I’m sure you have seen it by now… Brandt Jean, brother of murdered Botham Jean, takes the stand to testify against Amber Guyger. And rather than saying what most of us would have said, he offered forgiveness, said he did not even want her to go to jail, hoped she found Jesus and then he gave her a hug.
This is not normal. It’s the opposite of normal. It’s upside down. It’s what one should expect when the Kingdom of God breaks into the reality we have become so comfortable in.
There is a temptation, however, in these moments to think forgiveness absolves of us of truly taking responsibility for our actions. You may be tempted to watch such a beautiful moment and think, “Wow, we should all forgive like that” and still skate right past the core issue at hand: racism. And yet, a quick look at the facts of the case says we do indeed have a problem. If that isn’t enough proof, take a good look at the education system and you will see the fingerprints of systematic racism all over the place. Celebrating the act of forgiveness without condemning the act of violence isn’t going to get us anywhere. We have work to do.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want.
That is cheap grace. Rather, forgiveness is a chance to make a change and become the humans we have been called to be. Forgiveness is the opportunity to begin the process of reconciliation. If reconciliation never happens than forgiveness is a feel-good story but we never actually learn anything and we never actually change.
The Apostle Paul actually talks about this when he says, “The kindness of God leads to repentance.” Repentance is recognizing our sin problem, telling the truth about it, and turning away from it.
What Brandt Jean did for us was open a door. Now, we have to walk through it. And here is perhaps the most remarkable part of the whole thing. Since forgiveness has been offered we can tell the truth without fear of escalating violence. In this case, racism has met its match. It was swallowed up in forgiveness and now reconciliation is on the table. Who knows if that will happen or if Amber Guyger will change, but the invitation has been offered.
Perhaps the lesson for us in all of this is not that we should celebrate the incredible act of forgiveness shown by Jean, but that we should seek reconciliation now that forgiveness has been shown. We have a long way to go before we eradicate the racism in our country and this case proves that we do.
It’s time to tell the truth.
As the great theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer himself once said,
The only way to overcome evil is to let it run itself to a standstill because it does not find the resistance it is looking for. Resistance merely creates further evil and adds fuel to the flames. But when evil meets no opposition and enounters no obstacle but only patient endurance, its string is drawn, and at last it meets an opponent which is more than its match. Of course this can only happen when the last ounce of resistance is abandoned, and the renunciation of revenge is complete. Then evil cannot find its mark, it can breed no further evil, and is left barren.Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship