It was the hug seen around the nation.
Brandt Jean walked off the witness stand to embrace Amber Guyger, the former Dallas police officer who shot and killed his older brother Botham. This showing of compassion gently defied courtroom protocol. It angered many and shocked many more. How was it possible that Jean, who is only 18, could look his brother’s murderer in the face and forgive her with open arms?
The answer lies in his faith.
Jean spoke words of mercy when he told Guyger: “I hope you go to God with all the guilt, all of the bad things you may have done in the past. If you truly are sorry, I forgive you, and if you go to God and ask Him, He will forgive you.”
The video shows Jean hugging Guyger for almost a minute while an emotional cry is heard in the background.
Jean’s graciousness toward Guyger, unfortunately, has been viewed with contempt by some, due to the racial implications of this case. Guyger, who is white, shot Botham Jean in his apartment, which she claims she mistook for her own. In addition, disturbing texts from Guyger were revealed that showed her joking about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and complaining about her security hours during Dallas’ 2018 MLK parade.
There was also outrage that Guyger only received 10 years for Botham Jean’s murder, a sentence many black Americans believe is too light.
On Twitter, there were comments by black journalists and activists who felt that whites praising Jean’s kindheartedness would not do the same for a black person found guilty of murdering a white person. There were references made to our country’s painful history of police brutality and violence against blacks, and those sentiments are true. But from Jean’s sincere expression of forgiveness, it was obvious he wasn’t viewing Guyger through the lens of race. He showed concern for her soul, seeing her brokenness and urging her to accept the saving grace and salvation of Jesus Christ.
Bestowing forgiveness is not easy, and I have never experienced the agony and trauma of losing a loved one to violence, as Jean’s family has. This is what made this young man’s genuine sympathy towards Guyger so moving for me. He chose not to treat her with disdain and hatred. Jean’s father says he was not surprised by his son’s outpouring of love and that “the Holy Spirit was working.”
The Holy Spirit, the person and presence of God, is key here for the Jean family. When discussing forgiveness and the Christian faith, people often refer to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:15. The New International Version of this verse reads, “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Some online commentary that referenced this Scripture in regard to Botham Jean’s case viewed his brother’s forgiveness as merely a religious tradition. But forgiveness is not a tradition; it’s an essential attribute of a Christian lifestyle.
For those who complain that black Christians are always expected to forgive when they have suffered a heartrending loss, I direct them to Galatians 5:22-25, which explains the nine fruits evident in the life of a person who is connected to the Holy Spirit. The first three are love, joy and peace, which all manifest through healing and forgiving. This is what Jean’s father was referring to. His son was able to forgive Guyger through the spiritual fruit that is being produced in his life. It was not an act of superhuman willpower.
As Guyger prepares to begin serving her prison sentence, she won’t forget Jean’s touching gesture. She will also enter prison with a Bible that Tammy Kemp, the judge who presided over the trial, gave her. Both Jean and Kemp are courageous Christians who put their faith on the line against intense public scrutiny. I, too, hope Guyger finds redemption. All she has to do is seek God with a repentant heart.
Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at The Ohio State University-Lima. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. @JjSmojc