Faith leaders are ramping up their support for an Oklahoma death row inmate as his clemency hearing nears.
Julius Jones, 40, was sentenced to death in 2002, but his advocates say a different person committed the crime in which a prominent Edmond, Oklahoma, businessman was killed during a carjacking. The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board is expected to consider Jones’ case at a March 8 commutation hearing.
On Monday (March 1), Jones’ lawyers released a video in which a man imprisoned in Arkansas said that a former fellow inmate told him he was responsible for the killing instead of Jones. His comments follow the signing of sworn affidavits by two other people who support Jones’ claim of innocence.
Jones’ family has said he was home with them when the killing occurred.
In an online event held the day after the video was released, Bishop T.D. Jakes of Dallas megachurch The Potter’s House urged that the new information about Jones’ case be considered.
“We’re not even asking for mercy; we’re just asking for justice,” Jakes said in the video conference call hosted by Values Partnerships that also included reality TV star Kim Kardashian West speaking in support of Jones. “We as people of faith have a responsibility to make sure that we have done everything we could. If Jesus acquitted the guilty, then surely he would advocate for the innocent.”
The Rev. Cece Jones-Davis, founder of the Justice for Julius Coalition in Oklahoma, helped lead a Feb. 25 march and prayer rally in which a crowd of more than 100 gathered outside a United Methodist church in Oklahoma City to sing, advocate and deliver boxes containing more than 6.2 million signatures on a petition to the parole board’s office in support of Jones.
At the prayer rally, a friend of Jones played a taped message from the inmate expressing gratitude for his supporters, The Oklahoman reported. “God has not forgotten me,” he said.
Jones-Davis said in a statement she believes Jones’ innocence is clear.
“Julius Jones did not murder Paul Howell,” she said. “It is unthinkable to proceed with this execution knowing that the real killer is out there and has confessed, on multiple occasions, to his crime.”
During the summer, Jakes wrote a letter to Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt and members of the state’s parole board expressing his concern “that the perpetrator of the crime is still at large.”
Sojourners founder Jim Wallis expressed his concern that “the risk of false testimony, the evidence of racism, and the finality of a death sentence” are reasons for a commutation for Jones, a Black man convicted in the death of a white man.
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater urged the board to deny Jones’ application for commutation and said the prisoner is “fueling a media circus with outright lies,” The Associated Press reported.
In his 2019 commutation application, Jones declared his innocence.
“(A)s God is my witness, I was not involved in any way in the crimes that led to Paul Howell being shot and killed on July 28, 1999,” he wrote. “I have spent the past twenty years on death row for a crime I did not commit, did not witness, and was not at.”
Depending on the outcome of the first commutation hearing, Jones’ case could advance to another stage that could lead to his sentence being commuted. If his application for commutation is denied, he is expected to receive a date of execution.
Former President Barack Obama’s new book, “A Promised Land,” only mentions four pages in its index under the category “faith and.”
But the title of the book by the 44th U.S. president invokes biblical imagery — a land promised by God to his people — and Obama includes the role of religious institutions, faith leaders and personal traditions throughout the 750-page book. On the page after his dedication of the tome to his wife and daughters, Obama features the words from an African American spiritual: “Fly and never tire/There’s a great camp-meeting in the Promised Land.”
While friends and strangers have told him they believe God engineered his road to the White House, Obama says he didn’t view his political path as a call from God.
“I suspect that God’s plan, whatever it is, works on a scale too large to admit our mortal tribulations; that in a single lifetime, accidents and happenstance determine more than we care to admit,” he writes, “and that the best we can do is to try to align ourselves with what we feel is right and construct some meaning out of our confusion, and with grace and nerve play at each moment the hand that we’re dealt.”
Here are five faith facts about Obama from his highly anticipated book released Tuesday (Nov. 17):
He’d rephrase his ‘guns or religion’ remark.
Obama was asked at a 2008 California fundraising event for wealthy donors why he thought working-class Pennsylvania voters opted for Republicans. His response included the words “they cling to guns or religion,” referring to frustration over job losses in their region.
The former president calls that response “my biggest mistake of the campaign,” one that he said could have been due to fatigue or impatience.
“Even today, I want to take that sentence back and make a few simple edits,” Obama writes. “I would say in my revised version: ‘and they look to the traditions and way of life that have been constants in their lives, whether it’s their faith, or hunting, or blue-collar work, or more traditional notions of family and community.’”
He said “the best policies in the world don’t matter to them” when Republicans tell working-class people that Democrats oppose traditions they may cherish. He later notes that Sarah Palin, Republican opponent John McCain’s running mate, included his original words during her 2008 Republican National Convention speech.
He respected his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, before he had to part ways.
Obama writes that, especially from his perspective as a young man, “the good in Reverend Wright more than outweighed his flaws.” Obama had noted, as he attended and joined Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, that some of the pastor’s sermons were “a little over the top.” But when news coverage showed his pastor speaking of an America that believes in Black inferiority and white supremacy “more than we believe in God,” Obama chose to withdraw his invitation for Wright to give the invocation as he announced his candidacy.
And after more of Wright’s sermons started appearing in loops on broadcast media, Obama distanced himself from the minister with a speech on race that drew a record number of online watchers.
