Monday, September 18, 2006

Pastor-in-training takes on the death penalty

Some years ago NCADP was involved in pushing bills to abolish the death penalty for juvenile offenders through several state legislatures. One of the states where we were successful was South Dakota. So I was pleased when my colleague Earl Bender sent me this feature article from the Argus (S.D.) Leader about one of the young people who helped us with our work:

Pastor-in-training takes on the death penalty
September 17, 2006
Six years ago, Karl Kroger was a high school student in Lead when the lives of two young men not much older than he tragically collided. Elijah Page, then 18, and two other men brutally murdered 19-year-old Chester Poage.

Page was scheduled to be executed for his role in the killing Aug. 29; Gov. Mike Rounds issued a stay because of issues with state law. Last year, Kroger interned at the South Dakota State Penitentiary chapel. Every week, he walked past the cells that confined Page and three other death row inmates.

"I abhor what each of those four men did, but when I think about that table in the execution room, that room that I have been in, I abhor what my government does in continuing the violence," Kroger said. "Why do we teach people that killing people is wrong by killing people?"

His abhorrence of the death penalty led Kroger, then attending Dakota Wesleyan University, to organize students to lobby in Pierre to end the juvenile death penalty. It passed by two votes.

Kroger has e-mailed Rounds, urging commutation of Page's death sentence. Kroger, who will follow in his father's footsteps and become a pastor in United Methodist churches in South Dakota and North Dakota, also wrote a resolution opposing the death penalty. The UMC's Dakotas Conference passed it in June 2005.

Other social justice issues that engage Kroger's heart, mind and soul include erasing poverty, fair wages for workers worldwide, good stewardship of the environment and AIDS prevention.

Jeanne Koster, retired director of the South Dakota Peace and Justice Center, calls Kroger a natural-born diplomat who doesn't compromise his principles.

"The leadership he exercises in coming years will be persuasion, not coercion," she said. "He has a firm sense of what is right, and yet he can work and manage not to compromise that and bring people around without being abrasive."

The Rev. Cody Schuler of Fargo first met Kroger when Schuler was a church camp counselor.

"Karl is not a loud person. He's not the voice that you hear above everybody else's voices, but Karl is someone with a very caring heart," Schuler said."To look at what he's accomplished and where he can go in the future is exciting."

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