BOOKS: Moral and Religious Views

  • Reverend Joseph B. Ingle’s book, Last Rights: Thirteen Fatal Encounters with the State's Justice, will be re-released in May with a new introduction by Mike Farrell (of M*A*S*H*) and with its original forward by William Styron.  Rev. Ingle, who has counseled inmates on death row for over 30 years, recounts his close relationships with 13 of these inmates before their executions. Devoting a chapter to each one, Ingle stresses the need to see each inmate as an individual. He writes, “The public needs to see them for who they were and how their love enriched my life.”
    (Last Rights: Thirteen Fatal Encounters with the State's Justice, by Joseph B. Ingle, Sterling Publishing, May 2008). See Books.

  • In his new autobiography, "Just Call Me Mike: A Journey to Actor and Activist," Mike Farrell provides intimate accounts of his life as a television sitcom star and as a human rights activist. Farrell explains how his work on the television program M*A*S*H inspired him to become more involved in politics and human rights issues. Over the years, he has been considered one of Hollywood's most prominent activists, especially on issues related to capital punishment. Farrell's work on the death penalty took him all over the country. He describes his special involvement in cases like that of Joe Giarratano in Virginia and Gary Graham in Texas. He is currently the President of Death Penalty Focus in San Francisco. The book has earned great praise from a broad spectrum of reviewers. Bill O'Reilly of Fox News Channel noted, "First of all, Mike Farrell is an honest guy. Then you add in that he's a stand-up guy as well. The combination means his book will entertain and inform you far beyond most biographies." Farrell's M*A*S*H co-star, Alan Alda, added, "I've always called him Mike. But now I have to call him talented, brave, principled, indefatigable, thoughtful, generous, and a man driven by his conscience." Other praise for the book comes from Mario Cuomo, Sister Helen Prejean, Sidney Poitier, Rosalynn Carter, and Julian Bond. (RDV Akashic Books, March 2007). See Book Tour Schedule for "Just Call Me Mike: A Journey to Actor and Activist."
  • "The Executed God: The Way of the Cross in Lockdown America" - This work by theologian Mark Lewis Taylor addresses how Christians can use biblical teachings to transform the death penalty and America's criminal justice system. (Fortress Press, 2001).
  • "Through the Fire: Spiritual Restoration for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse" - This book by counselor Rick Meyer addresses how victims of childhood sexual abuse can find healing and recovery. (Augsburg Books, 2005).
  • "Beyond Prison: A New Interfaith Paradigm for Our Failed Prison System" - Offers a 12-point plan for immediate changes to the American criminal justice system by restorative justice experts Harmon Wray and Laura Magnani. The authors explore alternatives to incarceration and the prison-industrial complex. (Fortress Press, 2006).
  • "When Violence is No Stranger: Pastoral Counseling with Survivors of Acquaintance Rape" - In this book by Kristen Leslie, an assistant professor at Yale Divinity School, the author provides in-depth interviews with survivors of date rape and offers recommendations for those who minister to these victims. (Fortress Press, 2003).
  • "Healing Violent Men: A Model for Christian Communities" - This book by religion professor David Livingston explores domestic violence. It offers practical advice for pastoral and programmatic efforts to embrace the twin Christian imperatives of forgiveness and responsiblity. (Fortress Press, 2002).
  • The book In Sweet Company: Conversations With Extraordinary Women About Living a Spiritual Life by Margaret Wolff features Sister Helen Prejean as one of 14 women whose spiritual beliefs have served as the compass for their decision-making and life's work. Prejean, author of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated book "Dead Man Walking" and the newly released "The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions," has been an advisor to those on death row and an advocate against the death penalty for more than two decades. Wolff's book notes that Sister Helen's "Dead Man Walking" catalyzed advocates on both sides of America's capital punishment debate. "In Sweet Company" features an in-depth interview with Sister Helen, including the following:
"If you're not meeting people who are different than you are, you will believe every stereotypical thing you hear about them."

You write frankly about the appalling conditions in the prisons, the inequities in the criminal justice system, the sorrow and rage of the victims' families, the humiliation of the prisoners' families and the terror of the men you walk to their death. What sustains you in the face of such violence and despair? How do you keep from getting pulled down by it?

She looks me square in the eyes. "It goes back to the ability to be present with people. When I accompany these inmates to their death, I leave myself -- even my fear -- behind. I'm totally focused on them. It's the same thing when I sit with the victims' families. I'm not thinking about myself at all.

