Can This Texas Pastor Lay Hands On An Inmate During Execution …… | News and reports
John Henry Ramirez is due to die on September 8. The state of Texas will execute him by lethal injection for the 2004 murder of convenience store clerk Pablo Castro, 45. Ramirez was convicted of stabbing Castro 29 times while stealing $ 1.25 to buy drugs. Today, 17 years later, he will be put to death for his crime.
When that happens, Ramirez would like his pastor to lay his hands on him. He complaint filed in federal court last week, claiming he had the religious right to be touched by Dana Moore, senior pastor at Second Baptist Church in Corpus Christi, Texas, during his death.
According to Ramirez’s attorney, Seth Kretzer, current prison policy allows doctors and guards to touch an inmate during execution, but does not allow spiritual touching. Kretzer argues that this “weighs on Mr. Ramirez’s free exercise of his Christian faith at the exact moment of his death, when most Christians believe they will ascend to heaven or descend to hell, in other words, when the religious instruction and practice are most needed. “
CT reached out to the Southern Baptist pastor to ask him about the importance of the laying on of hands, death row ministry, and what he thinks people should know about Ramirez.
Why is touching or laying your hands on someone important to you as a Baptist pastor?
When I pray with people, I get hold of them. When I go to the hospital, I hold the person’s hand. This is what we do. This is how we do things.
Image: Courtesy of the Second Baptist Church
Just last week we had fellowship, and I looked, and one of the ladies in the church was praying for another. And the one that was standing, she put her hands on the lady setting, on her shoulders, and she was praying over her.
I don’t think it’s just Baptists. In churches across denominations, we touch each other. And it’s not like it’s just a thing in the history books. It is something we do every day when we pray for each other.
And that’s what John wants me to be able to do. For me to touch him. To have that support. To have that kind of blessing.
Is John Henry Ramirez a member of the Second Baptist Church?
He came to salvation in prison. I think it was on death row, thanks to the ministry of two ladies from our church, Jan Trujillo and Joyce Watson. Then John applied for church membership. We took his greeting and basically a proxy letter, which Baptists don’t usually do, but in this case, we did.
I think of him as one of my members who, I guess in the end, is housebound. He can’t come to church.
We speak like any church member except we have to speak through plexiglass and telephones. We talk about everything. We talk about Bible issues, we talk about his life, and he will ask me, “What is going on in the church?” I tell him about church, and then I want to know how he’s doing.
What can you tell us about Jean? What do you want people to know about him?
John is someone who has been transformed by Jesus Christ. This is the most important thing.
How did your church initiate a ministry to death row inmates at the Allan B. Polunsky Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in Livingston, TX? It’s about five hours from the Second Baptist Church of Corpus Christi.
It all started with a church member named Les Archer who worked as a volunteer chaplain at the local county jail, and it was there that he met John Ramirez. John’s case resulted in conviction and he ended up on death row, and Les Archer couldn’t get there, he just couldn’t make the trip, physically.
He enlisted two ladies, sisters, and Jan and Joyce began the ministry. John had the idea to widen it, to get more visits for the guys who don’t get visits on death row. I think it’s probably common knowledge, but they’re isolated on death row. They are all isolated all the time.
Now we probably have half a dozen people going to visit the guys, and they go once a month. This is death row ministry for our church.
What is the Second Baptist Church like?
It’s a big church. Over 100 years of history. Ministry at all ages. We’re just trying to accomplish the Great Commission, and it’s a tough time to do it, but that’s our goal.
It is a church where many people from different walks of life attend. We have an active Kairos prison ministry, and we have a local ministry here called Broken Chains, individuals who are trying to get rid of different addictions, and frequently these people come to be part of the church.
We have professionals and we have individuals who struggle, make ends meet, and try to stay sober. We try to help each other follow Jesus and get others to follow Jesus as well.
When you first met the men on death row, how did you feel about them?
John and the other guys I meet there are normal guys. It’s like, wow, how different am I? John is just an ordinary guy. Strengths. Weaknesses. And all the rest.
He likes to talk. And me too. Sometimes it’s hard for me, as a preacher, to have a word, because I have to listen first. He likes to talk.
For a spiritual advisor visit, I am allowed to speak to an inmate for an hour, and I try to do two in a day if I can. I talk to John every month because he has a date [for his execution], and the other three guys are spinning, which they all support, because they know John is on a date.
My # 1 goal is to be there and listen to what John has to say to me. I’m not leaving with an agenda. I’m just going there to befriend and be as much of a minister as any of the guys will let me. Then I see where it’s going.
How long have you ministered to John?
I don’t remember exactly when it started, but about five years ago.
Did meeting these men change your opinion on the death penalty?
I don’t want to go in there. I don’t want to muddy the waters with the lawsuit. I have opinions, but it’s not what I think.
If there were other ministers asking about this type of ministry, wondering whether to speak specifically to people in prison or on death row, what would you say to them?
Just continue your call. Follow your passion — what God is leading you to do. There are so many good ministries out there. To us, it was just something that God put in front of us. We didn’t research it or do it as part of a plan.
When you meet John, do you talk on the phone through a plexiglass window?
So you never touched him, did you? You never got to lay your hands on him while you prayed?
How did you start to talk about the possibility of touching it while performing?
Since the supreme court said Now I have the right to be in the death chamber, to go with him to the death chamber, we talked about what it would look like and what it would be like.
John said, basically, “Dana, I want you to be able to touch me.”
Touch is spiritually important. There is something there. Jesus healed by touch. Jesus gathered the children in his arms; How touching. James talks about anointing people with oil; this is going to involve a touch. So I said I wanted to touch him too.
I’m not familiar with the legal process, but John initiated it and I have filed this affidavit to support it, to support the idea of touching him in the death chamber.
What did you learn about pastoral ministry from visiting these men on death row?
It allowed me to fulfill part of the Bible. You know in Matthew 25, Jesus said, When I was in jail you visited me. He says when you go to visit this person, it’s like you visit me.
I didn’t think Jesus would look like John Ramirez, but he is. So, my God, I have to say yes to that.