Interview with Jeff Hood

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  •  REBECCA LORINS: Ok, so today is June 20th, is that right? And we’re at the Texas After Violence office in Austin and I’m Rebecca Lorins and I’m here with Reverend Jeff Hood who has just completed a pilgrimage in Texas in opposition to the death penalty – a pilgrimage from Livingston to Austin. And so we’re here to talk with him about how this came about, a little history about it, and his motivations. Thank you for being with us.  
  •  JEFF HOOD:Great to be here. I really, you know, I’m tired. A day after completing two hundred miles of walking. I’ve had a lot of time to think about where this journey for me began.  
  •  HOOD: I’m kind of in a unique circumstance in that I come from a very conservative religious background. I grew up Southern Baptist and I grew up at the height of the moral majority, the religious right. From a very young age I can remember our church being very involved in politics. I can remember campaigns against abortion, campaigns against gambling, being involved in presidential elections. I remember as a twelve, thirteen year-old child everybody saying that Bill Clinton was the most morally corrupt person to ever exist, which was interesting because he was Southern Baptist. But that’s another part of the conversation.  
  •  HOOD: But nevertheless, growing up in that space though, told me a couple of things. One is a real value for the life and teachings of Jesus and certainly with all of these things that I find valuable in my upbringing they didn’t manifest probably in the way a lot of my pastors and religious teachers would have expected them to manifest in my life. But with the teachings of Jesus, eventually you get to a place where you begin to question, what does it look like to follow this religious teacher, this man who talks about love and loving your neighbor as yourself, and how does that affect the way that we live our lives in this world. Eventually you get to the place where you realize that war and violence don’t necessarily go together with such a conversation, such a teacher. 
  •  HOOD: The other thing is, and I think that this is a piece of the Millennial generation, those of us who grew up in evangelical spaces, this is something that’s not talked about enough, in that we were taught that politics and being concerned about social issues is very important from a very young age. 
  •  HOOD: Now obviously that looks like right wing politics, but at the same time my concern in my belief that politics and religious faith go together today stem from those early instances in my life. 
  •  HOOD: The last piece that I think is really important from my childhood was that I was taught from a very young age that sacrifice was important, that persecution was important, a part of the religious experience, a part of following Jesus. That if we wanted to cause change then there was going to be persecution. And feeling, living in that juxtaposition from a very early point, I feel like granted me some very early tools that have stayed with me throughout my life. I do believe that we are a part of all that we have met. And I certainly am, in many ways, a Southern Baptist minister.  
  •  HOOD: High school, college, you know I remained a very conservative person, in a lot of ways very interested in violence. I very much had a belief that violence and my faith went together. I really believed that Jesus brought the sword and that we were, in a lot of ways, the bearers of the sword. And that we were called to enact God’s will here on earth. In some levels kind of a crusader mentality. I certainly believe it was mistaken at this point, but it was certainly a part of the way that I thought about the world for a very long time.  
  •  HOOD: My life really changed based on an experience I had with a mentor, who was just a dear friend and a lot of ways taught me how to love. How to love people, how to be generous with people. But in a lot of ways was still quite conservative. 
  •  HOOD: On his deathbed he called me into his room and in the quietness of that moment told me that he had lived his life as a closeted gay man. His wife and children were in the next room over. For me that was a moment where my theology radically was disturbed and certainly began to change. Because I began to realize that my theology couldn’t contain that information. Because in a lot of ways this gentleman had showed me what it looked like to live like Jesus, what it looked like to love people, to serve people. And I couldn’t compute how that could be and that this guy also be gay – which I had been told was such a mortal sin. And so I began to start to rethink and I guess, in a lot of ways, learn to love anew.  
  •  HOOD: In that time I began to interact and meet people along the way that for so long I had been told that I didn’t need to meet and interact with. I began to have friends who had been in prison, and began to work in chaplaincy work with a lot of folks who I’d been told for a large part of my life to stay away from.  
  •  HOOD: Which I guess is a product of upper middle class to upper class Christianity. This kind of Calvinistic belief that God has given us wealth and privilege and so God has also chosen not to give wealth and privilege to others, so somehow we need to stay within the boundaries that we’ve been given. 
  •  HOOD: But nevertheless I began to leave those boundaries. I began to experience the world in a new way. Later on I became a student at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. I did, I just finished a Masters of Divinity at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. A few years prior to that I had been ordained as a Southern Baptist Pastor. And so I was in this weird space of being a Southern Baptist pastor and wanting to explore and wanting to really find new spaces and really accomplish the mission of Jesus: that is to love the world.  
