Listen Now / Read the Transcript

Listen to this episode now:
Episode #1202

DEBORAH POTTER, guest anchor: Coming up — wanted by the police, these people are turning themselves in, not at a police station, but at a church.

PETE ELLIOTT (U.S. Marshals Service): People have asked me why a church, and it’s simple — churches give hope.

POTTER: And he’s a renowned neurosurgeon with a trust in God and a healthy sense of humility.

Dr. BEN CARSON (Pediatric Neurosurgeon, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions): I pray before I go into the operating room for every case, and I ask him to give me wisdom to help me to know what to do.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

DEBORAH POTTER: Welcome. I’m Deborah Potter sitting in for Bob Abernethy. Thank you for joining us.

As Hurricane Ike bore down on the U.S. Gulf Coast, faith-based groups were responding to the devastation in Haiti, battered by four major tropical storms since mid-August. More than 300 people died, tens of thousands of homes were damaged, and nearly all of the country’s farmland was flooded. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. While aid has been arriving there, distribution has been difficult. The storms also caused death and damage in Cuba, and U.S. Catholic bishops are asking the Bush administration to let Americans travel there and send money for humanitarian relief.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

DEBORAH POTTER: This past week, the country marked the seventh anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

A moment of silence in New York, Washington and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

In Washington, President Bush led a ceremony at the White House and also visited the Pentagon, where he dedicated a new memorial to the victims of the attack there. In New York, families of victims gathered at Ground Zero to hear the annual recitation of the names of those who died. Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama also visited the site and later appeared together at a summit on volunteering and national service. The two agreed to suspend political advertising for the day and focus their attention on remembering the attacks and the victims.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

DEBORAH POTTER: The U.S. Catholic bishops have raised concerns about what they called “recent misleading remarks” by prominent Catholic politicians about Church teachings on abortion.

The bishops took Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden to task for his comments on NBC’s “Meet the Press”:

SENATOR JOSEPH BIDEN (Democratic Vice Presidential Candidate, during appearance on “Meet the Press”): I’m prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception. But that is my judgment. For me to impose that judgment on everyone else who is equally and maybe even more devout than I am seems to me is inappropriate in a pluralistic society.

POTTER: The bishops said protecting all unborn children is a demand of justice, not an imposition of personal religious conviction. They also strongly disputed Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s recent claim that quote “doctors of the church” have disagreed on when life begins.

Joining me now to discuss all of this is our Managing Editor Kim Lawton. And it seems that social issues and abortion, in particular, have become sort of front and center again in the presidential campaign.

KIM LAWTON (Managing Editor, RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY): Well, it’s really interesting. Thirty-five years after Roe v. Wade, abortion is still a really volatile political issue for both parties. We see the Democrats struggling with how to maintain their very strong position on pro-choice, and also to try to encourage and appeal to people who are against abortion — especially some Catholics and maybe even some evangelicals. So, that’s been a struggle for them. And we see with Joe Biden, they’re not exactly sure how to do that — to keep everybody happy. On the flipside, the Republicans are also making this a big deal and they have a lot of voters who base their vote on abortion. And certainly the selection of Sarah Palin who’s against abortion, even in cases of rape and incest, was something that made those voters very happy.

POTTER: Well, it has energized the evangelical voting population apparently, but is there a potential downside to this from the McCain campaign’s perspective?

LAWTON: Well, we’ve been reporting that evangelicals and conservative Catholics who were very lukewarm about John McCain have been thrilled with the selection of Sarah Palin. And so they’re working harder and they are energized. But that in turn seems to be energizing people in the more liberal and moderate community who don’t want to see an energized Religious Right. And so you see this sort of contentious situation building. And, I think religious moderates and liberals are a lot better organized than they were even four years ago.

POTTER: Do you see this energy among evangelicals continuing if the McCain campaign essentially steps back and says, “Well, we’ve done what you asked. We’ve picked the right person. We’re obviously on your side. Now we don’t have to do more”?

LAWTON: Well, that’s one of the concerns I’m hearing a lot from the social conservatives that they want McCain himself, as well as Sarah Palin herself, to speak out about some of their issues — not just assume that everybody knows where they’re going to stand. They want to see them coming to some of their events, their rallies, personally, and really rallying the troops. And they don’t want to be taken for granted.

