During his homily on Friday, Jan. 26, the Rev. Robert T. Schriber, of Garner's St. Mary Mother of the Church, said he came to mass with "a light heart" because the execution of Marcus Reymond Robinson did not happen earlier that morning.
Robinson, 33, received an eleventh-hour reprieve when Wake Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens issued a stay just 16 hours before Robinson was scheduled to die by injection in the Central Prison execution chamber. The ruling also stopped this Friday's scheduled execution of James Edward Thomas, 51, and on Jan. 26, Stephens issued an injunction to prevent the Feb. 9 execution of James Adolph Campbell.
Schriber said the state must uphold the sanctity of life. "The state should not be doing what it condemns," Schriber said.
The decision by Stephens was welcomed by opponents of the death penalty who were girding themselves for three executions in 15 days. Instead of a meal of mourning, the Rev. Scott Bass and his wife, Roberta Mothershead, co-founders of Raleigh's Nazareth House, held a celebration supper Jan. 25. "We gather to celebrate," Bass said in a prayer before the meal. "We hope and pray" that the stays issued by Stephens will result in ending the death penalty.
Stephens' decision hinged on the fact that the N.C. Medical Board recently ruled physicians cannot play a role in executions. A state law requires a doctor be present at executions, but the Medical Board said any participation by a physician violates medical ethics, which require a physician "to do no harm."
While Gov. Mike Easley, in cooperation with the Council of State, could amend the law to exclude the presence of physicians from executions, such a move would be unlikely to satisfy Stephens, said Gerda Stein of the Durham-based Center for Death Penalty Litigation.
Stein said the legal issues raised by Stephens "are not simple matters" that the Council of State can quickly resolve. "We're talking about lots of complex issues," Stein said. "It would be unwise for the Council of State to just quickly rubber stamp some new protocol."
The ruling was especially joyful for Robinson's mother, the Rev. Shirley Burns. Instead of watching her son die on a gurney in the middle of the night, she was with him in the prison death watch area when they received the news of the stay.
Burns had petitioned Easley to spare the life of her youngest son, but in the end, Easley never ruled on Robinson's clemency request.
Last April 26, Burns' son Curtis Green, 36, was murdered. "He was murdered and dumped in a ditch on the side of the road in Cumberland County," said Burns, who is the pastor at Snow Hill AME Zion church in Fayetteville. Another son, Reginald Green, 35, is in the Navy and is scheduled to be deployed to Iraq at the end of January.
Robinson is on death row for the 1991 murder of Erik Tornblom. Both Robinson and his co-defendent, Roderick Williams, claimed the other was the triggerman, but only Robinson received a death sentence.
Burns said she understands the pain being felt by Tornblom's family, but she does not believe in capital punishment for her son or her other son's killer. Executing his killer won't bring her son back to life, Burns said. "I'm not out for vengeance. I just want justice and what's right," she said.
Biblical recorder editor steps down
To the disappointment of Baptist moderates, Biblical Recorder editor Tony Cartledge announced he will step down at the end of the year to take a faculty position in the Campbell University Divinity School.
Cartledge, 55, has been at the helm of the Raleigh-based Baptist State Convention biweekly since 1999. He has done an outstanding job of balancing the dramatically diverse views of a denomination that has long been divided between fundamentalists and moderates. Most fundamentalists take the view that the Bible is historically true, and is the inerrant word of God. A campaign has been under way for years to purge the Southern Baptist Convention, the national body, of all non-fundamentalists. The campaign has included issues such as the conversion of Jews and other non-Christians to Christianity, condemnation of the gay and lesbian lifestyle, and a subservient role for women in both family and church life.
Cartledge is among a group of North Carolina Baptists who have tried to maintain the BSC as a diverse and open body. In an editorial published in the Jan. 20 Recorder, Cartledge said he saw the writing on the wall.
"I already had a strong sense that my days at the Recorder were numbered," he wrote. Not from a lack of support from the paper's board or "our faithful readers, but from a personal awareness that the BSC has changed to the point that I'm no longer as good a match for the position as in years past."
Under Cartledge, the Recorder has maintained a strong commitment to covering a broad range of issues relating to Baptist life. He has frequently traveled to disaster areas both at home and abroad to report on the denomination's usually impressive responses to the pain and suffering of natural disaster victims.
