Dear White People: About Botham Jean, Forgiveness, Justice, and Cheap Grace
Yesterday we watched the sentencing of a white woman, a former cop, convicted of murdering a black man named Botham Jean in his own apartment, unarmed, eating ice cream. She received the very minimal sentence of 10 years following which the brother of the murder victim gave her a big hug and said he forgave her. Many Christians applaud that hug saying it was an extraordinary act of grace on his part. Having never walked in his shoes I will not judge him. However as a white woman, also a former cop, and Christian theologian I will judge the way so many of us in the white community are so quick to applaud black people for forgiving white murderers. We did it following the Charleston nine and here we go again.
We are quick to point to the way in which Jesus forgave his own killers even as he suffered on the cross and we hold that up as the model for victims to adhere to today. But wait a minute. Is that fair? As we usually do with Bible stories we cast ourselves in the role of Jesus but really white people in the U.S. are the Romans in this story. We are the crucifiers not the crucified, the defenders of brutal empire who perhaps feel a little guilty at the scene of yet another lynching taking place in our name. As such we hear “father forgive them” as good news. Even though we have killed Jesus and brutalized his people we need not really fear hell. Even the victim himself does not hold us accountable. We are innocent. We did not know what we were doing. Good news right? Wrong.
Forgiveness without repentance is what theologian Dietrich Bonhoefer, quoting Adam Clayton Powell, called cheap grace. It lets us believe we are off the hook for our evil without demanding any real change on our part. In the case of the murder of Botham Jean cheap grace lets us white people maintain our sense of innocence and goodness without first facing up to the role we all play, knowingly or not, in maintaining systemic racism. In this case it allows us to avoid looking at the particularly brutal history of black men and white women. We don’t have to think about the thousands of lynchings, unjust crucifixions, that happened in our country due to black men being unjustly accused of raping white women. We don’t have to think about the way in which white women to this day are seen as fragile and innocent (particularly if they are or make themselves blond) while black men are perceived as threatening and dangerous even when they are in their own homes eating ice cream. In other words we do not need to see let alone repent of our sins. But is that the gospel? Is that grace?
I say no. Let’s look at the “father forgive them” scenario again. Jesus of Nazareth who lived as an oppressed Jew under Roman occupation is, like many before him, being crucified as an enemy of state. (Side note- All of you chomping at the bit to inform me that Jesus’s crucifixion/lynching was “not political” because he was “dying for our sins” need to hold off until you read some of my upcoming posts about the racist roots of Anselmian substitutionary atonement theory. All of you who likewise want to blame “the Jews” need a lesson in the history of Christian anti-Semitism. All of you who similarly want to say “we are all equally guilty as sinners regardless of race” need to read a history book. Have I covered all the loopholes? If not I will get back to them. Today we are talking history.) So Jesus has been persecuted by Romans all of his life for preaching good news for the impoverished and oppressed people of Rome now hangs on one of thousands of crosses (which Dr. James Cone rightly identified as lynching trees) designed to support Roman supremacy. Notice that in every one of the passion narratives he has very little to say to his oppressors. At this point he is done talking to them. Notice also that Jesus does not forgive them. He asks God to do so. Notice furthermore that he essentially writes them off as ignorant “for they know not what they do.”
Is that what we, as white citizens of a white supremacist nation want for ourselves? Will we be satisfied by a cheap grace that comes from being written off as ignorant? Will that restore the humanity we have lost to the false and demonic systems of racism and white supremacy? Will enforced (and it is enforced) forgiveness coming from black victims of racist violence be enough to save our souls?
I am going with no on this. I don’t know about you but I want more for myself. When I see a white woman, entrusted to “protect and serve” all people who nontheless harbored racist ideas as evidenced by her texts to co-workers, who illegally entered a black man’s castle, shot him in cold blood, told a nonsense story, played Goldilocks on the stand, and got away with the most minimum sentence, I want to do better than cling to the “but his brother forgave her bless his heart” defense.
I want to hold her and I both accountable, her for murder and me for whatever way I have, knowingly or not, contributed to the systemic racism that caused the murder. I reject cheap grace. I need justice to be done. I need the gift of true repentance for my own sins of racism. I need real soul salvation. I refuse to be written off as one of those who did not know what I was doing. I am better than that and so are you.
