• Rev. Dr. Jack Sullivan Jr.

OCC Statement in Support of Bipartisan Efforts to End Ohio’s Death Penalty

I begin by acknowledging that the public has every right to be outraged over violent, horrific acts that distort or destroy the lives of our fellow citizens, our neighbors, public servants, and more. To be very specific, family members of murdered persons, often called co-victims, a label that I myself have been forced to wear after the 1997 murder of my younger sister in Cleveland, we are justified in harboring feelings of rage and anger over the killing of our loved ones.


Our sentiments are reactions to the calculated, unethical, and immoral decision making that drove other human beings to engage in grotesque, murderous acts that abruptly ended the lives of other human beings – our family and community members – and thus forever altered the direction of our families and communities.


As we Ohioans acknowledge our frustration over acts of murder, the urgent questions before us are: How do we respond to violent, murderous crime? What is our response to rightfully and properly convicted people who have angered us and hurt us the most?

While I am a co-victim, I am also a man of Christian faith who represents thousands of hope-infused Christians who participate in the Ohio Council of Churches, a body that brings together 17 Ohio-based denominations. Through my intersecting identities, I advance the belief that whether a life-ending act is carried out on a Cleveland street or in a Chillicothe prison as authorized by the state, killing is wrong. To be sure, homicide to show that homicide is abhorrent, is itself, abhorrent.


When rivers swell and flood our communities (and I experienced such flooding a few years ago as a resident of Findlay, Ohio) no life-honoring responders would dare add more water to an existing flood for such would be counterproductive. Instead, they would try to stop the flow of water to stop the flooding.


Accordingly, the cycle of calculated, unethical, and immoral acts that lead to homicide in our neighborhoods is not stopped by the state’s own brand of calculated, unethical, and immoral homicidal acts called executions. Executions only exacerbate the cycle of death while they erode the state’s moral credibility.


As Senator Roegner pointed out, Jesus was once asked to authorize the pubic stoning execution of a woman caught in adultery. Interestingly, her male counterpart was not convicted and condemned – an early sign of bias in the ethically bankrupt execution business. Of course, racial bias exists in death sentencing today, and sometimes, as our brother Kwame pointed out, the wrong people are convicted and executed.


When Jesus told the woman’s all male jury that they could stone her only if they were sinless themselves, the jurors walked away because, of course, they were not sin free. Sparked by love and justice, Jesus disrupted an execution and redeemed a life destined to be thrown away. People can change. Consider Moses, David, and Paul, biblical leaders with murder on their resumes, yet God transformed them into being pillars of our faith.


Out of a sense of love and a concern for justice, the Ohio Council of Churches calls on Ohio legislators to avoid adding water to a flood, resist matching immoral death with more immoral death. No one, regardless of what they have done, should ever be discarded.


We applaud you, Senator Antonio, Senator Huffman, and your courageous bipartisan team of colleagues. You are a clear and present sign of hope for our state. Thank you for calling for the end of death penalty in Ohio, for it is a hollow instrument of death that offers victim families no justice, no healing, no closure, and no redemption. We call for the state to invest in true redemption through funding victim families who need restoration not revenge.


Senator Antonio, we owe you and your colleagues a debt of gratitude for your leadership in seeking to end Ohio’s death penalty. Let the word go forth that today that you have the full support of the Ohio Council of Churches. We will mobilize churches statewide to make sure that every member of this current Ohio General Assembly receives a flood of messages from their constituents.


We will make sure that there will be no doubt in anyone's mind that the voters like us want to end executions, and that Christians, sparked by the witness of Jesus during this Lenten season, we are saying are saying no to retribution, no to vengeance, and no to retaliation, and yes to love, yes to redemption, and yes to restoration of victim families. May God bless your efforts. Thank you.

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