  •  HOOD: And so I began to have all of these new interactions. I started further graduate work at Emory University and in my time there I became aware of the case of Troy Davis. Who was sentenced to death after being convicted of killing Officer Mark MacPhail, a white police officer in Savannah, Georgia. A trial that was racially heightened, certainly a lot of problems in the trial and in the case. By this point the NAACP’s involved, Amnesty International’s involved, there are prominent figures all over the world sending letters in. And Troy Davis’s case had been, I guess, his execution had been delayed and there had been new conversations, new appeals, all of these different avenues were being taken. I decided that in my, I guess in my starting out as an activist and learning that space, I thought that the way to really make a statement was to give some money to Amnesty International and get a t-shirt that said “I Am Troy Davis” and begin wearing this t-shirt around Atlanta, to share a few things on Facebook, to write a few things online, and I became at that point your quintessential Millennial t-shirt and Facebook activist.  
  •  HOOD: I was convinced that I was changing the world. And there was also that persecution component. I remember walking around Atlanta and people being like, “Why you got that shirt on?”  
  •  HOOD: And humorously enough my grandmother, who I love very much, but we are on different, different spaces in terms of a lot of issues, but I remember her, I came in with this “I Am Troy Davis” shirt on, I remember her going, “Troy Davis, that was my brother.” My grandmother’s maiden name was Davis and her brother’s name was Troy Davis. And he was critically wounded in World War II, and he ended up surviving. 
  •  HOOD: And it was a very funny moment for me because here I am, you know, this t-shirt activist working in this Troy Davis situation, trying to navigate between Officer MacPhail and Troy Davis, trying to navigate between victim and this person who’s been convicted of the crime. And then trying to navigate my grandmother and that conversation and it was as if when she said that I realized that the kind of identity politics or the dualisms and dichotomies and the ways that we talk about a lot of these issues that this case was a black and white case, or that it was a privileged and unprivileged case, or it was a question of class there was a sense in which it was all of those things on some level. But there was also a sense in which my great uncle, or great-great uncle or whatever you would call him, went to World War II because he didn’t have the means not to go to World War II and was probably every bit as racist on some level, you know had the privilege that you would expect a white male that went to World War II and served to have.  
  •  HOOD: And yet he was involved in the conversation. And he was involved in the conversation because for my grandmother Troy Davis was her brother. And it presented a very interesting juxtaposition for me because I began to think, “Ok, how do we have conversations about this case that transcend just the heightened rhetoric and take us to a space of reconciliation, that take us to a space of conversation where Troy Davis, my grandmother’s Troy Davis, is important and what the government of the United States did to him by sending him to fight in this conflict and choosing to fight instead of choosing a diplomatic solution and then also there in Georgia and Troy Davis, who was a victim of a flawed criminal justice system. We’re doing violence in both circumstances and in a lot of ways my grandmother, by having the opinion, by responding so negatively to the Troy Davis case, she is a victim of the violence of her circumstances. 
  •  HOOD: And it began to make me realize that not only does violence, the violence that we all have in our lives, both make us perpetrators and victims, but also the death penalty on a micro-level makes us all perpetrators and victims. That these crimes are carried out in our names, on a macro-level, violence, war, makes us both victims and perpetrators. But certainly in our States we are made both victims and perpetrators by the death penalty. 
  •  HOOD: So the conversation really started to change for me. When I said, “I am Troy Davis,” as a white male in Georgia, native Georgian, I begin to think in a lot of ways I am Troy Davis my great-great uncle and I am also Troy Davis who is about to be executed for killing this white police officer in Savannah. Who there are so many questions about whether that actually happened or not. And also began to think in a lot of ways on Officer Mark McPhail. Because Officer McPhail was serving as a police officer and trying to make a living for a young family and trying to do what he thought was right. I think that at that time I began to understand intersectionality and this conversation that’s taking place beyond the dichotomies, beyond the dualism. I thought the Troy Davis case was really a space where that could happen. Because you didn’t only have black men wearing “I am Troy Davis” shirts. You had a large majority, a diversity of Atlanta wearing these shirts, people all around the world wearing those shirts. And that slogan became theirs. This case became a space, a rallying cry, for all different types of people. 
  •  HOOD: I found it interesting that when we began to talk about the humanity of all people, that all people are children of God, and all people have worth, no matter whether they have committed a crime or not, it begins to change the conversation.  
