Death with dignity
Karla Faye Tucker smiled as the thick leather belts strapped her to the death gurney. She hummed quietly as she began to pass into deep sleep just before the heart-stopping chemicals sent her into eternity. A journalist who witnessed the execution said he "never saw Karla Faye Tucker take the smile off her face." Prior to the Huntsville, Texas, execution last week, Ms. Tucker expressed sorrow over the brutal murders she committed; she expressed her love for the victims' surviving family members; and she expressed confidence she would in mere moments be "face-to-face with Jesus." On the other side of the glass, there was the bitterness of Richard Thornton, the husband of one of Ms. Tucker's victims, who refused to grant forgiveness. "My religion says to forgive. Turn a cheek. I still cannot do it. I don't believe her conversion. I don't believe her Christianity." In the case of Karla Faye Tucker, journalists pitted those who believed her conversion against those who doubted it-the believers favoring clemency, the doubters favoring execution. WORLD contributor William H. Smith argues that Ms. Tucker's "transformed life ... cried out for the exercise of executive clemency." He points out that God in his wisdom gave civil magistrates the discretion to "temper justice with mercy" and noted God's example of mercifully sparing the life of King David, "who, under the Old Testament code, was guilty of multiple capital crimes." Rev. Smith also makes the excellent point that "Karla was not rehabilitated, she was regenerated." Granted, Karla Faye Tucker's conversion seemed entirely genuine, but that is really beside the point in considering clemency. Strip away all the emotional baggage of this case: the substantial appeal of Ms. Tucker's grace under fire and the substantial disgust of her pick-ax murders. (Fox News Channel broadcast the crime-scene photos, which showed one of the hacked-up bodies looking like a human pin cushion.) What you're left with, then, is the question of the magistrates' responsibility to use wisdom in the carrying out of their God-given power. Wisdom. Would it have been wise to establish a precedent that has government officials judging the sincerity of a religious conversion? If so, would religions other than Christianity qualify one for clemency? Islam? Hinduism? Buddhism? At a time when race has skewed the administration of justice, would it have been wise to send the message to the black community that if you're not winsome, telegenic, and white, you stand little chance of winning clemency? Wasn't the wiser course the one pursued by Texas Gov. George W. Bush last week? That the people of that state are serious about executing murderers? Criminals there have now seen and heard that politicians in that state have the will to put to death the single most compelling death row inmate ever to grace the television screens of the nation. They must now have no doubt that if caught and convicted, they will die. Last week's hard-case execution was a victory for the deterrent effect of capital punishment. It was also a victory for the grace of Christ. For Karla Faye Tucker exposed the error many journalists made when they equated opposition to clemency with doubt for the sincerity of her conversion. She said in an interview aired on Pat Robertson's 700 Club, "It's about God's redemption and the blood of Jesus and the power of God to change a life. It's about what Jesus did on the cross.... In my life or in my death for God to be glorified." As Rev. Smith puts it, "The murderer, whose hands wielded a pick-ax, is now safe and blessed in the nail-pierced hands of the Savior." Indeed, Karla's was a death with dignity.
Thursday's National Prayer Breakfast may have been a celebration of America's vague civil religion, but syndicated columnist Cal Thomas wanted his colleagues to get the real scoop on Christianity the night before. Some 200 guests-including Beltway pundits Mark Shields and Arianna Huffington and a host of Washington reporters-attended his annual media dinner. They heard testimonies of lives changed by prayer: boxer Evander Holyfield, Touched by an Angel producer John Anderson, and others. "I had a lot of opinions about God, though I'd never met him," Mr. Thomas confessed. To help with introductions, he gave each guest "a biography of Jesus"-the four Gospels-at the end of the evening.
The world in brief
Iraq Attack? Secretary of State Madeleine Albright ended a Middle East tour with with tacit support for U.S. air strikes against Iraq. But the United States continued to lack key backing from two UN Security Council members, China and France. After President Clinton rejected Saddam Hussein's proposal to allow limited UN weapons inspections inside Iraq, Russian President Boris Yeltsin hinted at a wider conflict if the United States chose to attack Iraq militarily. "The most important thing is that we have stuck firmly to our position of opposing the military option. It is not possible, it would mean world war," he said. Italian premier calls U.S. flyers reckless Twenty people were killed when a U.S. Marine airplane severed the cable of a skiers' gondola during a low-flying mission over an Alpine ski resort in northern Italy. The aircraft returned to base and both pilots were unharmed. Officials at the U.S. air base in Aviano, Italy, where the Marine EA-6B Prowler was based, suspended all low-level training missions by U.S. military aircraft in Italy after the accident. Italian Premier Romano Prodi, after visiting the accident site, said the American pilots should be prosecuted.
