, the history of the death penalty in the great state of Texas. You know, Texas has been known to fry more people than the Kentucky Fried Chicken. I know we've all heard that. And that is particularly true in Texas. They seek a lot of death citizens in Texas and Oklahoma, Florida and , uh, some other states. Um , so I would definitely say read those books. Um, Anthony Ray Hinton, who is an exoneree, he works with , um, the ej , um, ej, not ej, U S A , the Equal Justice Network , uh, with Brian Stevenson . He has a book call , um, when the , when the Sun Does Rise, that's a really great resource. Um, there are a lot of books out there that really help you to question what you think about not just the death penalty, but also this system of justice or injustice. Our criminal legal system , Michelle Alexander, the New Jim Crow, she has a book that's out there and also flock . And again, I'll link that has a lot of , lot of books that we recommend before you reach your final answer of if you believe in the definitely or not , um, read those books and have that, that type of awakening.

Speaker 2:

Just to mention, we talked about Tennessee in here a lot. Um, I , Stacy Rector hasn't been on the podcast, but she has done some things within our network for Unbound. And Stacey Rector is the director of Tennesseeans for alternatives to the Death penalty in Tennessee. And I know , uh, Joya , you know , uh, <laugh> Stacy Yes . And a wonderful person, a Presbyterian minister, and has been doing this work in Tennessee for a very, very long time. So if you are a listener and you're in Tennessee, please check them out too, because it is, they do some, some good work. And also I think one of my really good friends visited someone on death row for years. And, and I think if, if people ever get that chance , uh, it is a very transformative experience from I know through her and I know there are programs all over the country, that that can be a possibility for people. And and I think that is also a very transformative thing to , is to actually talk with people who may be experiencing them this themselves. And it is a very traumatic, traumatic experience. And, and, and maybe before we close, I wonder if we could talk about that a little bit because in the process of the death penalty, there's also appeal. There's also all these things that can make the process go longer. And for someone in that system, you know, what that does to someone's psyche and what that do does to someone's mind, I cannot even fathom what that might look like alongside the trauma als also alongside the trauma of a victim's family too. And how do we kind of hold those? 'cause there's often an either or , right ? We can't have any empathy for this person who did this because we have to have all the empathy for the victim's families. Right?

Speaker 3:

And,

Speaker 2:

And I think in faith, this is the mystery of faith, I think, is we can do both things at the same time. There is no either or there, there is a both and, and we can have empathy. 'cause empathy is, for me, infinite and there is no set amount. And so, you know, I just wonder about that too, is that to change the narrative, we can have both of these things at the same time and they're not competing against each other too. So Yeah. Right.

Speaker 3:

We, we can hold space for both. And oftentimes if you talk to a victim's family member, the first question they would say, what do they want after this situation is to bring their family member back. They want their family member , they don't rush to, I want this person to die, and I'm a convert . You know, at first I believe , well, you know, if the person is innocent and there's evidence to prove that the person is innocent, yes, this person should be killed now, I'm like, I don't believe in the system at all. So that's something that we should, we should ask ourselves, you know, how can we hold space for the offender, but also the victim? And what do the victims want? We need to ask more questions of , about the victim's families. What do they want? They can't bring their loved one back. So do they need mental health services? Do they need support in other way ? Do they need spiritual support? Do we need more people of faith to be first responders when things like that happen versus police, do we need clergy to get involved on a criminal justice, criminal legal level to offer themselves up as a resources for families to talk about what it looks like to actually go through this process? Do we need more training for clergy to be able to deal with victims' , families? Do we need stronger victims' ? Families group ? There's this wonderful group journey of hope , uh, from violence to healing that has a host of victims' families that go around the nation and talk about how they are against the death penalty, how the death penalty brought them more trauma and more harm after they had suffered the death of a loved one. So I would always say, go back to what the victims want, but also hold the offender. Hold that space for the offender to and humanize them . Humanize them. I know that they've done some horrible things and , and it's hard sometimes for people to think about the offender in situations like this, but they need resources too. They need help too. They need support too. They need chaplains too, because you don't want to perpetuate this type of thinking. Don't get caught up in the emotions, but rather get caught up in the facts, the statistics and the data of the American Capital Punishment System System. And that is why we must abolish it. That is why we must end it and eliminate it, because it doesn't serve us in any way. It doesn't keep us safe. It doesn't allow solace for victims. There are way too many innocent folks that are sentenced to death row. We have to think of . And resources could be allocated elsewhere if we didn't have a death row in some of these states that may prevent violent crime. So it's, it's very cyclical when we think about these issues , um, that lead us to the American Death system.

Speaker 1:

So before we close, we did wanna give you a , a moment to talk a little bit more about Flock, the Faith Leaders of Color Coalition. We'll be sure to have a link to flock as well as flock's toolkit in the show notes. But yeah, just wanted to give you another, another moment to say anything else you'd like to say about Flock.

Speaker 3:

Sure. Uh , one of the resources that I suggested, the Equal Justice Initiative, Anthony Ray Hinton , um, also just Mercy by Brian Stevenson , who is one of our giants in the anti death penalty space. He has the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace Justice in Montgomery, which I believe every single person should visit. And you will definitely have questions about , uh, the death penalty, whether you support it or not. But as far as flock, I'm really super excited about flock because Flock came about. It was so many organizers and lawyers that were working with clergy, particularly black clergy, and they always kind of would call on them towards the end to sign petitions, to sign letters , to accompany them to different court dates and things like that. So Flock was created to be proactive, to invite the clergy members in on the front end to develop the policy, to ask questions, to walk alongside organizers and lawyers and activists that we're developing strategies on how to eliminate the use of the Capital Punishment system. I'm so excited. We have so many notable members and supporters of Flock. Flock is about to launch in a couple of weeks. So we have some really great actions that are coming up for World Day against the death penalty, which is every year, October 10th, so 10 10 . So we have so many things planned for the remainder of this year, and also 2024 on a federal level. Our members will be in DC a lot to urge President Biden to commute the remaining federal death row sentences. That is super important because this is something that he can do with the stroke of the pen . He doesn't need Congress, he doesn't need the house. So we really wanna call President Biden out on that. We have a letter to President Biden. That's an open letter out that we are still needing more signatures for, but as I said before, I'm really thankful that this space has been created for black and indigenous pastors who know all too well, communities that have been affected and riddled , uh, with violence.

Speaker 2:

Well, Julia , thank you so much for being with us and to talk about our question about the death penalty. And just to remind everybody, we'll have links to all the things in the show notes. But thank you again for being with us on the podcast today.

Speaker 3:

Thank you. I had so much fun talking to you, and I hope we compel somebody today.

Speaker 2:

Thanks everyone for listening to this episode of a Matter of eight . We want you to subscribe wherever you get your podcast and lead the podcast a review and give us five stars. We love that. If you have any questions for us, send them to Faith podcast@pcusa.org and check out our website, a matter of faith podcast.com, and we will talk to you again next week.