  •  HOOD: And it begins to take us to this space of, “I am you, you are me.” So if that’s the case then we can’t call, I can’t call you a monster, I can’t dehumanize you, I can’t other you, because if I do that, I am committing violence against myself. 
  •  HOOD: And when I commit that violence against myself then I cut myself off from the ability to be reconciled, the ability to be brought back into a space of relationship and love. A space where I can learn to love you and you can learn to love me; I can learn to value you and you can learn to value me.  
  •  HOOD: So as the case continued, we, I found myself going deeper and deeper into this conversation. It brought about a lot of conversations, which I think a lot of these death penalty cases do, which I think is the really positive thing. If we can find a positive thing in the atrocity of it all, I think it is that it brings us to these real conversations of love, forgiveness, reconciliation, vengeance, violence, what is justice. We begin to ask very basic questions and I think that is incredibly important.  
  •  HOOD: So as the case moves along I actually graduated from Emory. Later on I prayed and prayed and prayed, both for Officer McPhail’s family and also for the family of Troy Davis, and found myself in a space just fervently in prayer for all parties involved. Praying for God to make a way out of no way in this situation. 
  •  HOOD: I ended up getting married during that time, and me and my wife, Emily, our first action as a couple, our protest together, was to go down to the jail down there in Jackson, Georgia, as Troy Davis was to be executed that evening, and you know in that space I had, there were all kinds of people, and it was so interesting: there was the kind of radical leftist folks were there, and they wanted to fight, they got into a couple of scuffles with the police, and that seemed to happen in the first twenty-five or thirty minutes I was there.  And then, some of those folks got detained or arrested. And then that was kind of over. Then who was left is, you had probably a thousand, maybe a little bit over a thousand, folks from the NAACP, religious people, students from Morehouse and Spellman, the Atlanta University Center, Clark Atlanta. And in that space I found myself angry at some points, and I found myself in prayer. There was a sense of anger and prayer that was constantly going on in that space. There were probably, I don’t know, five, six hundred, if not more, police officers in riot gear lined up on one side of the street. On the other side of the street there were a thousand people of faith, protestors, all different kinds of folks. And there were moments where the police were slapping their batons against the shields in order to, as an intimidation tactic, I guess, I’m not sure. 
  •  HOOD: Nevertheless there was a clear sense in that moment that the forces of Caesar, the forces of the world were standing there, and I felt like there was a soul force on the other side of the street, I felt like there was a real source of, a real force of, a force of love and a spirituality taking place in that space. But also a source of hope, certainly for me and I think for a lot of people, that there were this many people down there that cared and I think that that’s a really positive thing.  
  •  HOOD: About seven o’clock, or thereafter, I don’t know the exact time, the Supreme Court issued a stay, a brief stay, and there was euphoria. Everybody was so excited, and everybody was so happy. And in that moment I felt like God had answered my prayers. I felt like God was not going to let this execution happen. I had been praying over and over and over again that night, “Please God don’t let this happen,” and I believed with all of my heart that God was not going to let this happen. And when that stay came around, that brief stay, I thought that my prayers had been answered. 
  •  HOOD: And somebody said, “They can still come back and execute him, we don’t need to move,” blah, blah, blah, and so I stayed and me and my wife, we stayed, and he was executed. 
  •  HOOD: And we Christians love to talk about these “Come to Jesus Moments,” and that was a real “Come to Jesus Moment” for me because I had been praying all night and I had been praying for the last fourteen or fifteen months of my life, if not years, for this not to happen. And I felt like God was going to answer my prayers. As an Evangelical I was told that if two or more gather that God is there and God is going to answer your prayers. And God didn’t. 
  •  HOOD: That evening I couldn’t sleep and I was just in shambles. Really, I was just so affected by this because, you know, on some level my trust in government, whatever trust I had left, had been shattered. My home state of Georgia had committed this atrocity. My trust in, it was a, in some levels, it was a bad thing to be a Georgian that night and I was dealing with that. I had always been so proud being a Southerner and it was a bad thing to be a Southerner that night. I was proud of a lot of these things because that was the space that I had come from. That was my home, my identity.  
  •  HOOD: Other ways it was a dreadful thing to be a Christian that night, because who had carried out this crime but Christians. And so I’m dealing with all of this and that night I remember just praying over and over and over again, “God, why did you do this? Why did you do this? Why did you do this? Why did you do this?” I remember saying it over and over again. And in that moment in the stillness of that moment, late that night, early that morning, I remember God, for perhaps the first time in my life, clearly and audibly speaking and saying, “I didn’t do this. You did.”  