The Justice Department probe into charges that Chinese government officials illegally tried to buy their way into U.S. politics may have gotten an unexpected boost last week. Yah Lin "Charlie" Trie, the Taiwan-born restaurateur and close friend of President Clinton, blew back into town after months of hiding out in China and avoiding congressional subpoenas. Mr. Trie is here to face the music. About a week before his plane touched down at Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia, he was indicted on 15 felony counts in connection with illegal fundraising. He surrendered to federal agents and pleaded not guilty last week in U.S. district court. Two of the counts carry 10-year maximum prison sentences. The other 13 prescribe 5-year maximums and fines of up to $250,000. Mr. Trie is accused of soliciting contributions from foreign businessmen not legally permitted to give to U.S. elections and funneling the money through "straw donors." In the indictment, the grand jury said Mr. Trie attended 10 dinners, lunches, or coffees with Mr. Clinton, including four inside the White House. At one of the now-famous coffees, Mr. Trie brought Chinese arms dealer Wang Jun. And he arranged three White House tours with his business associates.
Bob Dole still refuses to take a strong, clear position on an issue. After having doughnuts delivered to members of the news media assigned to stake out his next-door neighbor Monica Lewinsky and her mother, Mr. Dole had a spokesman caution the presshounds not to read anything into it. Joyce Campbell explained that her boss, the ex-senator and presidential candidate, receives five dozen Dunkin' Donuts doughnuts each Monday morning as partial payment for a commercial he did for the chain. "Every week he's been trying to send them to different people. He's certainly not taking sides on the issue at hand."
Coffee and sweets
Though no such official designation exists, last week could have been dubbed National Christianity Week, judging by events in Washington. Drawn largely by the National Prayer Breakfast, believers descended on the capital for a whole constellation of conferences and meetings-some more explicitly Christian than others. The hot ticket was the annual prayer breakfast, which has enjoyed an unbroken string of presidential attendance since Dwight Eisenhower first showed up in 1953. This year's breakfast attracted dignitaries ranging from Newt Gingrich to the president of Albania, and most of the remarks were carefully crafted to emphasize goodness and morality without offending the sensibilities of the diverse crowd. Sen. Daniel Akaka, for instance, praised the event as "a coming together of many nations and faiths" to experience "the power of love and goodwill." The spiritual highlight came from an admittedly unlikely source: Sen. Connie Mack, who confessed he'd always found it difficult to ask his wife of 37 years to pray with him, shared an intensely personal testimony. "There was a void in my life," he said, "a part of me that I was not dealing with." Seeking to fill that void, Mr. Mack began attending the weekly Senate prayer breakfast until, on Oct. 26, 1995, he moved his chair to the center of the room where his colleagues surrounded him, laid their hands on his shoulders, and prayed for him. "On that day," he said, "I began the process-began the process-of turning my life over to God." While Mr. Mack drew tears and a standing ovation, President Clinton earned polite applause for a speech touting political causes from AmeriCorps to welfare reform. He asked the guests to pray for him "as president and as just another child of God," then took his seat without offering any prayer of his own.
