on Botham Jean and forgiveness: justice and mercy are not mutually exclusive

The unjust, unprovoked murder of Botham Jean is a symptom of the communal sin of white supremacy. The idea that whiteness is superior is so baked into our society, none of us can be unaffected. If we do not actively work to dismantle it, we are upholding it. Though Amber Guyger was convicted, she is but a representative of communal sin that we must acknowledge and for which we must repent.

The same Jesus who taught us to forgive our enemies “70 times 7” also caused the transformation that led Zacchias to confess his sin, turn away from it, and make it right by paying back what he had wrongfully stolen, plus added interest. The same Jesus who uttered, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” also criticized the Pharisees for neglecting “the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matt. 23:23). Jesus’ commands with regard to mercy and justice are not mutually exclusive. *

Brandt Jean displayed amazing grace in forgiving his brother’s murderer, but I fear that white Christians are too quick to grab onto this fact while ignoring the horror of the injustice that preceded it. When we focus on Brandt’s forgiveness, we are prioritizing white comfort and allowing ourselves to dismiss the white supremacy that killed Botham Jean. We are excusing ourselves from having to sit in the discomfort of our complicity in a system that regularly kills innocent black and brown people. No less important, we are setting ourselves up to uphold Brandt’s forgiveness as a standard for all black people, invalidating and dismissing their need and right to process lament, anger, fear, etc, before jumping into forgiveness.

To my black brothers and sisters, I am so sorry. I am sorry for your daily reality that makes this horrible occurrence all too common. I’m sorry for the system that devalues your lives and for the ways I have been complicit. I’m sorry for the responses of white folks who refuse to validate your anger and sorrow. I pray for your protection and comfort in grief. I lament with you and pray for the courage, energy, and endurance to dismantle white supremacy with my co-laborers in Christ, for the healing of us all.

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