  •  HOOD: And in that moment it was, we talk about Paul being on the road to Damascus and seeing the light in the New Testament and being awoken so quickly and that was a real moment of awakening for me. That I was complicit in this execution. That somehow it wasn’t enough just to be a Facebook-activist, it wasn’t enough just to wear the t-shirt, it wasn’t enough just to show up at the big moments when everybody else was showing up. But that there was something that I had to do day-in and day-out and that I had to be active in this conversation. That was another moment that really changed my life and it changed my faith. 
  •  Because I realized it wasn’t enough just to talk about Jesus, that I had to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world, that I had to be the mouthpiece of Jesus in the world. That I had to be able to love my neighbor as myself and learn how to express that with my hands and my feet and my mouth, my mind, my spirit. And I began to really experience that and really take that in and figure out what that looked like.  
  •  HOOD: Later on my wife and I moved to Texas. I didn’t expect to move to Texas. If you had asked me when I was a child, perhaps in college, where I thought I would end up it would not have been Texas. But we moved here and I became further involved, and really sought to be further involved, with the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. And in that space I really became, I guess blossomed, not just as an activist, a protestor, an agitator, a rabble-rouser, not just in those things, but as a Christian, as a follower of Jesus. And realizing that those things go together with who I see Jesus to be. Who I believe Jesus sees me to be.  
  •  HOOD: And I began to write folks on death row. Wrote one or two people before I got to the person that I write now. And in those conversations I interacted with one person who was particularly violent in the way that he responded to my overtures. In that moment I developed a realization that my activism wasn’t going to be the type of activism that really sought to make all these folks on death row really look like they were saints. ‘Cause I think that’s the other extreme. I think that’s another part of the problem. I think a lot of activists will saint a lot of these folks on death row and that doesn’t create a nuanced conversation. It creates a conversation that is very one-sided and very problematic. 
  •  HOOD: Because there is no question that some of these folks have committed heinous crimes and to not acknowledge those crimes is to not acknowledge the victims and the victims’ families. And I think that is incredibly problematic. 
  •  HOOD: So I think part of loving our neighbor as ourself is seeing this person as human, but also acknowledging the crimes that they have committed, some of them have committed.  
  •  HOOD: I guess I sort of got a rude awakening when I first started that process. And you know began to realize that this conversation that I would have with folks on death row was going to be a conversation with someone on death row. I needed to figure out what that looked like and the only way to do that was to experience that –as to keep on experiencing it.  
  •  HOOD: I began to write one gentleman who I’ve been writing for I guess about a year and a half now, fourteen, fifteen months, something like that, and we’ve become very close and I have a lot of love for him. In a lot of ways his situation is a life filled with violence. Violence begetting violence. It kind of causes me, his situation, and a number of other cases and situations I’ve interacted with here in Texas, it’s caused me to realize just how brutal the cycle of violence is here in Texas. I mean, we cannot deny that every time we execute folks that we are teaches people in our cities that killing is how you teach other people not to kill, killing is how you bring about vengeance, and how you bring about justice. As long as we continue to talk in that way, to believe in that way, to interact with the community in that way, we’re going to continue to have killing. As far as I’m concerned the state has the ultimate responsibility to make an example and say, “We’re no longer going to do this. We’re no longer going to kill.” 
  •  HOOD: I think if the state has the courage to do that, it changes the conversation. Because right now the conversation is, somebody commits a heinous crime, the conversation is not what caused them to commit that heinous crime, what have we, how have we failed, but it is an othering, a monsterizing of that person in order to abscond responsibility and let go of our responsibility for what has happened.  
  •  HOOD: I mean, I think it’s very correct that violence is part of the DNA in our culture here in Texas and that has to change. For me part of that change came with interacting with someone on death row. It began to really help me understand that the killer in you is the killer in me. That I am very capable of committing heinous crimes. That I am very capable of committing atrocities. You put me, having been raised in certain ways, having been influenced by certain factors, and you put me in the wrong situation. I think it’s important that we begin to talk about these situations like that. Because if we don’t, and we continue to otherize and monsterize, I don’t think that we can get to a space that we can see all people as human beings. 
  •  HOOD: We’ve got all of these Christians, all of these Christians, they want to talk about Jesus. When they campaign they want to talk about Jesus this and Jesus that. They want to go to Church. I think here in Texas, the Christian community especially, has failed to, they’ve invited the politicians to church but they’ve failed to take the church to the politicians.  