Then, after Wright “unleashed a rant for the ages” at a National Press Club appearance, Obama says he was forced to “permanently sever my relationship with someone who had played a small but significant part in making me the man that I was.”
Obama recalls a time later, as he awaited primary vote outcomes, how a couple of African American longtime friends reviewed campaign highs and lows and took turns “acting out some of the more excruciating lines” from Wright’s Press Club appearance: “we all started to laugh and couldn’t stop, the kind of deep, tear-inducing, falling-out-of-your-chair laughter that’s a kissing cousin to despair.”
Another minister helped him regain confidence.
While Wright’s use of “audacity of hope” gave Obama a book title and a key phrase for his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech, another minister influenced him by shoring up his confidence.
The Rev. Otis Moss Jr., whose son succeeded Wright at Trinity UCC, called Obama early in the controversy surrounding Wright. Moss knew some Black Americans had questioned whether Obama was ready for the White House.
Obama writes that Moss described himself and other civil rights veterans as “the Moses generation” who marched, were jailed, ”got us out of Egypt,” but could only go so far.
“You, Barack, are part of the Joshua generation,” Obama says Moss told him. “Perhaps you can learn from some of our mistakes. But ultimately it will be up to you, with God’s help, to build on what we’ve done.”
Moss’ words about leading Americans “out of the wilderness” were what Obama says he needed to move on from the Wright controversy and forward in his campaign.
“It’s hard to overstate how these words fortified me, coming as they did almost a year before our Iowa victory, what it meant to have someone so intimately linked to the source of my earliest inspiration say that what I was trying to do was worth it, that it wasn’t just an exercise in vanity or ambition but rather a part of an unbroken chain of progress.”
Obama — who later spoke of successive generations in his speech about race — said Moss’ public support, along with that of other co-laborers with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., such as the Rev. Joseph Lowery and the Rev. C.T. Vivian, helped boost support of his campaign among Black Americans.
He tried to keep his prayer life private.
Obama mentions his “broader skepticism toward organized religion” but says he often turned to private prayer.
Not long after he was shown the Lincoln Bible on which he would be sworn in, Obama paused before entering the inaugural platform.
“For a brief moment, before trumpets sounded and I was announced, I closed my eyes,” he writes. “And summoned the prayer that had carried me here, one I would continue to repeat every night I was president. A prayer of thanks for all I’d been given. A prayer that my sins be forgiven. A prayer that my family and the American people be kept safe from harm. A prayer for guidance.”
Months before that moment, Obama had paid a visit to Jerusalem’s Western Wall — where pilgrims have long left petitions to God — as he was feeling the weight of what lay ahead if he became president.
“I’d written my own prayer on a piece of hotel stationery,” he writes. “I had assumed those words were between me and God,” he said of the personal request he placed within a crack in the wall. “But the next day they showed up in an Israeli newspaper before achieving eternal life on the internet.”
He’s not superstitious but carried religious symbols among his collection of charms.
Obama writes that he never had a rabbit’s foot or lucky number as a child.
“Over the course of the campaign, though, I found myself making a few concessions to the spirit world,” he says.
He developed a habit during his campaign of carrying five or so tiny mementos people had given him, from a biker’s “lucky metal poker chip” to a nun’s silver cross.
“My assortment of charms grew steadily: a miniature Buddha, an Ohio buckeye, a laminated four-leaf clover, a tiny bronze likeness of Hanuman the monkey god, all manner of angels, rosary beads, crystals and rocks,” he writes.
Obama calls them a “tactile reminder” of the people he had met and of their hopes.
“If my cache of small treasures didn’t guarantee that the universe would tilt in my favor,” he writes, “I figured they didn’t hurt.’’
(RNS) In one of his last official acts, President Obama has designated Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and other civil rights landmarks in Birmingham, Ala., as the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument.
The designation protects the historic A.G. Gaston Motel in that city, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders had their 1963 campaign headquarters, as well as Kelly Ingram Park, where police turned hoses and dogs on civil rights protesters.
And it includes the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where four girls died in 1963 after Ku Klux Klan members detonated more than a dozen sticks of dynamite outside the church basement.
“This national monument will fortify Birmingham’s place in American history and will speak volumes to the place of African-Americans in history,” said the Rev. Arthur Price Jr., pastor of the church, in a statement.
Obama’s proclamation also cites the role of Bethel Baptist Church, headquarters of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, and St. Paul United Methodist Church, from which protesters marched before being stopped by police dogs.
In his proclamation Thursday (Jan. 12), Obama said the various sites “all stand as a testament to the heroism of those who worked so hard to advance the cause of freedom.”
In other acts, all timed to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which will be observed on Monday, the president designated the Freedom Riders National Monument in Anniston, Ala., and the Reconstruction Era National Monument in coastal South Carolina.
He cited the role of congregations in all three areas — from sheltering civil rights activists at Bethel Baptist Church to hosting mass meetings at First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., to providing a school for former slaves at the Brick Baptist Church in St. Helena Island, S.C.
The designations instruct the National Park Service to manage the sites and consider them for visitor services and historic preservation.
“African-American history is American history and these monuments are testament to the people and places on the front-lines of our entire nation’s march toward a more perfect union,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.