Harmon Wray: Fights the Death Penalty
Last year, longtime anti-death penalty activist Harmon Wray, 57, received a lifetime achievement award from the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
Though Wray says he has always opposed capital punishment, he seriously began his mission in 1976 after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling issued guidelines for "constitutional" death penalty laws. As a result, several states—including his home state of Tennessee—took action to bring capital punishment laws in harmony with the new guidelines.
That year Wray helped to create Tennesseans Against the Death Penalty, an organization through which he and others spoke at churches and various institutions throughout middle Tennessee to educate and generate support for their cause.
"Crime and justice are central to our faith," says Wray, a member of Edgehill Church in Nashville, Tenn. "If we're serious about our responsibility to the church, we must take a restorative approach to help victims and offenders instead of a revenge approach that most always hurts everyone involved."
Holding a master of divinity, Wray has taught "theology and politics of crime and justice in America" at Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville since the mid-1970s. Recently, he and two other teachers began a new class, "theology from inside prison walls" in which Vanderbilt students take classes with inmates in a prison.
"We hope to develop a different model of prison ministry in which prisoners can be ministers too," he says.
Wray served the General Board of Global Ministries from 1999 to 2001 as executive director of Restorative Justice Ministries. During that time, he published Restorative Justice: Moving beyond Punishment [call (800) 305-9857 to order], a mission study book for United Methodist Women.
When asked what drives him in his ministry of restorative justice, Wray says, "I feel called to do this. In God's eyes we are equal sinners and are equally loved by God."
--Heather Peck Stahl, Nashville, Tenn., is a freelance writer and editor.