  •  HOOD: They’ve failed to say, “Ok, if you’re going to continue to talk about the teachings of Jesus, if you’re going to claim this moral mandate around the teachings of Jesus, then you need to learn that you cannot love your neighbor as yourself and execute them. You cannot continue to foment violence and death and killing and claim that you are following this person who was a giver of life, a giver of love.” 
  •  HOOD: And I think that that is the space that I’ve consistently found myself in, in terms of my activism. Bringing the conversation to the faith community and saying, “Look, it’s not enough to go to church on Sunday mornings and sing the hymns about Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. It’s not enough to talk about these issues and say ‘Jesus would do this and Jesus would do that.’ And claim that Jesus is executing folks and that Jesus is behind this.” 
  •  HOOD: I mean read the New Testament, my gosh! I mean read the life of Jesus. I mean, I think Jesus is in the middle, in the dead middle, of this death penalty conversation in Texas. I think that if the death penalty is going to be overturned in Texas, the conversation is going to start with what would Jesus do in terms of the mother who’s clutching the glass as the state of Texas executes their child.  
  •  HOOD: How do we bring about forgiveness? How do we bring about reconciliation?  
  •  HOOD: And I am a part of a generation of Evangelicals who have been taught that Jesus is at the center of our politics. That Jesus is at the center of these social justice conversations. And so I think that that needs to be the case in terms of the death penalty. A lot of my work has been focused on trying to make that happen.  
  •  HOOD: And, you know, as I began to think about what does it look like to be further involved in creating conversation in the faith community about the death penalty I heard a sermon and began to think about the story of the woman caught in adultery: where Jesus, where a woman is brought to Jesus, slung at his feet there in the dirt. And the Pharisees tell Jesus, “This woman has been caught in adultery. Our law says that she needs to be stoned. That’s the prescription for what she has done.” And the story goes on, Jesus gets down in the dirt, Jesus begins to write in the dirt, and you know I was taught from a very early age that Jesus is writing the sins of the Pharisees in the dirt, and Jesus, the story ends with Jesus saying, “You who is without sin cast the first stone.” And the Pharisees began to walk away.  
  •  HOOD: And we concentrate largely on the dirt and what Jesus wrote and speculating on that. We concentrate on “You who is without sin cast the first stone.” But what we don’t concentrate on enough is that Jesus places Jesus’s body in the conversation. That if those stones had started flying, if they had started throwing those stones at that adulterous woman, Jesus was going to die too.  
  •  HOOD: And I think that for me I had begun to realize that I, that part of my faith, part of following Jesus, was placing my body into the conversation. And I realized that doing that meant sacrifice. It meant, you know, the possibility of persecution. And as I began to think about this action, this pilgrimage, you know there was a lot of fear. I think that when we talk about reconciliation, and when we talk about having those conversations, there is often times that first wall we have to get through, that first boundary that we have to get through, that first border that we have to push through, is that of fear. What does it look like to take that step to place your body in the conversation? What does it look like to that first step of placing your life into the conversation?  
  •  HOOD: As I drove down to start the pilgrimage, there in Livingston, I didn’t know what this was going to look like. I didn’t know where I was going to sleep. I knew how far it was. I didn’t have a whole lot of help. I didn’t have a whole lot of people following me. I didn’t have, you know, a lot to rely on. I knew that I was going to be relying on God. That God was going to be taking this journey with me. 
  •  HOOD: I arrived last Thursday afternoon, visited a gentleman on death row. This gentleman, in a lot of ways, told me, he says, “You’re walking for me. I can’t walk, I can’t leave this space. I want you to know that you’re walking for me. And I love Jesus and I don’t want you to forget, you know,” and he gave me the names of the folks who had been involved in his trial, the victims, and the victims families, who he wanted me to pray for along the way.  
  •  HOOD: The next day, Friday morning, I visited with another gentleman on death row, the gentleman that I’ve been consistently been visiting, and we had a long conversation about why I was doing this. He was afraid that I was going to get hurt and didn’t want me to do it, on some levels. I told him, I said, “You know, I feel called by God to do this.” 
  •  HOOD: And he said, “And God will go with you and so will I.”  I left there and we pulled up to the end of the road there, outside the Polunsky Unit, and I jumped out with my robe and my blue stole, staff, backpack, said a brief prayer, and I began to walk.  
  •  HOOD: And as I turned the corner, came around the street there, took a right, went up to the next street, took a right, and as I turned the corner a gentleman from, one of the guards who worked with the warden, came around and with his hand on a shotgun in the middle of the van, he asked me what I was doing.  
