Tennessee Adventists Plead for Killer-Turned-Elder’s Life, but Governor Denies Clemency — and More News Shorts

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May 15, 2019

In this week’s news round-up, the Governor of Tennessee denies clemency for Donnie Johnson, an Adventist elder on death row, a U.S. Army health clinic is named for Desmond T. Doss, Florida Governor signs school voucher program at Adventist school, DeVon Franklin’s wife, actress Meagan Good, discusses how judgmental Christians have pushed her away from church, and Oakwood Aeolians sing for crash victim’s daughter.

Tennessee Adventists Plead for Killer-Turned-Elder’s Life, but Governor Denies Clemency. Members of Riverside Chapel Seventh-day Adventist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, do not want the state to execute Donnie Johnson. President Ted N.C. Wilson, president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and Daniel Jackson, president of the church's North American Division, both wrote letters, joining several who sit in the pews and preach in the pulpit, urging Governor Bill Lee to grant Johnson clemency before his May 16 execution date and allow him to spend the rest of his life in prison. The church has hosted a news conference, the pastor has met with Lee's legal team, and members have organized a prayer march all in the hopes of swaying the governor to spare Johnson's life. Johnson, who has spent the last 33 years on Tennessee's death row for the 1984 murder of his wife, is one of their own. Not only is he a Seventh-day Adventist, but about a decade ago, the congregation decided to ordain Johnson as an elder of their church because of the ministry work he was doing behind bars. "He has been leading and serving in such a way that what he's doing in there is the exact kind of ministry that we would definitely ordain someone for out here," said Pastor Furman F. Fordham II, who leads Riverside Chapel. Johnson, 68, guides Bible studies inside Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville, started a radio program called "What the Bible Says," and supports his fellow inmates living on Unit 2, which is where men on Tennessee's death row are housed.  

"I was accustomed to being at different churches where you’d have a prison ministry, but I had never seen one of the prisoners leading it," said Fordham, who met Johnson about a dozen years ago after he became senior pastor of the church. "We were his assistants." In 2008, Johnson became an ordained elder of Riverside Chapel — a church he has never stepped foot inside of — because the congregation believed he was using the special abilities that God had gifted him with to further the gospel.

Despite the urging of Seventh-day Adventists, Governor Bill Lee will not stop the first execution of his term, rejecting the plea for mercy. Donnie Edward Johnson is scheduled to die Thursday. “After a prayerful and deliberate consideration of Don Johnson‘s request for clemency, and after a thorough review of the case, I am upholding the sentence of the State of Tennessee and will not be intervening,” Lee said in a brief statement released shortly before 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 14. From Tennessean, “Why a Seventh-day Adventist church in Nashville made Donnie Johnson, a death row inmate, an elder” and “Gov. Bill Lee denies clemency for Donnie Edward Johnson; execution set for Thursday,” and from Commercial Appeal, “Don Johnson execution: Top leaders in Seventh-day Adventist Church call for mercy.”

U.S. Army Health Clinic Named for Desmond T. Doss. The U.S. Army Health Clinic-Schofield Barracks in Hawaii was renamed the Desmond T. Doss Health Clinic during a memorialization ceremony on May 7. "What makes today's event even more special is that it coincides with the clinic's 100th anniversary," said Brig. Gen. Michael Place, deputy commanding general of Regional Health Command-Pacific. In attendance to honor his father's legacy was Desmond Doss, Jr. and additional family members. "It's not often I speak for my father, but I think it's safe to say he'd be incredibly proud of what we're doing today. It's not just about honoring my father; it's about the principles he stood for," said Doss, Jr. "It's my hope that people going through these doors will hear his story and understand the kind of love he had for his fellow human beings and perhaps be an example. It's also my hope that the staff that works here will embrace the principles he had of compassion and complete acceptance for all people." Cpl. Desmond Thomas Doss joined the Army on April 1, 1942, and refused to kill an enemy soldier or carry a weapon due to his personal beliefs as a Seventh-day Adventist. While serving with his platoon in 1944 on Guam and the Philippines, he was awarded two Bronze Star Medals with a "V" device for exceptional valor in aiding wounded soldiers under fire. "Today is a celebration of Cpl. Doss and the life he lived as a Soldier and medic. It is not about just placing a plaque on a building, but about sharing his military achievements and inspiring future generations," added Place. From the U.S. Army website, “U.S. Army Health Clinic Dedicated in Honor of Cpl. Desmond Doss.”

Florida Governor Signs School Voucher Program at Seventh-day Adventist School. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law the state’s fifth school voucher program at a Seventh-day Adventist school in Miami Gardens, completing what his press office described as a “victory lap for Florida parents and students!” The law creates a path for up to 18,000 more students to receive state scholarships to attend private school and expands what is already the nation’s largest school-choice effort. The new Family Empowerment Scholarship “will help children realize their potential and give parents the power to do what is best for their children,” DeSantis said. The governor touted the new, and controversial, voucher program in cross-state visits to three private Christian schools that take Florida’s other school scholarships, often dubbed vouchers. From Sun Sentinel, “DeSantis signs bill creating Florida’s fifth school voucher program.”

DeVon Franklin, SDA preacher/film exec/author, Supports Wife Meagan Good’s Film Career. Meagan Good is steadfast in her Christian beliefs but says she does not attend church as much as she would like to due to over-critical churchgoers. While talking about her new film The Intruder, the 37-year-old actress told D.L. Hughley on his radio show that her husband DeVon Franklin, a Seventh-day Adventist preacher as well as a film exec and author — does not interfere with her love scenes. She is very religious — she said Jesus tops her list of heroes, but has some issues with some other members of the church who are quick to attack and judge. Asked if she attends church with Franklin often, Good replied, “Not all the time though because if I’m being completely honest, my experience with some church folks has not been that positive.” She continued, “It’s unfortunate because we’re supposed to be the biggest lovers,” she said of Christians. “Even if you disagree with someone or you don’t think what they’re doing is right, you’re supposed to mind your own business and pray for that person. Other times, you’re supposed to correct in love if that’s what God told you to do. And there was no correction in love. It was like a complete assault.” From Yahoo Entertainment, “Meagan Good says judgmental Christians have pushed her away from church: ‘It’s unfortunate.’”

Oakwood Aeolians Sing for Crash Victim’s Daughter. On Saturday, a choir from Alabama survived a fiery bus crash on Highway 101. On Monday, the choir used their collective voice, to lift up those who did not. The Aeolians of Oakwood University sang for 15-year-old, lyanna Bishop. Her father, Kenneth Bishop, died when his SUV hit the back of the choir's bus which got caught up in a multi-vehicle pileup on Highway 101 in Brisbane early Saturday morning. "I would like to say thank you to the Aeolians for trying to get my Dad out of the car before it burned," said Iyanna, who added, "I felt like my Dad was in the room when they were singing for me." Iyanna lived with her father in San Mateo, just the two of them. "He was a great person, he was very close with everybody, very kind-hearted, always wanted to help people in need," she said. Reverend Amos Brown, of the NAACP, invited the Aeolians, an internationally recognized choir, to sing at San Francisco's Third Baptist Church on Sunday. "We brought them here because they represent the highest and the best of the African American culture, sacred music tradition," said Rev. Brown. The choir's manager, Vilroy McBean, said singing for Iyanna was a healing opportunity for everyone. From ABC7News, “Alabama choir sings for crash victim's daughter.”

 

Pam Dietrich taught English at Loma Linda Academy for 26 years and served there eight more years as the 7-12 librarian. She lives in Yucaipa, California.

Photo by Emiliano Bar on Unsplash

 

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