POTTER: Kim, I’m sure you’ll be watching this for us. Thank you so much. And, we have more campaign coverage and analysis on the “One Nation” page of our Web site. Join us at

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

DEBORAH POTTER: A major leader in the American Muslim community and one of the nation’s most influential religious figures died this week. W.D. Mohammed was 74. He preached a moderate, mainstream Islam and offered American Muslims an alternative to the militant Nation of Islam. Mohammed’s father, Elijah, led the Nation of Islam and promoted black nationalism and black superiority. When Elijah died in 1975, his son took over. Mohammed renamed the organization and encouraged followers to focus on the tenets of the faith and embrace outsiders.

In an interview with RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY in 1997, Mohammed explained why he shifted the focus of his father’s organization.

W.D. MOHAMMED: God says to us in our holy book, the Qur’an, he did not make us tribes and nations for us to think ourselves superior to the other. He wants us to know each other because there is an experience and knowledge that the whole humanity can benefit from.

POTTER: Not all welcomed Mohammed’s approach. Louis Farrakhan revived the Nation of Islam with its former focus. Nonetheless, Mohammed spawned a movement with more followers and became a respected voice among religious leaders worldwide.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

DEBORAH POTTER: Many people go to church to give themselves up to God. But a few have been going to specific churches lately to give themselves up — period. From Memphis, Lucky Severson explains

LUCKY SEVERSON: Nineteen-year-old Edacious and her cousin are on their way to church. She’s not here to worship — she’s here to surrender. There’s a warrant for her arrest on marijuana charges, and she has come to this church to turn herself in. Hundreds of others with outstanding warrants have also shown up.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Just to get this off my record. You know, to clear my conscience, for one thing.

SEVERSON: This is part of a two-year-old program, coordinated by the Justice Department, called “Fugitive Safe Surrender.” It’s the brainchild of Pete Elliott, a member of the U.S. Marshals Service.
PETE ELLIOTT (U.S. Marshals Service): People have asked me, “Why a church?” And it’s simple — churches give hope.

SEVERSON: A week earlier, Memphis religious leaders and law enforcement had announced, at a well-publicized news conference, that, for four days fugitives — people wanted by the law for whatever reason — would be allowed to turn themselves in at a well-known church — this one in the African-American community. The church would be staffed with prosecutors, judges and court personnel.

DAVID KUSTOFF (U.S. Attorney, speaking at news conference): And most importantly, volunteers from New Salem Missionary Baptist Church to greet people and to welcome them as they come in, so that they can come in to an environment that is non-hostile.

DAVID JOLLEY. (U.S. Marshal Service, speaking at news conference): This color flyer that you’ll see on this table up here is the flyer that the pastors have been taking back to their congregations this is the flyer pastors take back to congregations and their congregations have been handing out through the community.

MARK LUTTRELL (Sheriff, Shelby County, Memphis, Tennessee, speaking at news conference): Many of these people will be able to clear up several warrants, which will make them law-abiding citizens and return them to the community in a productive way and will certainly assist us in law enforcement in clearing up this huge backlog.

SEVERSON: And what a backlog it was — 37,000 outstanding warrants in Memphis alone.

The program got started in Cleveland two years ago. Memphis is now the sixth city to try it. In every case the program has exceeded expectations. Memphis is no exception.

Felony suspects who showed up were taken into custody, but most of those turning themselves in were wanted for minor offenses. A surprising number say that until now they felt they had no place to surrender. They’re afraid of the police and sheriff’s departments. They’re afraid of going to jail. Many fugitives view the Memphis Justice Building itself as a place where people get lost, and never found: the notorious 201 Poplar Street.

Pastor FRANK RAY (New Salem Missionary Baptist Church): 201 Poplar is a threat to most of them. And the reason is that you can go there, and what they did here in 30 minutes or an hour, two hours, it may take three days — that you can go there and surrender yourself. It may be three days before they’ll even hear your case. And you’re going to be stuck in prison for that many days. And some people have even gotten lost in the system.

Mr. JOLLEY: I think every major city has this big intimidating-looking downtown jail. We certainly have one here. And coming to church and taking care of this, as opposed to going down there, that’s a strong appeal to a lot of people.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I’m here to turn myself in on a warrant for driving on a suspended and a DUI charge which I got four years ago in Memphis.