  •  HOOD: And I told him I was walking to Austin – and at that point of course Austin’s two hundred miles away. He looked that me like that was just the craziest thing that anybody had ever said to him.And he said, “Why are you doing that?” I said “I’m opposed to the death penalty.” He said, “Well why are you walking?” 
  •  HOOD: And I said, “Because I love Jesus and I think that this is what Jesus would have me do.”He said, “Well I love Jesus too.” With his hand on the shotgun he said, “And this is what Jesus has me do.”And, you know it was, I kind of said, “Ok, I’m going to keep on walking if that’s ok.”He said, “Well alright, just be safe, we’re going to keep our eye on you as you come around.”I said, “You know, great.” 
  •  HOOD: But it was certainly a reminder, there at the beginning of this journey, there at the beginning of this pilgrimage, that Texas is a place of violence. Texas is a place of intimidation. If we are to push past violence, if we are truly to get to a place of after violence, than I think that we have to have those moments of fear and intimidation and keep on walking.  
  •  HOOD: And decide, “I’m not going to let that keep me from having the conversations that need to be had.” And I don’t know, I don’t know if that guy ever looked at my journey, or what happened after that, but there’s probably a piece of me that would like to hope and pray that he sees that I made it to Austin and maybe takes a second look at what I was walking for. 
  •  HOOD: I kept on moving there from Livingston to Huntsville. One of the more beautiful spaces that I’ve walked was over the bridge there from Livingston to Huntsville, gosh that bridge is a lot longer walking than it is driving. I crossed over the bridge and there was a woman, she was in a van, and she swerved over, and said, “What are you doing?” And I told her I was walking in opposition to the death penalty.  
  •  HOOD: And she said, “Why in the world are you doing that? I’m for the death penalty.” I said, “I’m walking because I’m a follower of Jesus.” And she, “I am too. What makes you think that you’re right about this whole Jesus thing and the death penalty?”  And I looked at her and I said, “Well, ma’am I just don’t think that you can love your neighbor as yourself and execute them.”  She looked up and she said, “Damn that makes a lot of sense.”  And I said, “Well yeah, it does to me too.” And she said, “Well, nice talking to you.” And she drove off. 
  •  HOOD: I kept on walking and eventually made it to Huntsville and had a very spiritual experience there at Wesley United Methodist Church. A lady, I got done talking, and a lady who was involved at that church she asked if she could wash my feet. It was a very spiritual moment. When I left on the walk I felt like I was trying to serve humanity, trying to serve the people as Jesus did, and it’s interesting when you set out to serve often times you realize people end up serving you. And the script is flipped a little bit. And it was a beautiful moment, and a moment of real love.   
  •  HOOD: I prayed there at the Walls Unit later on that evening, knelt down and put my hands on the bricks. And just prayed that not only would God stop executions, you know, we talk about, there’s a lot of imagery in the Bible that walls coming tumbling down and the thing that I want to come tumbling down the most is that cross that is attached to the building where people are executed. Where people travel into the Huntsville Unit, the Walls Unit, it’s just abhorrent to me that the cross of Jesus is on top of that building.  
  •  HOOD: And I really pray about our theology as Christians. We have consistently had this blood-based theology. This substitutionary atonement theology – we really believe it takes blood to satisfy evil. That blood overcomes evil. And I think that our theology is very problematic. I think ultimately the conversation has to change when it comes to the atonement, what the cross means. I think the cross has to be talked about in a space of love and that greater love has no one than this that someone would give their life for others. And I think that changes the conversation. 
  •  HOOD: I think that Christians are responsible for the death penalty here in Texas. I don’t think there is any question about it. And I think that our theology is at the center of that. And so I think that part of what I was praying for in that moment was that I could be a part of changing the theology, changing the conversation.  
  •  HOOD: I left Huntsville, walked through a lot of the evening, and ended up getting pretty far along. And when I got to the outskirts of Bryan-College Station, which was a couple of days later, I guess maybe forty hours later, something like that, I was walking into town and it was so hot. It was just so hot along the way. And I was in an abbot and a stole. And an abbot the sleeves come down to here, it’s a robe, and it goes all the way down to your ankles, and it was so hot. At one point I had to go to the bathroom and I had to go to the bathroom in a way that lended itself to needing a restroom. And there was no other places and there was this honky-tonk kind of bar place, and so I opened the door and there was these five guys sitting there at the bar, kind of rough, and I walked in and they looked at me and one of the guys said, “What in the hell are you doing?” 
