Black Christians give away
forgiveness like it’s confetti, and white Trump evangelicals
give it away sparingly, if at all. As an African American, the act of
forgiveness appears to be our immediate go-to place in the face of
unimaginable racial honor done to us.
forgiveness is foundational to growth, healing, and restorative
justice- whether religious or non-religious -there are various ways
we use forgiveness. Either it can enhance healing and create positive
change in our lives, or it can cause tremendous harm by maintaining
the status quo. And, there is a distinction between individual
forgiveness and institutional forgiveness.
Dallas police officer Amber Guyger fatally shot Botham Jean in his
apartment. His younger brother, Brandt Jean, could have never
fathomed a conflagration would ignite offering forgiveness and a hug
of his brother’s killer.
took the witness stand and spoke directly to Guyger, stating, "I
know if you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you" and then
hugged her before she was led off to prison. Some saw Brandt’s
action as demeaning and dismissive of Botham’s murder,
especially in light of the numerous unarmed black males killed at the
hands of white officers across the country. Many queried, if the
roles were reversed, would Guyer’s white family do similarly.
Others contested that was not the point because Brandt's action was
that of a good Christian. Brandt’s efforts have been compared
and lauded to that of the black parishioners of "Mother"
Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, who
forgave white supremacist assassin Dylann Roof. Roof's motive was the
start another civil war.
act of forgiveness I understood as healing himself and honoring his
brother. "I love you just like anyone else, and I'm not going to
hope you rot and die," Brandt told Guyger in the courtroom. "I
want the best for you because I know that's exactly what Botham would
want for you. I think giving your life to Christ is the best thing
Botham would want for you." Brandt's action is an example of
individual forgiveness. Forgiveness, in this instance, is a gift you
give yourself for healing. It's a feeling of inner peace, and a
renewed relationship with self.
the other hand, Judge Tammy Kemp giving Guyger a hug and her personal
Bible before led off to prison I found unforgivable. Kemp turned to
John 3:16 and told Guyger, "This is where you start. He has a
purpose for you." Kemp’s actions are an example of
offering institutional forgiveness on behalf of her actions. As a
guarantor of justice, Kemp represents the laws and values of our
American court system. Kemp collapsed the separation of church and
state in her courtroom by giving Guyger a Bible, further devaluing a
flawed judicial system that disproportionately and unfairly treats
black and brown lives trafficked through it. Many felt, Kemp, who is
African American, should have known better in this era of BLACK LIVES
MATTER. Her actions toward Guyger would be perceived as absolving a
white officer and siding with the country's culture of policing.
the face of continued racial violence done to us, I now must question
if our church teachings of forgiveness of the last centuries are
serving us well in this new century, particularly with the resurgence
of white nationalism.
is one of the essential tenets that runs deep in the theology,
prayers, and songs of Black Christianity. When families of Emanuel
church victims stood in court in 2015 and stated one-by-one, they
forgive Dylann because their religion advises them to do so, the
nation was in awe. In awe, too, Roof's family said, "We have all
been touched by the moving words from the victims' families offering
God's forgiveness and love in the face of such horrible suffering."
However, four years later, family members of the victims are still
struggling. Jennifer Berry Hawes captures their struggle in "Grace
Will Lead Us Home: The Charleston Church Massacre and the Hard
Inspiring Journey to Forgiveness." Hawes questions the moral
mandate of expressing forgiveness by black people as deriving from
dominant and racist ideologies that serve the ruling class. "So
when one has been irreparably and tragically wronged by another, it
bears asking: Who benefits from my forgiveness, and what does being
the better person have to do with my loss?," she states.
expectation of forgiveness is quickly drawn along marginal lines
within religion, race, class, gender, and sexuality, to name a few.
Within these marginal groups, too often, the theologies and praxis of
forgiveness avoid fully reckoning individual or group pain,
suffering, and the lingering effects of trauma, grief, and even rage.
Embracing the Christian belief of redemptive suffering symbolizes
the mettle of one’s strength.
absolution is a personal matter. However, as one whose identity
intersects several marginal groups-black, female, lesbian-I must
raise Hawes question.“Who benefits from my forgiveness?
no longer allow my Christian indoctrination to forgive automatically
override my self-interrogation of why I should. I now make the
distinction between blind obedience versus reasoned faith. And, I
must remember, while Christianity is not a toxic religion, the form
of Christianity taught to my ancestors was not to make us better
Christians but rather better slaves.
Eve Rev. Monroe was on NC show “The State of Things.”
Deconstructing Forgiveness | WUNC