From the Worldwide Faith News archives

ELCA Man Says Death Penalty Solves Few Problems

Date 29 Jan 1999 08:45:45


January 29, 1999

     BALTIMORE (ELCA)-- A member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in
America (ELCA) whose sister was brutally murdered, and who later witnessed
the execution of her murderer, told a story of forgiveness to a national
symposium on criminal justice here Jan. 22-24.
     Ron Carlson's sister, Deborah, was one of two people brutally
murdered by Karla Faye Tucker and an accomplice.  Tucker became a
nationally prominent death row inmate before her execution Feb. 3, 1998,
in Texas.  
     "I stood over Karla Fay Tucker's casket just as I stood over my
sister's," said Carlson, a member of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church,
Houston. "I felt the reality of death and said to myself, 'This can't be
     In an unrelated incident, Carlson's natural father was murdered
about a year later.
     Carlson was the keynote speaker at the Bob Domer Memorial Symposium
on Criminal Justice.  The conference was sponsored by the Social
Ministries for Congregations program of the ELCA Division for
Congregational Ministries.  The ELCA Division for Church in Society and
the regional ELCA Working Group on Criminal Justice also sponsored the
     Despite an initial desire for retribution, Carlson said he began
reading a Bible which belonged to his father. 
     "I asked God to take the pain away and to replace it with love
joined by passion so that I could forgive the people who destroyed my
family," he told the audience, with a slight tremor in his voice. 
     In 1991 he confronted Tucker, who had already been sentenced to
death, offering her his forgiveness.  Between that first meeting and
Tucker's execution, Carlson said he developed a relationship with his
sister's killer and a steadfast belief that the death penalty doesn't
solve any problems. 
     "It sure didn't bring my sister back that night they killed Karla,"
he said.
     About 100 people from the ELCA and other denominations active in
criminal justice ministry registered for the conference.  It focused on
congregation-based criminal justice ministry, said Loretta Horton, ELCA
director for Social Ministries for Congregations. 
     In addition to a series of plenary sessions featuring speakers such
as Dr. Henry G. Covert, United Church of Christ minister and author of
"Ministry to the Incarcerated," participants chose from workshops dealing
with volunteer recruitment and nurture, human rights and the criminal
justice system, meeting the needs of women in transition and abolishing
capital punishment.
     The Rev. Orville Nyblade, retired ELCA pastor, attended the
symposium on behalf of his congregation, Christ Lutheran Church,
Gettysburg, Pa.   
     Actively involved with the congregation's social ministry committee,
Nyblade said he expected to learn some pointers for the congregation's
work at the county prison through the Pennsylvania Prison Society. 
     T. Milton Nelson, a member of New Hope Lutheran Church, Columbia,
Md., attended as a result of his five-year stint as a Bible study leader
at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women.
     He said his enthusiasm for prison ministry comes from his
observation that "the women were so eager and their participation was so
     Waetina Coles, a member of All Saints Lutheran Church, Baltimore,
and Peg Sheeler, Holy Spirit Lutheran Church, Eldersburg, Md., attended in
conjunction with their volunteer work for the ELCA Delaware-Maryland
     "We'll serve as resource people for synod congregations looking for
models for prison ministry," Coles said.
     The conference included a special tribute to Robert Domer, former
chairperson of the Interreligious Taskforce on Criminal Justice and member
of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. A member of the
ELCA, Domer served on the task force that helped develop the social
statement opposing the death penalty which the church adopted in 1991.
     Domer was wrongly accused and convicted of murder in 1963 and
appealed the death penalty portion of his sentence. A second trial
resulted in dismissal of all charges. Until his death in January 1998,
Domer dedicated his life to abolishing the death penalty.

[*Linda Lovell is communications coordinator for the ELCA's Delaware-Maryland Synod.]

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or NEWS@ELCA.ORG

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