Brandt Jean's willingness to forgive the cop who shot his brother is a brilliant example of Christian charity
The world saw God in a Dallas Courtroom on Wednesday afternoon. For former police officer, Amber Guyger, who had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing an innocent man, it was also a foretaste of the Last Judgment.
Botham Jean had been minding his own business, when a distracted off-duty police officer was returning home to her apartment in the same building as his. Mistakenly she entered the 28-year old man’s apartment thinking it was her own, and discovered who she thought was an intruder. She drew her firearm and killed him in his own home.
At the sentencing, Botham’s 18-year old brother, Brandt, gave victim impact testimony, since victims have the right to be heard in the presence of the accused regarding the impact of their offence. There is the judgment of law first, but then there is also the very personal judgment that victims may justly render, and that courts ensure are heard by the accused.
A soft-spoken, bespeckled young articulate man, dressed in a shawl-collared black suit coat, blue shirt, and a pink tie took the witness stand to be heard. He began, haltingly, “I don’t want to say twice or for the hundredth time how much you’ve taken from us. I think you know that.” Brandt Jean looked like a man who was ready to give a sentence.
“I hope you go to God with all that guilt,” he proceeded. “If you truly are sorry…I forgive you.” He pushed quickly past his own forgiveness, and back to God. “I know if you go to God and ask Him, He will forgive you.”
One can imagine a victim telling the accused to beg for God’s mercy, as if it was unlikely to come. Yet Brandt wanted Amber to know that God would forgive her if she was truly sorry. He wanted her to know that though she took the life of his beloved big brother, that he also loved her. “I love you just like anyone else…I personally want the best for you…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 to give your life to Christ. Giving your life to Christ is the best thing Botham would want you to do. Again, I love you as a person, and I don’t wish anything bad on you.” Turning to the Judge, Brandt almost begged, “I don’t know if this is possible, but can I give her a hug please? Please?” The Judge conceded to the request, and Amber wept in Brandt’s arms.
It must be said that Brandt would surely have preferred the embrace of his deceased brother. This would have been greater in all the most obvious ways. And yet in another sense, Brandt must know that there is, in this embrace, a greater love — a love which finds its reason in God alone.
In Deus Caritas Est, Benedict XVI writes: “Love of neighbour…consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know. This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God, an encounter which has become a communion of will, even affecting my feelings. Then I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ. His friend is my friend.”
Brandt looked upon Amber as someone loved by God. Not everyone sees this way, nor can we expect or demand that everyone see this way. Nietzscheans will find it to be nothing but slave morality and weakness. Yet many did see something in that Dallas courtroom. We saw an intimate and personal love that wasn’t sexual, or self-serving, or demanding, or needy. The world saw someone will the good of another, purely, and truly. In the midst of so much darkness, the world saw a great light — we saw charity in a Dallas courtroom, and in seeing charity, we see God. Not directly but indirectly we see that the love of God and neighbor are one — we can glimpse, through a single extraordinary act of charity, the One who is Love Itself.