The hug that shocked a nation: How do you forgive the person who killed your brother?
Original photo: Tom Fox/Pool via Reuters
“Did anyone see this?”
My colleague held up her phone wondering if any of us had read about Brandt Jean’s forgiveness of ex-police officer Amber Guyger – she had wrongly shot and murdered Jean’s elder brother, Botham, a year ago in Dallas, Texas, US.
On September 6, 2018, 26-year-old Botham Jean was watching TV in his own apartment when Guyger who had just come off a double shift wrongly entered his apartment by mistake, thinking it was her apartment – which was one floor below.
According to arrest records, Guyger described to investigators that she’d fired at a “large silhouette” that she believed was an intruder.
Testifying in her own defence during the trial, Guyger said that she’d believed that her life was in danger when she pulled the trigger.
“When you shot him twice, you intended to kill him, didn’t you?” Assistant District Attorney Jason Hermus asked Guyger who reportedly responded in a calm voice saying: “I did.”
No matter how much time passes, the tragic nature of the incident will remain: How could it have happened?
But as shocking – or perhaps even more shocking – of Guyger’s senseless murder, is Brandt Jean’s forgiveness towards the woman who took his brother’s life.
On October 1, right in the courtroom where Guyger was found for murder, 18-year-old Brandt Jean said this: “I forgive you, and I know if you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you. I’m speaking for myself, not my family, but I love you just like anyone else.”
Death is so permanent and the bitterness of being wronged can so easily turn into poison, but young Jean stood for forgiveness.
Why forgive her?
“THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT BOTHAM WOULD WANT”
“I love you just like anyone else, I’m not going to say I hope you rot and die, just like my brother — I personally want the best for you,” Brandt Jean said, in what was described by the media as “extraordinary scenes in the courtroom”.
“I wasn’t going to say this in front of my family or anyone, but I don’t even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you, because I know that’s exactly what Botham would want…and the best would be, give your life to Christ,” he added, before asking for Judge Tammy Kemp’s permission to hug Guyger.
That was the hug that shocked a nation.
In a powerful and emotional moment, Brandt Jean told Amber Guyger, the former cop who killed his brother, Botham Jean, that he forgives her and didn’t want her to go to prison. “I love you as a person, and I don’t wish anything bad on you.” https://cnn.it/2nXTArq
Posted by CNN on Thursday, October 3, 2019
Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot said Brandt Jean’s gesture was “an amazing act of healing and forgiveness that’s rare in today’s society.”
“In 37 years, I’m trying to go back in my memory bank to see if I’ve ever seen anything like that and I don’t think I have,” Creuzot was reported as saying. “I think that young man was speaking with his heart.”
A MAN WHO LOVED LIFE AND LOVED GOD
Botham Jean, or “Bo” to his friends, was born on September 29, 1991 in Castries, Saint Lucia in the Caribbean.
His mother, Allison, described her son as self-assured and ready to dedicate himself to Christ, being just 8 years old when he first asked to be baptised. His persistence paid off – he was baptised at 10 years old.
That was the same year his younger brother Brandt Jean was born.
What did Brandt Jean know of his brother that made him sure that he would forgive the person who took his life? What did he see in his elder brother’s life?
A family friend said at the funeral: “Botham Shem Jean was not a silhouette.” Botham Jean was a devout follower of Jesus Christ – and he took that identity seriously.
Botham Jean was 26-years-old when he was shot and killed inside his home. Dallas police say one of their off duty officers walked into Botham’s apartment thinking it was hers. Botham was so many things, an immigrant from St. Lucia, a college graduate from Harding University in Arkansas, and ambitious accountant here in Dallas, a friend, a son, a worship leader, a volunteer, but more than anything those who knew him say he was a man who loved life and loved God. This video was taken the Sunday before Botham was killed. You can hear the love in his voice. His friends and family say the world will be a better place if we all stop for a moment and strive to be more like Botham.
Posted by Hannah Davis on Monday, September 10, 2018
A video of Botham Jean leading worship at church the Sunday before he was killed was uploaded and this was said of him:
“Botham was so many things, an immigrant from St. Lucia, a college graduate from Harding University in Arkansas, and ambitious accountant here in Dallas, a friend, a son, a worship leader, a volunteer, but more than anything those who knew him say he was a man who loved life and loved God.”
HOW WILLING ARE WE TO LAY DOWN OUR RIGHTS?
For a Christ-follower, it is never folly nor stupidity to extend forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not the erasure of consequences or flippant dismissal of wrongdoing – Guyger still had a jail term to serve – but it is a demonstration what we believe.
“We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (1 John 4:19-21)
How much must you believe in the certainty of God’s love for you in order to willingly lay down your rights – the same way Jesus did when He died on the Cross – and to speak words of forgiveness against your enemy?
In the end, we always come back to this truth: “We love because God first loved us.”
In the same vein, we’re able to forgive because God first forgave us.
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
That way of living is easier said than done. But it was precisely what Brandt Jean did, knowing it was what his brother would have wanted.