Blog by Associate Colette Parker

I have really hesitated about engaging in a conversation about the murder of Botham Jean and the trial and sentencing of his murderer, Amber Guyger.

[Sidebar: I wanted to avoid the conversation because sometimes it just seems too difficult to be civil, when trying to navigate through an exhaustive conversation (about a 26-year-old black man, who happened to be an accountant and choir director at his church, who was murdered while sitting on his own sofa, in his own apartment, eating ice cream, by a white woman, who happened to be a Dallas police officer, who claims she mistook his apartment as her own and thought he was an intruder) with someone who will never really understand what “living in America while black” means.]

Then, news broke over the weekend that Joshua Brown — a key witness in the trial — was gunned down in the parking lot of the apartment complex where he lived.

Soon after, I saw this tweet:

Black woman who filmed Jean’s last moment, where he asked Amber Guyger, “Why did you shoot me?”:  fired from job, film confiscated by police.

Black man who testified against Guyger: murdered, suspects still at large.

Botham Jean: dead.

National conversation: black forgiveness.

It was the last line that got me.

As I listened to and read the commentaries on the “act of forgiveness”  — the hug that Botham Jean’s 18-year-old brother gave to the woman who murdered his brother, after the younger Jean finished his victim impact statement and the convicted murder was sentenced to 10 years in prison – I was conflicted.

I am not going to speculate about his reasons for hugging her, but will accept that it was something he needed to do to move forward.

What I am extremely disheartened by is this national conversation that is celebrating this “act of forgiveness” as some sort of proxy for racial reconciliation or some kind of example of how the oppressed should respond to the oppressor or some form of absolution from sin – in this case, the systemic racism that plaques our nation.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in extending forgiveness.

But I also believe in seeking justice.

Therefore, I believe that any conversation about “black” forgiveness must include interactive communication about racial justice. Racial reconciliation is no easy task – it involves both forgiveness and justice.

My hope is that the embrace from Botham Jean’s brother does not distract us from his mother’s message, urging reforms to a (racially and culturally) biased system (during the trial, allegations surfaced of tampering with evidence and police misconduct):

“What you saw and what you heard in the courtroom really showed what your system is and you must seek to do something about it …You saw a contaminated crime scene, you saw deletion of evidence by persons in high offices. You saw turning off of body cams …You saw investigations that were marred with corruption … While we walk as Christians, we still have a responsibility to show that our city does what is right.”

As Christians, we are called to be ambassadors of reconciliation – reconciliation is the heart of the Gospel. So, while we must practice forgiveness, we must also seek justice. Forgiveness does not negate our obligation to seek justice.

Miroslav Volf warns us, in his award-winning book Exclusion and Embrace, “forgiveness is not a substitute for justice.”

Forgiveness without justice is not reconciliation. Genuine and lasting reconciliation is possible only when both forgiveness and reparation of wrongs are satisfied. Reconciliation has two locks to open – forgiveness and justice.

Forgiveness is the one half of reconciling work that a victim exercises, while justice is the other half of reconciling work that is reserved for the perpetrator. Only after having achieved both goals can true reconciliation occur.

There is still plenty of work to be done. We all have a role to fulfill. Are you willing to do your part?

Posted in Associate Blog, News


  1. Colette,

    Your courage to speak encourages me. But I am at a loss to understand what the next steps could be to begin to reform a system that is so corrupt. That is not an excuse to do nothing. But what? I wonder if both faith and civic community leaders, could truly begin the conversation about forgiveness and reparation for crimes that are racially fueled. Easy for me to suggest, but nonetheless I ask it. Why not publish your blog in the Akron paper? or seek a wider audience for your remarks, they are worth sharing more broadly.

  2. Hi Colette,
    I thank you for saying the things that I have been feeling, but could not put into words. My Christian/church community is unique and it is hard to have this conversation without conflict. Coming from you, I believe it will have impact. You have helped us in many ways over the years. I will share this to my page and hope it brings understanding.

  3. Your call gives Meister Eckhart’s revelation of the Martha and Mary gospel story breathing space. Unfolding a culture of justice puts us all to work. Ever grateful, Barb

  4. Excellent!!! I learned that forgiveness does not mean that the person is not accountable for the wrong done. It means that I no longer let it control my life. It does mean justice and release .

  5. Thank you for these very challenging words and thoughts, Colette! They are needed in the face of our unconscious biases as white people. Yes, I am willing to do my part.

  6. I am willing to do my part, Colette. I will remember “forgiveness is NOT a substitute for justice’ and
    “forgiveness without justice is NOT reconciliation”. Thanks for keeping us honest and challenged.

  7. Dear Colette,
    Thank you for sharing your perspective and your call for seeking justice. I appreciate hearing your thoughts.

  8. Thank you. Colette, for sharing your truth and inviting us to ponder your message of forgiveness and justice. We need to hear this.

  9. Thank you, Colette, for this reflection. Your writing is always so clear! My question remains, not necessarily to be answered: “What state was that police officer in that she could not find her own apartment?”

  10. To me seeking justice means revealing the truth of the situation and then forgiveness is possible. Let us continue to seek truth and peace.

  11. The act of Mr. Jean’s brother was a personal act. If we can pick apart his reasons, why can’t we pick apart the reasons that some people raise fists at sport events, drop out of school, use drugs, distrust white people, feel defeated? White folks must stop looking only at the feel-good acts, do some tough work, and look at the system.

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