Lutheran Cyclists Spread Message Against the Death Penalty

6/20/2001 12:00:00 AM

     CHICAGO (ELCA) -- From Bar Harbor, Maine, to Fort Myers, Fla., a father-son bicycle team is spreading a message against the death penalty in the United States this summer.  James Colver and his father Robert are members of Christ the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, San Jose, Calif., a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
     "Trek 2001" began June 12, the day after Timothy McVeigh was executed for the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people.  "I'm only more encouraged to cycle as a result of his execution," said James Colver.
     James, 22, said he has read reports about the bombing that suggest there were others involved in the attack who will receive lesser sentences, such as life in prison.  McVeigh wanted to be executed, "likely to become a martyr for his cause," he said.
     The trek got off to a late start, but James said in a June 18 telephone interview from Salem, Mass., the cyclists had made up for lost time and were almost back on schedule.  They plan to travel about 75 miles a day to be in Washington, D.C., on July 4 and reach Fort Myers by Aug. 18.
     The journey is called "Trek 2001" because long-distance cycling "to witness to the love of God" has become almost an annual event for James.  In 1996 he rode from Oregon to California to raise money for a burned African American church in Florida; in 1997 a 60-mile ride raised funds for a Christian camp damaged by floods; and in 1999 a trip from Virginia to Oregon raised money for Prison Congregations of America.
     "My mission this summer is mainly to help educate those I meet about the message of peace and reconciliation through Jesus explained in the gospel.  I will encourage everyone to look to Jesus for the answer to criminals, and not resort to capital punishment as a false means of justice," said James.
     James is a sophomore at Trinity Lutheran College, Issaquah, Wash., majoring in biblical studies.  Robert is an automotive publisher who writes "car care guides."  James uses much of his father's wisdom to help him conduct a "car care ministry" at college.
     Biblical studies will provide the "tools to help me for the summer," said James.  He said advocates for the death penalty often use portions of the Bible to justify capital punishment, but working with Greek texts, commentaries and a few key questions can help him use the same Bible passages to oppose the death penalty.
     "Mainly, I try to ask, 'Is this something Jesus Christ would have us do? Is this compatible with his ministry? It really isn't.  It's nothing he called us to do," said James.  He said there are many secular reasons to oppose the death penalty, but he is focusing his attention on the biblical reasons available to Christians.
     In 1991 the ELCA adopted a social statement opposing capital punishment.  "It is because of this church's ministry with and to people affected by violent crime that we oppose the death penalty," it said. "It is because of this church's concern regarding the actual use of the death penalty that we oppose its imposition."
     "We increasingly question whether the death penalty has been and can be administered justly," said the statement. "It is because of this church's commitment to justice that we oppose the death penalty." -- -- --
     The ELCA social statement on the death penalty is available at on the Web.

     The ELCA Division for Church in Society plans to trace the Colvers' progress at throughout the summer.

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


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