Forgiveness and Modern-Day Lynching
Edited on 10/9/19
As a Black Christian man in America, my heart is heavy, concerned, and mind perplexed regarding recent events within America and the sudden dialogue regarding forgiveness under delicate circumstances. This is not about an agenda or a placation regarding the trial connected to the death of a brother in Christ, Botham Shem Jean. My heart has been troubled from the moment of hearing about his tragic murder, and even more today. I have listened to a lot of contention, yet the brother of Botham had every right to hug the convicted murderer of his brother if that is how he was compelled and moved. I did not and probably would not embrace the two Oakland police officers that shot and killed my wife’s unarmed brother, but if I did, that would be my prerogative. No one should critique the way a family member, let alone a mother/father or sibling, seeks to grieve the loss of their beloved — the actions of Bro. Brandt flipped the courtroom upside down with unexpected compassion. There are times when some people may never understand such compassion until they are on the other end.
Despite that, the actions of the judge were problematic for me because of the racial trajectory in America. How many people convicted of murder or any other crime receive a hug, Bible, and motivating speech? Or be told that their heinous actions were a bad thing done in a moment in time as uttered by the judge? Under the guise of the American racial prism and power dynamic, it is puzzling that the person guilty of murder received such special attention from the judge and Baliff that ran her fingers through her hair. I would have no issue with any of those actions if they were already normalized courtroom practices. Too many Black folks have stood in front of judges without receiving an ounce of public compassion, mercy, or leniency. When Black folk are offered compassion and leniency, the history of this nation has required blood (hence the Exonerated 5).
The actions of the beloved, bold, inspirational, and poised Jean family have sparked an international dialectic on forgiveness. It has resulted in some people bashing Black folk, blaming Christianity, and others have used it as motivation to uphold the Biblical ideal of forgiveness. For me, the current conversation lacks balance. It cannot be all forgiveness, and it cannot be all justice; both are required. The Jean family exemplifies all aspects of this equation. They stand as a manifestation of love, forgiveness, and justice. Sis. Jean and others in the family were not in agreement with the sentence, and they also call for corrective actions within the Dallas Police Department.
For those who are Christian, especially those explicitly commissioned to proclaim a Christological gospel, it is critical that the bridges and applications be revealed that show the justice of God. It is easy for us to proclaim Biblical forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love, but we often struggle in the area of justice. Racism was not a thing of the Old or New Testaments, but discrimination, elitism, and oppression were. If God detested those systems and dispositions during biblical times, they are despised today, regardless of formation. Racism exists today and it is a contrived and despised evil. The thing is, we have to do the work to make the links explicit under a twenty-first-century context. For example, as the Hebrew Scribes and Pharisees in the first-century presented with a level of elitism, they were vociferously confronted by John the Baptist and his earthly brother, Jesus Christ. Remember the words of Christ to that group: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Matthew 23:23). They were out of balance, and Jesus named it. Are you balanced today?
When the Hebrews were added to the church, they attempted to make others conform to their Hebrew cultural customs, but the apostles confronted them for their elitist and discriminatory attitudes and behaviors (Acts 6 & 15). If elitism, prejudicial, and discriminatory practices were confronted then, racism and injustice must be confronted today. Dispositions that avoid justice and excuses injustice are un-Christian. Period! Stop one-sided conversations and Christian convictions.
While the church was consumed in a debate regarding forgiveness, a star witness in the Botham Jean case (Joshua Brown) was murdered. In my opinion, this is the closest thing to a modern-day Jim Crow-era lynching. This is a reminder of the white supremacy power that remains. Whoever voices praise for the act of forgiveness by the Jean family should now be expressing outrage and concern regarding the sudden murder of Joshua Brown; a man that risked his life to testify in a case to bring justice toward a brother in Christ.
The eerie silence remains troubling, and many people in the church are looking for a word from God to help them process their rage, confusion, and dismay. Silence does not appease; it infuriates. Historically as Black folk moved toward hope in America, a lynching or mass-murder was exacted as a power-play to deflate the minds of Blackness. The catastrophic game has not changed.
If you are preaching on forgiveness in America, and it does not also include racial justice and a de-linking of white supremacy systems, you are evoking harm within the Christian faith and operating with negligent integrity. Find the justice-balance God professes through His written Word. And those of you that want to bash Christianity because of its manipulation through chattel slavery and white slavers, educate yourself toward the true ethos of Christianity from a first-century perspective. Christianity was pervasive in Africa for hundreds of years before it made its way to America.
To the family of Botham Shem Jean and now Joshua Brown, sincere condolences!
Dr. Ammar Saheli
Since the writing of this article, the Dallas Police Department has reported updated information on the murder of Joshua Brown (10/9/19).