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Pastor: Baptists should learn from Karla Faye Tucker’s life

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–On Tuesday, Feb. 3, convicted pick ax killer and born-again Christian Karla Faye Tucker met Jesus face-to-face.
Tucker, 38, was pronounced dead at 6:45 p.m., eight minutes after lethal drugs flowed into her body.
Gov. George W. Bush announced he would not grant a 30-day reprieve to Tucker after last-minute appeals were turned down by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“May God bless Karla Faye Tucker and God bless her victims and their families,” Bush said.
“God did bless Karla Faye Tucker,” said David Crosby, pastor of New Orleans’ First Baptist Church and a friend of Tucker. “God blessed her with Christian people who cared enough about prisoners to go to the jail and teach her God’s Word without judging her. That woman opened up like a blossom in the sunshine. … She wanted her life to bring glory to God.”
Reflecting on the execution the morning after Tucker’s death, Crosby said, “There are thousands of young people like Karla. It’s our job to find them.”
Tucker’s story captured headlines across the world as debate raged over sparing her life or sending her to the execution chamber. Tucker is the first woman to be executed in Texas since the Civil War and the most recent woman to be executed in the United States following Velma Barfield’s execution in North Carolina in 1984.
Crosby met Tucker in 1984 when he began doing volunteer work at the Texas Women’s Prison in Gatesville. At the time, Crosby was pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Gatesville and also worked with women prisoners along with his brother, Timothy, a full-time prison chaplain.
Following a year of prayer, Bible study, singing and discipleship, Crosby baptized Karla in the prison. The woman who was smoking marijuana at the age of 8, doing heroin by 10 and prostituting her body as a teenager was now a changed person, Crosby said.
Tucker came to know the Lord in Houston’s Harris County Jail six months after her arrest, Crosby said. Through the witnessing efforts of someone Crosby knows only as Chaplain Rebecca, a Southern Baptist chaplain, and his friends Jonathan and Karen Gill from Teen Challenge, Tucker began her Christian pilgrimage. This process was a radical change from the “spiritual vacuum” she had experienced all of her life, the pastor said.
“The life of Karla Faye Tucker reminds me of the biblical parable when Jesus said, ‘The one who has been forgiven much, loves much,'” Crosby said.
“Karla wants people to know her Lord and for them to know they can be forgiven. She wants people to know God really loves them and his people love them too,” Crosby said.
“People are always astonished at the grace of God,” he said. “Karla understood grace.
“I hear people talk about deserving mercy and grace. That’s impossible because by definition mercy and grace are undeserved. Karla knew that. I think about Karla, the prostitute, who exemplified the love of God as well as anyone I’ve ever known.
“Here’s the story of an ax murderer who found God’s grace and peace.” Crosby was silent for a moment, reflecting on Tucker’s life.
“The story should not end there,” he said.
“Our young people are in the jails and prisons. Many are still at a point in their life where they can be changed. They are our sons and daughters.
“We have a tendency to put prisoners in a special category — misfits — people who should be forgotten,” Crosby said. “We think they are not like us, but I want to say they are like us, except for the grace of God.”
Crosby said he believes in jailhouse religion.
“Do I believe God does authentic spiritual transformation to people in crisis?” he asked. “The answer is yes. Fake religion is as present or as possible on the outside of prison as it is on the inside of prison. Ask any prisoner and they will tell you it is tough to live for Christ in prison.
“I think we need to go in the prisons and jails as God’s people in force.”
Before prison becomes a reality for young people, Crosby said Christians should mobilize themselves, find a unique ministry and with the love of Jesus move away from the fortresses known as churches and move into the streets of the cities, places of great pain not only in New Orleans but in every city.
“We’ve got to get back to good Sunday school work and see the importance of children’s and youth work in our churches. Reaching a child as a fourth-grader is in itself a noble and profitable thing to do, whether or not his parents show up,” Crosby said.
The entire Karla Faye Tucker ordeal, especially the last few months, have caused Crosby to rethink his position on capital punishment.
“I’m glad the death penalty now has a face. It had one all along, I just didn’t know it,” Crosby said.
“And now the executioner has a face too,” he said, “and it is me.
“I’m not prepared to do this anymore. I cannot be a party, a silent party to execution. I am lodging my protest. I will not be a willing part of it.”
For Crosby, the question is, can society implement capital punishment equitably?
“I feel no we cannot, not as long as we count killings as notches on the belts of our district attorneys,” he said. “Let’s acknowledge the ground is not level in the death chamber and we cannot make it so.
“We want to do this (capital punishment) at arm’s length, but we cannot. I hope we will take the death penalty personally and Karla’s death will help us all to experience execution as a personal responsibility,” he said.
“Pope John Paul II and others have challenged us to a consistent pro-life stand and that means doing away with the death sentence,” he said. “I’m hearing that with new ears today.”
No matter if it is in prison, in a housing community or in some other area where people are without Jesus, Crosby said, “We all have an appointment to do something of great significance.” The early morning hours of Feb. 4 were difficult for Crosby and it was difficult for him
to keep from weeping. The woman he called “interesting,”
“naturally curious,” “gentle” and “the poster child of God’s grace” was executed in a Texas prison less than 24 hours earlier.
“I believe one day the Lord will say, ‘I was in prison and you visited me.’ Maybe he will say that of me, and maybe of Karla,'” Crosby said.

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  • Steve Achord