Faith Matters

In a world full of insults, the Christian message of forgiveness is vital

It is no easy task, but Christendom is laden with wonderful examples of strong and courageous forgiveness in the face of evil and brutality, writes Diarmuid Pepper

Botham Jean's younger brother Brandt Jean hugs former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger after telling her that the family forgives her for his murder. Picture by Tom Fox/Pool via Reuters

ON the night of September 18 2018, Amber Guyger entered her apartment complex after a day's work as a police officer.

So engrossed was she on her phone, that she entered the wrong apartment and erroneously believed the apartment she had entered to be her own.

She walked into the apartment which was directly one floor above hers. When she opened the unlocked door, Botham Jean was sat on his sofa eating ice cream.

Guyger opened fire on Botham Jean, claiming she believed he was a burglar when in fact it was she who entered someone else's apartment without permission. Jean died in hospital as a result of the gunshot wound.

Jean was a black male and during the resultant trial the court was shown some of Guyger's text messages and social media posts which were described as "racist and offensive".

After an hour's deliberation, the jury sentenced Guyger to 10 years in jail - she had been at risk of a 99-year sentence.

In the aftermath of the sentencing, Jean's 18-year-old brother Brandt addressed Guyger before the court in October.

"I don't want to say for the hundredth time how much you have taken from us," he said.

"I hope you go to God, with all the guilt and all the bad things you may have done in the past.

"If you truly are sorry, I forgive you and I know if you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you.

"I love you like anyone else and I'm not going to say I hope you rot and die.

"I personally want the best for you and I wasn't going to say this in front of my family, but I don't even want you to go to jail.

"I want the best for you because I know that is exactly what Botham would want.

"The best thing would be to give your life to Christ. I think giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want you to do. I love you as a person and I don't wish anything bad on you."

The 18-year-old, with tears in his eyes, asked the court if it would be possible to give her a hug.

He walked across the courtroom and embraced the woman who killed his brother for nearly a minute.

Richard Moore met and befriended the soldier who fired the rubber bullet which blinded him. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

It was an amazingly stark reminder that Christianity is not easy.

It requires us to "love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you". It requires us to be always willing to turn the other check, to be always forgiving and always loving, to "forgive those who trespass against us".

This is the challenge that Christ laid down for us in his words and actions.

According to Luke's Gospel, before Jesus died on the cross, he asked for forgiveness on behalf of those who had crucified him: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

This is impossible for many of us to do, but it is an act which Botham Jean's brother more than mastered.

Such forgiveness is no easy task, but Christendom is laden with wonderful examples of strong and courageous forgiveness in the face of evil and brutality.

Like Óscar Romero, who was made a saint in October 2018. He tirelessly spoke out on behalf of the poor of El Salvador and in 1980 was shot dead in as he consecrated the Eucharist. With his dying breath he said: "May God have mercy on the assassin."

Or much like the example shown to us by Pope John Paul II. Mehmet Agca fired four bullets at Pope John Paul II, all of which struck the Pontiff.

Two bullets were lodged in the Pope's lower intestines, which caused him to lose almost three-quarters of his blood.

He would later ask for Catholics to "pray for my brother [Agca]... whom I have sincerely forgiven".

Hopefully, none of us will ever be faced with having to offer forgiveness in so dire circumstances as the ones Botham Jean's brother, Saint Oscar Romero or Pope John Paul II found themselves in.

But in the north of Ireland, we have many people on all sides of the community who have been struck by conflict.

We too have our stories of courageous bravery, such as that vividly illustrated by Richard Moore.

Moore lived in the Creggan area of Derry and was only 10-years-old when he was blinded by a rubber bullet which was fired by a British soldier.

Four months earlier, his uncle had been killed during Bloody Sunday.

Many years later, Richard met with and befriended the soldier who blinded him. The Dalai Lama has since spoken of his hope that Richard's "spirit of forgiveness and compassion is carried on from generation to generation".

This spirit of forgiveness is difficult to achieve.

As Pope Francis said: "We live in a world where we are used to responding to an insult with another. We insult each other and there is a lack of meekness."

In such a world, the Christian message of forgiveness is crucially important.

So let us stay clear from what Pope Francis terms the "terrorism of language, whether they may be gossip or insults", and instead be ready forgive "seventy times seven times" as Jesus implored St Peter to do.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Faith Matters