Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Long Post Explaining My Motivations

What Motivates a Person to Walk 300 Miles?

(posted by Scott Bass)

I left readers hanging at the end of last year's Pilgrimage with a promise of sharing more reflections on that journey. I'll do better this year. Let me begin with some "preflections" on this year's journey.

My personal motives for organizing and setting out on this 300-mile* Pilgrimage begin with the work Roberta and I do with families of homicide victims and families of people on death row. Through our work at Nazareth House, a Christian community and house of hospitality in we co-founded in Raleigh, NC, I have spent time in conversation with and offering support to both sets of families.

My background includes working since the mid 1980s in various ministry capacities and as a marriage and family therapist (since 1994) and often working with people who have experienced traumatic loss. In the past few years, I have talked with family members whose children have been murdered outside of prisons and with those whose children have been executed by the state inside of prison. I sat with one mother during the very hour of her son’s execution. While their experiences are certainly not exactly the same, they have so much in common.

My experiences with these families have taught me that we too often give only lip service to victims’ families, at least after the first few days and weeks, and we outright abandon the families of people who commit homicide. My experiences with both these sets of families and my learning more about our death penalty system has led me over the years to move from passive support for the death penalty to passionate opposition to it.

I have other motivations for this Pilgrimage. One is my deep love for my native eastern North Carolina – its people, its culture, its land, etc.. Having grown up living (and working!) on an eastern North Carolina farm (in Sampson County), the region is in me forever. I also have a deep devotion to my Christian faith and love for the Church – both Catholic and Protestant. My experiences with the above-mentioned families, my love for eastern North Carolina and the faith I embrace make this experience a deep personal and public journey. The Pilgrimage is truly a spiritual experience of praying for the people already mentioned as well as for the people whose communities we will pass through. At the same time, we want to raise questions especially among my fellow eastern North Carolina Christians, like, “What does our faith say about how we behave toward these families, toward both victims and perpetrators of violence, and what does our faith say about support for the death penalty?”

While I have come to strong conclusions already, I don’t care to impose my conclusions on others. I do want to engage in private conversation and public dialogue and to propose that Christian faith – as well as many other faith perspectives - requires us to pray both for people victimized by violence and people who commit violence and requires us to give compassion and real support to the families of both, not just tough talk and lip service. I also propose that support for the death penalty in our modern society is inconsistent with Christian faith and that people of our faith* must insist on responses to crime that prioritize reconciliation over retaliation, prevention over revenge, and some form of restoration over extermination of human beings.

In response to an anticipated criticism, let me say that I have been too close to the trauma and tragedy of homicide to keep any naïveté’ about what I am saying. I understand that there are serious justice issues, safety issues and many other issues to be considered and addressed. I do not claim that it is easy or simple. I do say that it is what I understand our faith to require and that it is what my fellow citizens and fellow human beings deserve. Therefore, though difficult, these things need to be addressed.

We will conduct this Pilgrimage under the name, Sojourners for Abolition and Reconciliation (SOfAR). On this walk and on these larger issues, “We have come so far. We have so far to go.”

* My personal hope is that if I make it through the 300 miles of this Pilgrimage, I will continue the journey later this summer to complete a total of 404 miles – one mile for each execution that has taken place at Central Prison.

**I say “our faith” in reference to the Christian faith that I embrace and the faith perspective of my primary audience. I do not mean to exclude others; I just do not believe I have the authority to say what other faith perspectives require.

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