Oklahoma has eight executions scheduled in January - more than any other state in the nation. This is one reason Bishop Robert Moody chose to urge the Episcopal churches in his diocese to mark each event by ringing their church bells.
With that action, he joined a new national initiative seeking to have religious organizations - churches, monasteries, temples, and synagogues - toll their bells whenever an execution occurs anywhere in the United States, to call attention to the fact and encourage people to pray for those executed, their victims, and the families of both. The "For Whom the Bell Tolls" campaign asks churches without bells to hang a banner on their buildings or tie black ribbons to the doors.
"This seems a quiet, nonpolemical way of bringing the gravity of the situation before people," Bishop Moody says. "It asks us to be observant and prayerful, and to bear witness to the fact that a human life is being taken."
The criminal-justice reform group promoting the effort - Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants - hopes to spur public support for a moratorium on the death penalty in the 38 states that now allow capital punishment.
Gov. George Ryan (R) stopped executions in Illinois a year ago after the innocence of several death-row inmates was proven; other states have not yet followed suit. But Americans have begun to debate the issue as inequities and incompetence in the system have come to light.