  •  HOOD: And I said, “Well I’m walking against the death penalty.”And he didn’t miss a beat and he said, “Why in the hell are you doing that?”And I said, “Well let me go to the restroom and I’ll come back out and we can have a conversation about why I’m doing that.” 
  •  HOOD: So I go to the restroom, I come back out, and there in that space we had a conversation about the death penalty. The interesting thing was that the conversation about the death penalty, most of them were for the death penalty, I don’t know that much of what I said changed their mind but I do know that they wanted to talk about Jesus, they wanted to talk about faith. As we began to talk about faith, about loving your neighbor as yourself, and I talked about what does it look like to follow God, what does it look like to follow Jesus, what does it look like to follow the spirit of love, it was interesting how the conversation about the death penalty started to change and as I left nobody said, “Ok, I’ve totally changed my mind, I’m for the abolishment of the death penalty now.” But they did consistently say, “I really respect what you’re doing and I’m going to think some more about this.”  
  •  HOOD: And I think that I had so much fear about going into that space before I went in there, I had no idea how they were going to respond to me and I just knew I needed to go to the bathroom. And as I went in, you know, a beautiful conversation happened. I think that again in work around the death penalty, and if Christians and people of faith, and for that matter all people, are going to work here in Texas to abolish the death penalty we have to get past that fear. We have to go into those spaces that we are just not expecting to go into. Those spaces that we are afraid of. And I think in those spaces we’re afraid of lies the ultimate goal of abolishing the death penalty. 
  •  HOOD: I journeyed on through Bryan-College Station I did an interview with the newspaper there and it was on the front page, they used the most awful looking picture, I was holding the staff, I look like I’m about to just fall over, and I probably was. So when I was coming into town people had seen me in the newspaper. People were like, “Oh yeah I saw you in the newspaper.” People were stopping. So I got to have a lot of conversations and that was interesting. I walked with a group of people for about five miles going to Santa Teresa Catholic Church there in town. And it’s not often that a Southern Baptist preacher gets to preach at a Roman Catholic Church. 
  •  HOOD: So that was a real moment of, you know, a real moment of conversation, it was interesting. Santa Teresa Catholic Church is about 100% Hispanic. And so, you know, there were a lot of borders and boundaries that were navigated in that space and I had a conversation with them about something that had happened to me prior when I first walked into Brazos County.  And as I first walked into Brazos County, I think I had taken maybe, I don’t know, ten, fifteen, maybe twenty steps into the county I was met by two sheriff’s deputies and we began to talk. And I’m pretty aware of the law, you know realized that there were a couple of things that I needed to tell them and that was it. 
  •  HOOD: And they were like, “What are you doing? Why are you doing this?” I told them that I was opposed to the death penalty, walking to Austin, and that my faith motivated me to do this.  They said something about, “Well we disagree with you on this.” Or something like that.And I said, “I would assume that.” I said, “That doesn’t surprise me.” And we started having a conversation and one said, “Well, give me your driver’s license.”  
  •  HOOD: And I was in a vulnerable space and I didn’t want to do too much battle in that space, so I just gave him my license and he said, “Oh I just need it to pass your name up ahead so that dispatch can, you know, be on the lookout for your safety.”  
  •  HOOD: Oh, ok, that sounds good enough. And of course a couple of minutes later he’s on the dial with dispatch, “Any license, or, any warrants, any arrests, getting all this information about me. And in that space I realized what some of our immigrant brothers and sisters and friends are dealing with every day throughout Texas. Having to be afraid of people asking for identification. For, often times, no other reason that for what I was doing, walking.  
  •  HOOD: And I think that I arrived at a space of intersectionality there at Santa Teresa Catholic Church when I realized that the struggle with immigrants is often very violent and connects with the struggle to abolish the death penalty. 
  •  HOOD: If we can’t, the government can kill, then certainly they can ask for your license, certainly they can deport you, I mean these things are all connected this radical taking away of rights and dehumanizing and othering. So we had that conversation at Santa Teresa and it was very productive. I left there with the blessing of the priest and congregation, beautiful moment.  
  •  HOOD: And that next stretch between Bryan-College Station down through Caldwell and through Bastrop and on into Austin was a very lonely stretch. There’s not a whole lot out there. There was one evening when I slept underneath a bridge and that moment really brought me to a reality of being afraid of animals and being afraid of what if someone came up under here and tried to hurt me. That situation and that space really brought me to a space of thinking about our homeless friends. The way that we other and do violence against them, dehumanize them.  
