Musings from a reconstructed liberal clergyperson of the United Methodist/United Church of Christ persuasion
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Man, A Story—and the Death Penalty
Campbell was a Mississippi-born and bred renegade Southern Baptist
preacher, activist, author, and friend. A strong willed and humble
man, he quit organized religion and fought injustice in the civil
rights struggle in the 1950's.
years ago, my wife and I stopped by his home in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee
for a short visit. We talked for awhile in his log cabin office just
across the creek, before joining his wife, Brenda for cold cucumber
and tomato sandwiches. I first met Will in the 50's when I was in
seminary and saw him off and on through the years. This was
Maurine's first chance to meet him. We both came away that day
warmed by his humor and hospitality and challenged by his life story.
Maurine still treasures one of his books he gave her. He
autographed it, “For Maurine, who came by with hope.”
of the reasons Will comes to mind just now has to do with recent
action taken by the Nebraska legislature. For many years, Ernie
Chambers, an African-American senator from north Omaha has attempted
to get the death penalty repealed in our state. This year, with the
support of a coalition of political liberals, religious
conservatives, and pragmatic senators, he succeeded—and together
they overrode the Governor's veto. The struggle is not over and
there is a referendum in the offing, but there is hope.
all takes me back to Will's long crusade against capital punishment.
Will was a great storyteller, but the story I remember most with
regard to this issue, is the one told about him.
was invited to debate the issue before a fired-up crowd of death
penalty supporters. His opponent gave a long and vigorous defense of
capital punishment, festooned with all kinds of statistics and moral
and theological justifications. He was rewarded with a standing
moderator then introduced Rev. Campbell, who shambled up to the
podium accompanied by tepid applause. Will looked over the crowd,
then leaned into the mike and growled, "I'm against the capital
punishment because it's tacky!" Then he shambled back to his
chair and sat down.
stunned crowd fell silent as Will sat and sat some more, staring
benignly at them. Finally, the moderator returned to the podium.
"Rev. Campbell, won't you please come back and say more about
shook his head in a silent no. "Are you sure?" asked the
moderator. Will nodded his head in a silent yes. In desperation, the
moderator said, "Well, won't you at least come back and tell us
what you mean by 'tacky'?"
Will got to his feet, shambled back to the podium, and growled into
the mike again: "Hell, everybody knows what tacky is!" Then
he returned to his chair and sat down.
storyteller concludes: “I've yet to hear a more pointed,
persuasive, or eloquent argument against the death penalty.”
died two years ago, at the age of 88. His spirit lives on.