Don’t try to get revenge for yourselves, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath.
It is written, “Revenge belongs to me; I will pay it back, says the Lord.”
-Romans 12:19 (Common English Bible translation)
One of the tremendous moral tenets of faith is that justice and revenge are not the same things. That is, in part, because justice seeks impartiality, fairness, the righting of an imbalance. But revenge operates from the same place as all of our biases, replacing rationality with reaction and careful consideration of the details with immediate action from our initial assessment, which is often wrong.
Studies show racial bias is rampant
Race matters within the American criminal justice system. Study after study reveals this reality. In 2016 the Fair Punishment Project captured – among other things – how racial biases drive prosecutors and their sentencing. Additionally, a study conducted by Northwestern University concluded that Black men in Oklahoma are three times more likely to be sentenced to the death penalty if the victim is White. Given the documented reality of racial bias in education, policing, and housing, we should not be surprised that this same bias exists in our criminal justice system.
In the modern era (since 1976), Oklahoma has the highest number of executions per capita. And, since the resumption of capital punishment in the 1970s, more prisoners have been exonerated from wrongful convictions and death sentences in Oklahoma County than from all but three other counties in the United States. And according to the Oklahoma Innocence Project, 36 wrongfully convicted Oklahomans have been officially exonerated since 1993. This criminal justice system has a devotion to revenge, not justice, and, at times, this infatuation is ultimately directed towards the innocent.
Justice and revenge aren’t the same things
We have a moral obligation to ensure that the State of Oklahoma does not execute a person for a crime they did not commit. We have already exonerated 10 Oklahomans on death row. We may soon exonerate another. Julius Jones, a Black man on death row for the alleged killing of a White businessman in 1999, has a widely publicized, credible claim to innocence and, at the very least, prosecutorial misconduct. Given the long history of misconduct that has occurred, especially in Oklahoma County, serious consideration must be given to new information about Julius’ case, including the fact that his codefendant appears to have confessed multiple times to the murder for which Julius was sentenced. This is an opportunity for us to move our system towards justice, not revenge.
By Rev. Gill and Rev. Moore