  •  HOOD: There were constantly moments were I realize that our struggle to abolish the death penalty again is, there’s a web of intersectionality, that if we dehumanize and other these folks on death row than that lends itself to dehumanizing and othering all of these other people. And if we continue to do violence against these folks on death row it lends itself to dehumanizing and othering and doing violence against other people. So the cycle of violence just continues and consistently continues.  
  •  HOOD: I wrapped things up coming into Austin and walking up South Congress and in that moment seeing the people of Austin so concerned with American Apparel or Urban Outfitters and the restaurants and all these different things and I realized that most of them don’t care at all about the death penalty. And this is one of the most progressive areas of the state.  
  •  HOOD: You know I found it interesting that so often a lot of the progressive folks, the liberal folks, talk about how progressive and liberal they are and yet often times are unwilling to place their bodies in the struggle. And it’s, I don’t know, I really was convicted about that, convicted in calling our progressive-minded friends to place their bodies in the struggle.  
  •  HOOD: Anyway, as I walked up and saw the Capitol, it was a really magical moment. Gosh I had walked so far and I was so tired and to have a group of people, a lot of whom are fellow Baptists from First Baptists Austin, University Baptist Church, Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, some Roman Catholic friends, Methodist friends, it was really magical to have those folks clapping and really cheering me on. I spoke there for a second and we finished up the entire journey by doing another faithful conversation on the death penalty at University Baptist Church last night. And I consistently said, “The call of love is to place one’s body in the struggle for justice.” 
  •  HOOD: And as I laid my head down last night and went to sleep I was just reminded once again how important it is to insert our bodies in these conversations. And to value the bodies of others and stop dehumanizing and othering, but the only way we can really counteract that is by placing our bodies in the conversation. By demanding a humanization for ourselves and by doing that I think that we can change the world. I think that we can bring about love. And I think that we can truly arrive at this space of being after violence and this destination that I think we all want to get to called love. 
 
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Title:Interview with Jeff Hood
Abstract:Reverend Jeff Hood is a Southern Baptist preacher and death penalty activist living in Denton, Texas. Hood is a theologian educated at Auburn University, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. He currently serves on the board of directors of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. At the time of the interview Hood had just completed a two hundred mile pilgrimage between the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas and the Texas State Capitol in Austin. In Tape 1, Rev. Hood describes his evangelical upbringing in Atlanta, Georgia, moving through his education as a theologian and later a preacher. He gives a look into the slow changes that took place during those early years and how he came to death penalty activism after the conviction of Troy Davis for the murder of a police officer in 1989. Hood recounts how he came to adopt a philosophy of love and acceptance, moving from what he describes as “t-shirt activism” to working with the TCADP, corresponding and visiting inmates on death row. He concludes by giving an account of his two-hundred mile walk from Livingston to Austin; giving insight into the sort of people he met along the way; the fear and physical exhaustion he faced; and the journey’s conclusion in front of the Texas State Capitol building. This interview took place on June 20, 2014 at the Texas After Violence Office in Austin, Texas.
Sequence:1 of 1
Creators:
  • Jeff HoodRole: Narrator
  • Texas After Violence ProjectRole: Collaborator
Contributors:
  • Rebecca LorinsRole: Interviewer
  • Rebecca LorinsRole: Videographer
  • Christian ReesRole: Transcriber
  • Rebecca LorinsRole: Proofreader
  • Christian ReesRole: Writer of accompanying material
  • Marianne BrownRole: Proofreader
  • Hillary RichardRole: Proofreader
  • Morgan SwindellRole: Proofreader
  • Marianne BrownRole: Writer of accompanying material
Publishers:Texas After Violence Project
University of Texas Libraries
Date Created:2014/06/20
Languages:eng
Geographic Focus:North America--United States--Texas
Geographic Base:North America--United States--Texas--Austin
Type of Resource:Moving image
Genre:Interview
Identifier:tav00050
Rights:
    This electronic resource is made available by the University of Texas Libraries solely for the purposes of research, teaching and private study. All intellectual property rights are retained by the legal copyright holders. The University of Texas does not hold the copyright to the content of this file. Formal permission to reuse or republish this content must be obtained from the copyright holder.

Source Metadata

Analog/Digital Flag:physDigital
Carrier Number:1 of 1
Generation:original
Signal Format:NTSC
Duration:00:59:49

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