I watched the Amber Guyger sentencing footage tonight, and all at the same time I am moved by Brandt Jean’s example and I am perplexed by Brandt Jean’s actions and I am annoyed by Brandt Jean’s words.
Is Amber Guyger forgiven? Was the forgiveness Brandt Jean offered her the right thing to do? Does that really help anyone? Does it really mean anything?
Because to me it feels like Amber doesn’t deserve forgiveness. That’s pretty un-Christian of me and yet it’s the truth about the thoughts and feelings bouncing around in my heart and mind.
She doesn’t deserve forgiveness.
Amber Guyger doesn’t seem like a good person who did something bad – she seems like a bad person who did something bad. And that matters to me. All people make mistakes and do bad things sometimes. Those acts fall into the bucket of forgiveable. But people who make conscious and deliberate choices to hurt others are bad, and people who focus on self more than anyone else are bad. For those who fall into the category of bad people who do bad things, it feels like forgiveness should be out of reach.
The Amber in court seemed broken and frightened at times, but we know that her actions and reactions recorded by a body cam not long after she killed Botham Jean show another side of her. Perhaps the “real” her? That Amber doesn’t deserve forgiveness, because she was really only thinking about herself. That Amber doesn’t deserve forgiveness because she seemed sorry only about the coming consequences to her, not about the life cut short by her actions. That Amber was so caught up in herself and what happened to her that she didn’t try to help a man she shot – even her 911 call was about how everything related to her.
While I feel like Amber Guyger is undeserving, a spirit deep within me also knows that none of us are worthy and yet all of us are worthy – and also that we are all forgiveable. And so watching Brandt Jean offer forgiveness to the woman who took his brother’s life is, more than anything I guess, just confusing.
What initially struck me as I watched him speak is that he seemed to take his seat with maybe a rough idea of what he wanted to say. It didn’t really seem like he knew how far he was going to take it – he started down a path of I will not repay wrong with wrong, he faltered a bit as he really considered what he was doing and how that made him feel, and then he made a choice to lean in to his desire to forgive.
Perhaps a desire to forgive took root in him in recent months or weeks. but had not been able to break the surface. Maybe he was fighting it, maybe others were encouraging him to fight it, maybe he had made deliberate choices to squash it. But once he started giving forgiveness a voice and it was out loud, you can see him finally embrace it. It’s like we actually watched a force grow and bust out with the speaking of just a few tough sentences.
I respect and am deeply moved by Brandt’s personal decision to forgive, and at the same time his personal decision and display has real public impact and consequences. Amber somehow seems less accountable now, and that’s not OK. Amber somehow seems redeemed or less bad now, and that’s not OK. Amber somehow seems to “get off easy” now, and that’s not OK. Amber shot and killed an unarmed man and she will actually serve a lot less time than she should, a lot less time than seems fair, and a lot less time than others would.
It also seems like each time we see a public display of forgiveness it just adds to this weird narrative that it’s a victim’s responsibility to forgive. It should not be our expectation that victims forgive or show compassion. It should be our expectation that bad actions are punished, that punishments are meted out fairly for all people, and that forgiveness is a personal decision each victim makes.
Brandt Jean is brave, if for no other reason than he spoke publicly today during a very challenging and heartbreaking time for him. He faced a woman who hurt him and his family, he opened himself up for scrutiny and criticism, and he chose to forgive even though others in his family did not.
Brandt Jean made a decision that his life and his words would not be about darkness and anger and evil. Perhaps the real decision he made today was simply choosing his own path- one that brings him peace. And so I end up in a place I hadn’t expected: it really doesn’t matter if Amber Guyger is deserving or not. The forgiveness Brandt extended and modeled is something that is all about him, and really has nothing to do with Amber.
Maybe strong people aren’t the ones who forgive and forget, but the ones who remember and yet forgive. (unknown)