McKinney and the chief
As Sgt. Maj. Gene McKinney-permanently stripped of his top-enlisted-man status because of the sexual misconduct allegations against him-entered a not-guilty plea in the opening of his court-martial last week, his commander-in-chief enjoyed record approval ratings despite the stench of scandal. "Sir, to all charges and specifications, not guilty," Mr. McKinney told a military judge last week just before jury selection began in the military trial. He faces 19 charges of sexual misconduct, and of those charges only one involves an allegation that he successfully pressured a woman into sex. In a story that's getting more and more familiar, military prosecutors allege Mr. McKinney pressured Sgt. Christine Fetrow for sex and then urged her to lie about it. They have evidence gathered during a phone wiretap of Mr. McKinney suggesting what she should tell investigators. "All you have to do is tell them we talked a lot. You called the office and we talked about career development stuff. That's all they need to know. That's it, period," he allegedly told Ms. Fetrow. Meanwhile, the president's sex, perjury, and obstruction-of-justice case continued to unfold before a grand jury. The key developments: Despite the president's belief he's "cleared the air" about the sex and cover-up allegations, a former top adviser disputed that. George Stephanopoulos, who testified before Mr. Starr's grand jury last week, told reporters: "The longer the president goes without telling his side of the story, the more unease there will be." Mr. Clinton, during a photo-op with the visiting British prime minister, qualified earlier statements by denying the "legal charges" against him. As two other minor White House aides answered questions during the grand jury probe, the president's lawyers considered invoking executive privilege to block release of some evidence. Independent counsel Starr's office rejected the latest immunity deal dropped off by Monica Lewinsky's lawyer as attorney and client jetted to California. The Washington Post reported Mr. Starr's probe is focusing on a possible effort by the president and his private-sector "fixer" Vernon Jordan to line up an attractive job offer for Miss Lewinsky out of town, in exchange for her silence about her relationship with Mr. Clinton. The Post relied on unnamed sources to report that "within 24 hours of [Miss] Lewinsky's signing an affidavit" denying a sexual relationship with the president, Mr. Jordan called the chairman of cosmetics giant Revlon. Days later, she was offered a $40,000 a year job in the PR department, an offer since rescinded in light of the negative publicity from the sex scandal. Secret Service logs subpoenaed by Mr. Starr revealed that the former White House intern was cleared into the White House 36 times after being reassigned to the Pentagon in 1996.
Keep it off TV
First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton took a short break from Washington scandal damage control and enjoyed some Alpine skiing in Switzerland-but that was not the only slippery slope she navigated last week. Speaking to a group of American corporate leaders meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Mrs. Clinton seemed to be suggesting that it's okay to export actual violence such as abortion, but fictional violence-such as that which appears on television-ought to be stopped. In a speech to the World Economic Forum, Mrs. Clinton criticized one of the private sector's major exports: violent television programming. "Exporting that cannot be good for any society," she declared. But in the same speech, she put in a plug for one of the government sector's deadliest exports: abortion. Mrs. Clinton rapped the businessmen for not sufficiently backing her husband in the battle last year against pro-life members of Congress. Pro-life lawmakers had voted to delay legislation that would pay down U.S. "arrears" to the United Nations. They objected to the measure because of UN funding for the International Planned Parenthood Federation and the UN Fund for Population Activities-organizations Mrs. Clinton said were only "remotely" connected to abortions.
Clearing the air
Republican luminaries such as Bill Bennett and Elizabeth Dole appeared at the National Religious Broadcasters convention last week to address the 4,500 gatekeepers who determine what millions of believers see and hear on Christian TV and radio. While the politicians pressed their case, salespeople pressed the flesh. Some 200 exhibitors peddled everything from miraculous healing herbs to numbered deeds for tiny plots of land in Israel. A TV producer "sponsored" the Sunday morning worship service, while Richard Land, the Southern Baptists' political point man, underwrote the closing dinner to plug his new radio show. Through all the big-bucks deal-making, attendees constantly reminded themselves that their ultimate payoff is eternal. Mrs. Dole, for instance, noted that her homebound, 97-year-old mother counts on the industry for spiritual sustenance. Thank you, she told the broadcasters, "for bringing a Christian worldview to the whole fabric of life."
Shame or shameless?
Dissident Wei Jingsheng, abruptly released from a Chinese prison last November, accused the State Department of ignoring human rights abuses in China. Mr. Wei told a House panel last week, "The United States has gone so far as to disregard the facts and beautify the communists in this year's report." He was responding to the administration's annual human-rights report, released last week. It acknowledges that Chinese authorities "continued to commit widespread and well-documented abuses" but overall said there were "positive steps on human rights in China." The report drew bipartisan criticism on Capitol Hill. House human rights subcommittee chairman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) told a gathering on religious persecution, "There is an institutional bias in the State Department against human rights. It's not even on the back burner; it's in the washing machine somewhere." Democrat Nancy Pelosi said of the report, "I don't know what the word for it is-shame or shameless." The Feb. 4 event Mr. Smith addressed was billed as the "Religious Persecution Summit." The Washington meeting brought together a spectrum of evangelicals that included conservatives Chuck Colson and Gary Bauer, and liberals Jim Wallis, editor of Soujourners, and Ron Sider. It also included representatives from Catholic, Jewish, and Tibetan Buddhist organizations. Majority Leader Dick Armey told the group that support for a religious persecution bill was growing and Congress would take action on it before summer