"Each person I'm with needs something different and I have to be attentive to what that is. Dobie, the last man I accompanied to execution, needed me to be his coach. He was very scared. In those last hours of his life, I said things to him like, 'Dobie you're about to do the bravest thing you've ever done. Jesus is here with you and you will have all you need to get through. I'm here with you, too.' I took him moment by moment to his death, keeping him focused in the present every step along the way.

"After an execution, I thaw out. That's when I get in touch with the horror of it all. But when it's happening, I'm so drawn out of myself that I don't feel my own feelings. Each time, I seem to be moving in a circle of light. God's grace is there. Strength is there. I have what I need to do what I must do."

I start to commend her courage, but she holds her hand up and stops my words in mid air. "I never use that word about myself. I'm only doing what love requires. Love dignifies people. It's not a time to be silent. Execution is such a shameful, stigmatizing thing. The message these men get is that they are disposable human waste, human trash. I don't intrude, but I do provide a presence that's there as they need me. Love carries me through. That's what sustains me."

Is this something you consciously think about doing or is it something you move into? "I move into it. Having walked with five inmates to their execution, I now know what to expect. There's a readiness in me to move into that circle of light. It's unlike anything I experience anywhere else. Time absolutely stops and yet it absolutely races."

The book features 13 other women who range from 31 to 91 years of age, and who come from Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and Native American traditions. (The except featured in this item was taken from IN SWEET COMPANY: CONVERSATIONS WITH EXTRAORDINARY WOMEN ABOUT LIVING A SPIRITUAL LIFE, by Margaret Wolff. All rights are reserved.) Read more about "In Sweet Company."
  • A new book by Dale Recinella, The Biblical Truth About America's Death Penalty, analyzes capital punishment through an examination of religious texts and teachings. Using sources such as the Torah, the Talmud, and the Bible, Recinella outlines what biblical texts say regarding who is deserving of the death penalty and who is granted the authority to impose such a sentence. While exploring issues such as innocence, race, mental capacity, and prosecutorial misconduct, Recinella weaves biblical texts with current case examples to conclude that: "People of biblical faith must abolish the American death penalty, and we must do so in our time. Moratorium is a way of stopping the practice while others of biblical faith become educated to the biblical truth, a truth that demands nothing less than abolition." Recinella is an attorney who serves as a spiritual counselor and Catholic lay chaplain for Florida's prison system, ministering to death row inmates and prisoners in long-term solitary confinement. (Northeastern University Press, 2004).
  • Within These Walls: Memoirs of a Death House Chaplain - Rev. Carroll Pickett recalls his 15 years as chaplain to death row inmates in Huntsville, Texas, and provides an account of ministering to 95 men in their final hours before execution. Rev. Pickett examines the death penalty based on his professional and personal experiences in Texas. "Like so many Texans, I was raised in an atmosphere that insisted the only real justice was that which claimed an eye for an eye. I was wrong," he said. "As I participated in the endless process that would earn my state infamous recognition for its death penalty stance, I found myself wondering just what we were accomplishing." (St. Martin's Press, 2002)
  • Capital Punishment and the Bible - A new book by Gardner C. Hanks, "Capital Punishment and the Bible," explores the death penalty by reviewing biblical references to capital punishment in their historical context and by examining the U.S.'s current application of the death penalty in light of these scriptures. The book is a follow-up to an earlier work by Hanks, "Against the Death Penalty." (Herald Press, 2002).
  • An Eye for An Eye? The Immorality of Punishing by Death - In this second edition, author Stephen Nathanson evaluates the arguments for and against capital punishment. Nathanson argues that the death penalty is inconsistent with the principles of commitment to justice and respect for life. (Bowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2001)
  • Executing Justice: The Moral Meaning of the Death Penalty, by Lloyd Steffen, (Wipf & Stock Publishers of Eugene, Oregon 2006) explores the moral justification for the death penalty as it analyzes the philosophical and humanitarian arguments for and against capital punishment. The book debunks the legal and ethical arguments for the death penalty and uses the case of executed inmate Willie Darden to illustrate the moral deficiencies in the death penalty.
  • Against the Death Penalty: Christian and Secular Arguments Against the Death Penalty by Gardner C. Hanks, Herald Press, 1997. A fine and very readable overview of the case for abolishing the death penalty.
  • For an excellent theological and historical discussion of the death penalty, see James J. Megivern's The Death Penalty: An Historical and Theological Survey (Paulist Press 1997). Seeing the development and sweeping changes that the churches have made on this issue is an eye-opener.
  • Cook, Kimberly: "Divided Passions: Public Opinion on Abortion and the Death Penalty," Northeastern University Press, Boston.