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Dying Declarationby Randy Singer
Reading Group Guide
This is an outline to aid reading clubs and English classes in discussion of the themes, characters and issues raised in Dying Declaration. The questions are divided into four sections, with each section covering approximately twenty chapters of the book. By formatting the questions progressively in this manner, it allows for informed discussion as the reading progresses, eliminating the need to read the entire book before discussion can begin.
The questions are intended to draw out the literary aspects of the book as well as the spiritual, legal and relational lessons contained in the book.
1. Section 1
Read chapters 1-20 (pp. 1-107). The primary legal, ethical and spiritual conflicts are introduced in these pages.
1.Should the First Amendment religious freedom clause protect Thomas and Theresa Hammond who prayed for three days for the healing of their critically ill baby before they took him to the hospital?
2.Should Thomas and Theresa Hammond go to jail? If you were a lawyer, would you defend Thomas and Theresa? Would you prosecute them? Why or why not?
3.Where should the line be drawn for parents who believe in faith healing? The courts have said that parents can refuse medical help and make themselves a martyr, but have no right to make martyrs of their children. Do you agree? What if Thomas and Theresa had only waited two days before taking little Joshie to the hospital, but he still died? Would that change your mind on whether they should go to jail? What if they only waited one day? Twelve hours?
4.Professor Charles Arnold has his own religious freedom issue brewing. In his case, it arises from his failure to comply with the noise ordinance and get a permit before preaching on the sidewalk. Should he comply? How does the phrase, “the power to regulate is the power to censor,” fit into this?
5.Find Scripture references that might be used to support faith healing and Scripture references that might be used to support medical intervention. Was Thomas Hammond justified in his stance from a Scriptural perspective? What about Theresa?
6.What does the reader learn about the character of Thomas Hammond? Is he a good father? A good Christian?
7.What motivates Rebecca Crawford? Is she a worthy antagonist? Her nickname is “the Barracuda.” Give two examples of actions that justify this label. Does the Barracuda have any redeeming qualities?
8.Have one member of the group present a brief closing argument contending that Thomas and Theresa should go to jail for their actions. Have another member of the group present a closing argument in their defense. Now have the group deliberate as if you are a jury. Are you able to reach a unanimous verdict?
2. Section 2
Read chapters 21-41 (pp. 108-237). This section focuses on several cultural conflicts. One is the conflict between the African-American evangelical culture, represented by Charles Arnold, and a fundamentalist strain of the white evangelical culture, represented by Thomas Hammond. Another conflict is the differences in lifestyles between Nikki Moreno and the Hammond children, Tiger and Stinky.
1.Does Charles Arnold personify any of the characteristics of the African-American evangelical community in the United States? If so, which ones? Does Thomas Hammond personify any of the characteristics of the fundamentalist movement among white evangelical churches? If so, which ones?
2.What issues are important to Charles? What issues are important to Thomas? Are there any issues that they both feel passionate about? How do their different backgrounds conflict? How do they overcome their differences?
3.Is there a cultural difference today between African-American churches and predominantly Anglo churches? What are those differences? Does the interaction between Thomas and Charles demonstrate ways in which those differences can be honored yet result in unity rather than division?
4.What problems does Nikki Moreno face when she is assigned guardianship of the Hammond children? How do her methods of “parenting” differ from those of Thomas and Theresa? Which methods are better? Why?
5.What problems do Tiger and Stinky face as they adjust to their new home with Nikki? Which child, Tiger or Stinky, changes the most as a result of being removed from their home? Give examples from the story of this change.
6.What does Nikki Moreno learn about herself and life in general when she becomes responsible for two young children? Give examples of how raising kids can change a person’s perspective on life.
7.Have members tell about a time when they were thrust into a situation with people of a totally different culture. Focus on the following questions: What was the major cultural difference? How did the member respond? How did the other person respond? How were you stretched as an individual? Was this a good experience or a bad one?
3. Section 3
Read Chapters 42-61 (pp. 238-326). Conflicts between believers and non-believers characterize this novel. This section further develops these conflicts through several different types of relationships — fellow inmates, opposing lawyers and two characters who are attracted to each other.
1.When Thomas Hammond is incarcerated, his Christianity comes under fire. How does Thomas react? Is this a good model for Christians to follow? How does the type of persecution that Thomas encountered help advance the faith?
2.How does Thomas initiate a friendship with Buster Cantrell? How does Buster take advantage of Thomas? How is their conflict resolved? Do you think this friendship would have occurred if Buster had not learned to respect Thomas?
3.How does Charles Arnold interact with his adversary, prosecuting attorney Rebecca Crawford? How is this similar to the way Thomas handled Buster? How is it different? Which man — Thomas or Charles — used the better approach?
4.How have you been able to keep your testimony in stressful situations? What were the spiritual results of your actions?
5.What conflict arises when the relationship between Charles and Nikki starts to move beyond friendship? Do you approve of the way Charles handled this situation? How does Charles’ divorce from Denita impact his relationship with Nikki?
6.How can a believer witness to a non-believer without souring the non-believer on God? Give examples where you’ve seen this work in your life or others that you know. Which character in this book has the most authentic testimony? Why?
4. Section 4
Read chapters 62-81 (pp. 327-417). The major theme of this book is evidenced in the final chapters of Dying Declaration. It deals with the interplay between mercy, grace and justice in the lives of the main characters.
1.Read James 2:13. What does this verse mean? How does it apply to the case against Thomas and Theresa Hammond? Does this verse mean that a Christian should never be a prosecutor? On the other hand, can a Christian be a defense lawyer if he or she disagrees with the way the client acted? How did Charles justify his representation of Thomas and Theresa Hammond even though he disagreed with what they did?
2.Thomas Hammond tries to take justice into his own hands, causing his own conviction so that his wife Theresa might be freed. Was Thomas justified in what he did? Buster Jackson was a willing accomplice in Thomas’ scheme. Was Buster justified in helping Thomas by relaying Thomas’ “jailhouse confession” to the Barracuda and ultimately the court?
3.Following his release, Buster Jackson again tried to influence the case by entering into a complex scheme with Dr. Sean Armistead that resulted in Armistead’s “dying declaration” being accepted as evidence even though Armistead was not dead. Were these actions of Buster justified? Why or why not?
4.What did Thomas Hammond learn through his ordeal about the interplay between faith and love in the role of a father? What did he learn about the interplay between discipline and mercy? Does he still believe in withholding medical treatment from members of his family? Is he a better father and husband when the book ends? Why?
5.What changes did you see in Nikki throughout the book? What characters caused the biggest changes in her life? Give examples of actions that might have caused her new openness to the value of faith and the value of family?
6.Now that you have concluded the book, reconvene the group as the jury for the Hammond family. Did they receive the right “verdict” in the story? Why or why not? Is your conclusion as a jury unanimous? Did anyone change his or her vote from the vote cast after reading just the first twenty chapters?
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