Opening Remarks for Voices for Justice

August 29, 2010

Good evening and welcome to Voices for Justice!

I read in the paper the other day that I was leading this event, so I hurried out and bought a ticket. I’m glad to be here and I know you feel the same!

You’ll be hearing from the real leaders of this event soon, and let me tell you, we have a wonderful collection of voices for justice here tonight. In addition to the remarkable people you know are going to be here, we’ve got additional performers coming in to share their voices in the chorus for justice. What a good thing it is for us to come together to speak very clearly of our belief that Jessie, Jason, and Damien have been in prison for 17 years for something they didn’t do.

My involvement with this event began when I was approached by Lorri Davis and her friend John Hardin about having an awareness raising event for the West Memphis 3. They wanted the event to happen in a relatively large spiritually oriented space, which is what we’ve got at my church – complete with fresco angels. My church leaders engaged in a process of discernment, and I’m really proud that the governing body of my congregation decided that this event could happen in our sanctuary. It wasn’t an easy decision for us, because as we all know, the innocence of these three men is not a universally held position.

There are people who think you’re being insensitive to the families of the three boys who were murdered if you speak in support of the men who were convicted of this crime, and certainly no one wants to contribute to their pain. Glossing over their pain is not what this is about.

We were not unconscious of these sentiments as we considered hosting this gathering, but I think the issue was settled when the senior member of our governing body – a saintly woman in her 80’s – pointed out that Jesus generally stood with those who weren’t held in high regard by society. She acknowledged that we don’t have the same flawless vision of the truth that Jesus had, but she thought standing in support of these men seemed like something Jesus would do. And with that the debate pretty much came to a close.

We decided to allow this event to happen at our church, and I wish you all could have come down to our place. But you all couldn’t have come to our place, and that’s why we’re here, and it’s good that we’re here. You don’t have to be in a spiritually oriented place to have a spiritually oriented gathering, and that is what this is. Speaking out for justice is a spiritual exercise.

My church was willing to host Voices for Justice because like good-hearted people of all faiths we want to err on the side of justice. I’m proud that the United Methodist Church has a long-standing and clearly stated position against the death penalty, and this case highlights the need for capital punishment to be eliminated. There does not need to be the possibility of executing someone who is innocent.

I’m honored to be invited to lend my voice in support of justice for Jessie, Jason, and Damien. I commend those of you who have worked tirelessly, contributed generously, and spoken loudly in their support over the past many years. They aren’t needing anything more than justice, but nothing short of justice will do.

God bless you for being here. Let’s have a good time, let’s shine some light on this painful situation, and let’s all do what we can to let people know what we think of this situation. If you don’t know as much as you want to know about this case become more informed. Read about the trial, talk to people, find out for yourself what is true about this case. I think you’ll discover that Jessie, Jason, and Damien have nothing to hide.

And here’s something else you can do. Pull out your wallet. It turns out that this event is costing a whole lot more than your $25 dollar ticket will cover, and we’re going to take up an offering. I don’t guess it’s a coincidence that they gave the preacher this task, but we’ve got people with buckets who will be going down the aisles, and we need you to do what you can to help defray the costs and to continue with the defense of these three men.

I’m reminded of a situation that existed in Israel about 750 years before Jesus came along. The situation was that the power of the government and the message of the religious community had become distorted in a manner that was bad news for poor people. Into that situation the prophet Amos stepped forward and said: “Let justice flow down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing steam!”

And that’s what we’re saying tonight.


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