Friday, October 11, 2019

OCPA column: Failing to understand act of forgiveness

Failing to understand act of forgiveness
By Jonathan Small

Ask yourself, which is worse? Losing a brother to mindless violence, or losing your brother to mindless violence and then clinging to bitterness and resentment for the rest of your life?

Neither outcome is desirable, but one is still worse than the other. And only in the latter case is part of the outcome under your own control. It seems some activists don’t understand that fact.

In Dallas, Texas, former police officer Amber Guyger, who is white, entered the wrong apartment by mistake, believing she was entering her own apartment. When she saw the tenant, Botham Jean, a black man, she reacted by shooting and killing him.

The resulting outrage is understandable, as is the desire for justice. Guyger was recently convicted and sentenced to prison.

But during victim impact statements, Jean’s younger brother Brandt surprised many by offering Guyger forgiveness. A professing Christian like his late brother, Brandt Jean said, “If you are truly sorry, I know I can speak for myself: I forgive you.” He also urged Guyger to become a Christian, saying, “I think giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want for you.”

For many who viewed that exchange, it was an incredibly moving moment. But some activists deride the moment as “cheap absolution” that gives whites a free pass for acts of racism.

In reality, forgiveness is crucial to defeating racism. And it was also the only path forward that would not allow bitterness to consume Brandt Jean.

As Martin Luther King Jr. noted, “Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning.”

To his credit, Brandt Jean chose a fresh start. And all people who care about racism must be willing to do the same.

Clinging to bitterness does not punish those who’ve done you wrong. Instead, it becomes a form of self-punishment that can devastate your health and mental well-being for decades. Consider the contrast between Antifa activists, who hide behind masks and “protest” via acts of physical violence and property destruction, and Brandt Jean, who spoke the truth, forgave and hugged his brother’s killer. The former group’s rage achieves nothing positive; the latter’s gentle action moved millions of hearts and minds.

As a black man I am under no illusion about the realities of racism. But, having been on both sides of the equation, I also understand the value of forgiveness. It benefits not only the offender, but the offended.

Put simply, a world without racism is incompatible with a world in which people are enticed to withhold forgiveness.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.


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