Cartledge said in an interview that the fight to save the BSC from a complete conservative takeover may already be over. "I'm probably one of many who pretty much have come to the conclusion that the fight is over, and there's not a lot of point in continuing to press for something that's not going to happen," he said.
The loss of Cartledge is something from which the BSC may never recover. He represents the core Baptist belief known as "the priesthood of the believer," a reference to the historical independence of Baptists. "Individual conscience is one of the great virtues and values in Baptist life, and one of the things that many of us feel is being lost to some degree in the developments over the past 20 or 30 years," Cartledge said.
The timing could not have been worse for the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh. After a good start to the new year, things went downhill as The News & Observer ran three front-page stories that cast Catholicism in a bad light.
Things began well when The N&O's Jan. 1 edition cited newly installed Bishop Michael Burbidge as one of seven "People to Watch" in the area. That was the end of the good news.
On Jan. 4, the paper reported an unusual story of a police sting at Cary's St. Michael the Archangel parish in which undercover police staked out three masses and installed two hidden cameras in order to catch an elderly usher who was suspected of stealing cash out of the collection plate.
During a New Year's Eve mass at the wealthy mega-parish, the Cary police arrested James Maccaline after he passed the collection plate. Police said the 75-year-old was caught pocketing a marked $20 bill.
Police say Maccaline, who has been active at St. Michael for 31 years and is known fondly to parishioners as "Jimmy Mac," admitted to stealing the $20 bill. He was removed from the church, arrested and charged with misdemeanor larceny.
But the story doesn't end there. On Jan. 5, the paper ran another front-page story reporting that the diocese had paid out almost $1.2 million in 2006 to settle five priest sex-abuse complaints against the diocese, almost twice the $600,000 the diocese had allocated in its budget for such payments.
On Jan. 6, another front-page story, accompanied by a color photo of Maccaline and his wife, Lois, reported Maccaline's family's view that he was "mentally limited" and incapable of understanding what he was doing when he pocketed the $20 bill.
Lois Maccaline and her son, Thomas Smith, said they wondered why St. Michael's pastor, Msgr. Tim O'Connor, opted to call police rather than call the family and handle the situation "in a quieter, more dignified manner."
The juxtaposition of the stories has not been lost on readers, who have deluged The N&O with phone calls and letters, most very supportive of Maccaline and critical of O'Connor, who has not granted any interviews since the story broke.
"A church that asked for compassion, respect and forgiveness for its clergy should certainly demonstrate the same in its treatment of others," Karla and Larry Diener wrote in a letter published Jan. 13 in The N&O.
In a Jan. 9 letter backing O'Connor, Harry Cooper wrote: "Trying to turn the accused into a victim? I don't think so! The pastor did the right thing."
Cary police Capt. David Wulff, who conducted the sting, is a member of St. Michael parish. Wulff said Maccaline appeared "fine" when he was arrested and normal by all accounts. He also said Maccaline should have been charged with embezzlement, which is a felony, but the district attorney would not press that charge.
Wulff said he did not give O'Connor favorable treatment by using five plainclothes officers, some working overtime, in the sting.
'The border is here'
"The Border is Here" is a conference that will take an in-depth look at U.S. immigration policy from a faith perspective. The three-day event (Feb. 2-4) at The Church of Reconciliation (110 Elliott Road, Chapel Hill) will address immigration from community, state and national perspectives.
The keynote speaker will be Rick Ufford-Chase, executive director of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, who has lived and worked on the U.S.-Mexican border for 20 years, focusing his work on providing direct assistance to farm workers and undocumented persons and helping North American people of faith understand the complex dynamics of border, immigration and trade policy.
Praying for Peace
When just 1 percent of a population engages in meditation and/ or prayer on a daily basis, there is as much as an 80 percent decrease in violence within that community. So say the folks at Unity Church of the Triangle, and they want people to join their congregation's weekday effort "to create peace within the community" through meditation and prayer.
You can join the Unity Church of the Triangle for daily, silent meditation Monday-Friday, 12:15-12:45 p.m. at the Long View Center in downtown Raleigh (118 S. Person St.). For more info: 832-8324 or www.unitytriangle.org.