The murder of Botham Jean caught the attention of thousands. It wasn't a traffic stop gone wrong, it wasn't a case of a civilian resisting arrest. A black man was killed in his home by an off duty white female police officer. For me, this one hit close to home.
As a black American, the countless stories of black people's interactions with police going horrible wrong, often leaves a sense of dread. The lack of consequences for the loss of life leaves anger. But this time was different.
The perpetrator was eventually charged with murder. She went to trial, was found guilty, and received a prison sentence. And then something truly amazing happened. At the sentencing hearing, Botham Jean's younger brother, Brandt, openly forgave his brother's murderer and gave her a hug. The moment almost immediately went viral.
And simultaneously, there was immediate outrage.
As a Christian who understands the freedom of forgiveness, it was a powerful demonstration of the forgiveness God offers us. However, as a person of color who understands the dynamics of race relations in America, the moment was just as uncomfortable as it was moving. I felt very conflicted about it until I realized what I was feeling was righteous anger.
God has forgiven us and continues to forgive us when we mess up. In return, He has called us to freely forgive. When Peter asked Jesus if he should forgive anyone who sinned against him up to seven times, Jesus told him to multiply it by seventy.
Forgiveness is a must for a Christian. It shows that we understand the grace we receive from God. Forgiveness is honestly more for us than anyone else. It helps us heal, and move forward. It helps us live again.
Forgiveness does not absolve the person or erase any consequences of their actions. It doesn't fix everything. Life doesn't suddenly go back to normal or become perfect. Just ask David. He begged God for forgiveness yet still suffered the consequences of his sin against Bathsheba.
Many were quick to share the video of Brandt publicly forgiving his brother's murderer. In many respects, his forgiveness was flaunted while the underlying injustice- racism- was ignored. As Christians, we should be just as loud about injustice as we are about forgiveness. Instead, many often ignore the fight for racial justice, declare that we shouldn't be involved, or even worse, fan the flames of it.
When white Christians, flaunt black forgiveness but ignore the systematic injustice and violence against people of color, it is a slap in the face. It devalues that grace.
My favorite verse of the Bible is Micah 6:8 - "... And what does the Lord require of you? But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God." Justice and grace go hand in hand. One, without the other not only cheapens, it distorts the gospel.
Black Christians shouldn't have to beg other Christians to speak up and against injustice in our society. That is part of our job as Christians. Botham Jean's mother's calls for justice should not be drowned out with applause and praise for the forgiveness his brother offered. True forgiveness comes with commitment to pursuing justice for all. Justice and grace - one without the other is an incomplete gospel.
Written By: Norell Ferguson