SEVERSON: Why are you here?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Violation of probation.

SEVERSON: Lots of the fugitives are accompanied by family members. This man brought a member of the clergy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE MINISTER: I came here to support him, to let him know it’s OK to go ahead and turn it around and put this behind him. And you can stop looking over your shoulder.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Man, I’ve had these warrants for probably five years. So it’s time. It’s hard, it’s hard to get a job. It’s hard to do anything.

SEVERSON: With the warrants?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Yeah, it’s rough. I mean, I really haven’t got anything to lose. I’ve got to start over. I need my life back.

SEVERSON: Jobs, food stamps, education — these things are out of reach for people with outstanding warrants. While they lineup to be processed, its red wristbands for fugitives, green ones for family members. The sheriff’s department doesn’t have the resources to round up the numbers of people who will turn themselves in over a four-day period. Here in Memphis, that was 1,500 people. First, their warrants are verified. They’re all fingerprinted and photographed. Then they wait for their turn in court.

Why was this church chosen? Because its pastor is respected in the community. Fugitives apparently trust the church more than they trust the police.

Pastor RAY: There’s been somewhat of a division between the justice system and the community, especially the religious community.

SEVERSON: Of the fugitives who have surrendered so far, 85 percent said they came in because it was a church.

Does it feel better to you, coming here to a church?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Yeah, yeah.

SEVERSON: Rather than going to a big justice building?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Yeah, that makes a whole lot of difference.

SEVERSON: Because it’s a church, does that make any difference? I mean, does it feel like it’s a little more welcoming?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Well, that was my thought.

SEVERSON: Most cases are heard the same day, and the outcomes may be more lenient than they would be downtown.
MARY THORSBERG (Assistant District Attorney General): We try to fashion a settlement that will let these people get this over with today and go home with their cases disposed of.

Judge LOYCE LAMBERT RYAN (General Sessions Court, Division 15, Shelby County, Memphis, Tennessee): Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

SEVERSON: The courtroom itself is in a chapel adjacent to the main church. Those who surrender are moved through as quickly as possible.
Judge RYAN: You understand by pleading guilty you’re waiving your rights? You’re charged with violation of probation. I’m going to release you on your own recognizance. All right sir, I’ll accept your plea and sentence you on the offense of driving on suspended license: one day in jail; credit for one day, October 22, to pay your costs. If you do not appear on September 26 then another warrant will be issued for you again. Do you understand that?

SEVERSON: Although Memphis is only about 60 percent black, almost all those who turned themselves in were African-American. One reason they are issued so many warrants, according to the Judge, is economics.

Judge RYAN: It becomes a revolving financial cycle — that if you don’t pay your reinstatement fee, you don’t pay your moving violations, it piles up. And so it’s a matter of finances. So it gets back down to core issues of poverty and income.

SEVERSON: Even though this is a church, some who showed up were afraid it might be a trap — a police sting operation.

Mr. ELLIOTT: We’ve done these things in the past. We’ve done them all over the country. I’ve been part of those, where we give out a free TV set to somebody, call them up: free Super Bowl tickets, free tickets for football, baseball game. Those things work. But it doesn’t build any trust between law enforcement and the community.

SEVERSON: Elliott’s idea for fugitive safe surrender sprang from an incident in Cleveland when a police officer — a friend of his — was shot and killed making a routine traffic stop. The officer didn’t know the driver was wanted under a fugitive warrant.

Mr. JOLLEY: There’s always the possibility of a violent confrontation, for whatever reason, even on the smallest warrants. It may be that the person just didn’t want to go to jail that day, or they had something in their possession they didn’t want the officer to find. You see all these car chases on TV — the helicopters flying overhead, guys running through stop signs and red lights, and they don’t know why, you know. Officer tried to pull him over and he took off. They can’t figure out why.

Mr. ELLIOTT: For every fugitive that peacefully and voluntarily surrenders that’s one less dangerous confrontation our law enforcement officers have to have on the streets. I’ve been in law enforcement going on 25 years now. I feel the most comfort in my life when I’m at church. I feel the most peace when I’m at church. And I felt that individuals in the community that were wanted were basically no different than me.

SEVERSON: There was good news for the man who had brought a minister with him: turns out there was no warrant for his arrest after all. But if this hadn’t been a church, he probably wouldn’t have shown up, wouldn’t have found out.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Well, by doing it at a church, man, you know — the church always has their arms open for you. It’s a safe spot.

SEVERSON: At least five other cities are hoping now to offer the surrender program. So, your criminal justice system may soon be coming to a church near you.

For RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, I’m Lucky Severson in Memphis.

POTTER: Since we first broadcast that report last fall, the program has expanded. In Detroit this spring, 6,500 people turned themselves in over four days, including 600 felons.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

DEBORAH POTTER: How does a self-described slow learner wind up winning the nation’s highest civilian honor? Dr. Ben Carson, a recipient this year of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, says it took a combination of risk-taking and faith. He’s now a prominent surgeon, an author and a motivational speaker. In an interview we aired earlier this year, Carson talked with Kim Lawton about his work and his beliefs.

KIM LAWTON: Ben Carson knows a lot about risk. As one of the leading pediatric neurosurgeons in the world, Carson makes life and death decisions nearly every day. And he has gained international fame for his work separating twins joined at their heads. Carson believes risk can be a good thing. But he says most Americans are obsessed with security.

Dr. BEN CARSON (Pediatric Neurosurgeon, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions): A lot of people simply don’t realize their potential because they’re just so risk adverse. They just don’t want to take the risk.

LAWTON: Carson is a committed Seventh-day Adventist. He says when he makes his own risk assessments, he seeks guidance from God.

Dr. CARSON: I pray before I go into the operating room for every case. And I ask Him to give me wisdom, to help me to know what to do — and not only for operating but for everything.

LAWTON: Faith and risk have defined Carson’s life, both personally and professionally. He directs pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore, Maryland. In addition to his work with conjoined twins, Carson has pioneered surgical techniques to stop seizures. Not bad for a kid from inner-city Detroit who many people would have written off.

Dr. CARSON: I was definitely an at-risk kid growing up. You know, my parents got divorced early on. My mother only had a third grade education, was illiterate, worked as a domestic two to three jobs at a time because she didn’t want to be on welfare. I was considered the dummy in the classroom when I was in fifth grade and I just didn’t believe that I could do the work so I engaged myself, you know, by creating disturbances.
LAWTON: His mother, Sonya Carson, prayed for wisdom on how to help her two sons. She mandated that they write two book reports a week for her.

Dr. CARSON: Not knowing she couldn’t read, I mean, she would highlight and checkmark and stuff and we’d think she was reading them. But she could always discuss them with you. She said, “Let’s talk about your book report.” It only really took a month maybe before I started to enjoy the reading. Something happened. I got to the point where I couldn’t wait to get home and read my books.

LAWTON: He began seeing a future for himself. But Carson says he faced another challenge: his explosive temper. He was often getting in fights. Then, when he was 14, he tried to stab a friend but the knife blade hit the boy’s belt buckle.

Dr. CARSON: It dawned upon me at that moment I was trying to kill somebody over nothing. And, you know, I locked myself in the bathroom and I just started thinking about it and I said, “You’re not going to accomplish your dream of becoming a doctor; you’re going to end up in jail or reform school or dead.”

LAWTON: He says he prayed for God’s help and then picked up a Bible, which opened to the “Book of Proverbs” and verses about anger. He believes God took away his temper and enabled him to become a surgeon. Carson still reads from the “Book of Proverbs” every day. He says it’s part of his spiritual preparation for surgery.

Dr. CARSON: My strong belief is that God created human beings and therefore He knows about every aspect of the human body. So if I want to fix it, I just need to stay in harmony with Him.

LAWTON: For Carson, surgery is often a spiritual experience.

Dr. CARSON: When I look at the human brain I’m still in awe of it. Every single time you lift off the bone and open the dura and there it is — the human brain — the thing that gives a person a personality, that distinguishes each one of us. I don’t particularly like, you know, cutting the brain. It’s such a beautiful thing, why cut it? And I’m not even sure I like surgery. But I like what it does.

LAWTON: Seeing the mechanics of the body, he says, has taught him about the non-tangible aspects of life.

Dr. CARSON: We are more than just flesh and bones. There’s a certain spiritual nature and something of the mind that we can’t measure. We can’t find it. With all our sophisticated equipment, we cannot monitor or define it, and yet it’s there.

LAWTON: Carson has had many high-profile cases. In his new book “Take the Risk,” he describes one of the toughest decisions of his career. In 2003, he was asked to be part of a surgical team trying to separate 29-year-old Iranian twins whose skulls were fused together. The surgery had a less than 50 percent chance of success. Carson was reluctant, but then he met Ladan and Laleh Bijani.

Dr. CARSON: They said, “Doctor, we would rather die than spend another day together.” And, you know, that kind of takes you aback. But then I put myself in their place and I said, “What if you were stuck to the person you liked the most in the world 24-seven and you could never get away from them for even one second?” And I realized what they were going through.

LAWTON: He ultimately decided to be part of the controversial surgery, which took place in Singapore.

Dr. CARSON: It became very clear as time went on that they were going to go through with the operation whether I helped or not. So at that point, you know I started thinking there’s not a very good chance of success here, so I’d better go and help because if they die I’m going to wonder for the rest of my life if it could have turned out differently if I would have helped.

LAWTON: Despite his help, after more than 50 hours of surgery, Ladan died. And then Laleh died 90 minutes after that.

Dr. CARSON: I always say if God didn’t allow any bad things to happen, we would already be in heaven. And we are not there. That’s where trust and faith comes in. You just say, “Lord, I don’t understand it. But one thing I do know is that you understand it and that you are in control and I trust you.” And that’s the end of the story.

LAWTON: At 56, he says he has seen many miracles too. It’s tough to keep up with him as he visits his many patients in the pediatric intensive care unit. His staff calls this the “lightning rounds.” And despite the pace, there’s always time for a personal word with the patients and a hug from grateful families.

And he has been forced to face his own mortality. In 2002, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. After treatment, Carson says he’s now cancer-free.

Carson tries to have an impact outside the operating room. In 2004, he was appointed to the President’s Council on Bioethics. And Carson has become a vocal advocate for health insurance reform.

Dr. CARSON: I see the insurance issue, the coverage of people for healthcare in our country as a huge moral issue. And, you know, the richest country in the world to have 47 million people without health insurance is ridiculous.

LAWTON: One of Carson’s greatest passions is encouraging education, especially for at-risk kids. He and his wife have started a national scholarship program called the “Carson Scholars Fund.”

Dr. CARSON: If we can take young people who excel at the highest levels, put them on the same kind of pedestal as the all-state basketball player and the all-state football player, and begin to get the same kind of recognition, it will have a profound effect. And we are finding that it does.

LAWTON: He admits one big danger for neurosurgeons can be developing a God-complex.

Dr. CARSON: You’re going into these incredibly delicate places that control who people are. And you got to have a fair ego to think you can do that. But for me, personally, I realize where it all comes from. All the good things come from God. I can’t really claim any of them. And I just feel privileged that I was dealt a measure of the healing arts.

LAWTON: Faith may be a risk, he says, but it’s the best risk of all.

I’m Kim Lawton in Baltimore.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

DEBORAH POTTER: Pope Benedict is making his first visit to France since becoming pontiff three years ago. The centerpiece of his trip is a visit to Lourdes, the Roman Catholic shrine marking its 150th anniversary this year. Millions of pilgrims visit the sanctuary where a 14-year-old girl saw apparitions of the Virgin Mary. The water from an underground spring there is believed by many to have healing properties.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

DEBORAH POTTER: People of faith have long disagreed about the origins of the universe. Now, the dominant scientific theory about that is being put to the test at an underground facility in Switzerland. This past week scientists successfully tested the world’s most powerful particle accelerator and are moving forward with experiments that could unlock important physical secrets of the universe. They will try to recreate the conditions that existed within one second of the Big Bang, which is thought to have occurred more than 10 billion years ago.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

DEBORAH POTTER: That’s our program for now. I’m Deborah Potter. There’s much more on our Web site. Audio and video podcasts of our program are also available. Join us at

As we leave you, scenes from the Pentagon’s September 11 Memorial dedication in Washington on Thursday.


Prepared by Burrelle’s Information Services, which takes sole responsibility for accuracy of transcription. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce any copy of the material except for user’s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be reproduced, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any manner that may infringe upon WNET-TV’s copyright or proprietary interests in the material.