So offensive to claim all white people are crucifiers that need to repent. You are wrong and that healing moment in the courthouse was moving.
October 4, 2019 at 2:36 pm
No, dear. You TOTALLY didn’t get it. As a matter of fact, I would say you didn’t read the article at all – you refused because you felt offended. And, nowhere did Ms. Carlo say the moment wasn’t healing or moving.
Try reading it again without the offense…
October 5, 2019 at 2:29 pm
Thanks for the reply!
October 8, 2019 at 11:21 am
You’re EXACTLY who this was written for and about. Ironic yours is the first comment.
October 5, 2019 at 4:12 pm
God sees our hearts . Only He can judge ones heart.
October 6, 2019 at 4:42 pm
If you knew historically blacks have always had to forgive publicly to stop further racialized violence you would see that is not a kind act. It is a survival act. Jews never hug anti-semitic killers or Nazis. They ask for justice. You would never say that was a nice Jew to do that. There has been forced survival behaviors forced on those whose families lived through slavery. That means if a white person steps on your toes you apologize for your toes being in the way. Seeing public forgiveness is sad for me because I know the history. People really need to read about post traumatic slave syndrome and how adaptive behaviors minorities have to adopt to survive.
October 6, 2019 at 9:30 pm
In total agreement. This is a Slave mentality of forgiveness. The brother should have had that conversation with God and not public display. He disrespected his mother by easing the murder of her guilty while his mother is hurting. How dare him to put the murder feeling before his mother’s..
October 6, 2019 at 11:22 pm
Corrie Ten Boom
October 6, 2019 at 11:40 pm
That’s Good News! Thanks for speaking the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
October 7, 2019 at 12:08 pm
This article makes you uncomfortable? Good. It should. Consciously or not, it means that at some level you recognize your white privilege. The question that remains is whether you believe that privilege to be your right or your burden. If the former, then you are the problem. But you are a problem that those of us who recognize the burden of the absolute necessity of changing that racist system will overcome. The status quo cannot be abided any longer.
October 8, 2019 at 1:45 pm
Healing is a difficult process which is guided by the individuals need. I believe
He forgave so he didn’t have to carry the burden of hate. I think black people take the high road of forgiveness out of a sense of obligation. To often a free pass that is undeserved. But it is a personal decision.
October 21, 2019 at 1:17 am
And you are an idiot that was a feel good moment for people like you orchestrated by the system of white supremacey, you see you fail to realize God knows your hearts, each of you and your silence makes you complicate in entire ordeal. Then they even had a plan to execute the young man that testified in the trail to include lieing and covering up his murder. Dont stop there then later murdering Attianna Jefferson. All the countless murders you all continue to commit and think you will not be held accountable, oh just you wait and see.
October 24, 2019 at 6:25 am
Thank you for your courage in addressing this issue! As with all things spiritual …some will plug their ears, but others may listen. Directly after Amber Guyger’s light sentence …I saw where a black criminal was given 34 years in prison for shooting a police dog. Another 11 years were added on for armed robbery bringing the total to 45. In this case, the judge nor the police officer hugged or forgave the defendant. There is something fundamentally wrong with the American judicial system. It does appear as though black lives are lightly esteemed. And those in positions of authority of full of excuses whenever one points out these disparities! I honestly believe that many white people (not all) will not realize the role they’ve played in upholding institutionalized racism until they stand before the judge of all the earth and he utters those fateful words, “Depart from me you worker of iniquity …I never knew you”.
October 4, 2019 at 2:45 pm
October 5, 2019 at 3:24 pm
Thanks for standing with her…
October 5, 2019 at 9:10 pm
When I saw the pictures in the courtroom, I felt that something very weird was happening. I am a Christian, but sometimes like the writer I feel that some of these forgivenesses are fake. They are done not because you have actually forgiven, but that you are just playing to the gallery. Granted that you have forgiven, do you have to embrace your brother’s killer?. And to make it weirder, the judge herself came down to hug her also. They may as well have given her an award. Oh give me a break!
October 6, 2019 at 5:13 am
October 6, 2019 at 5:05 pm
Thank you…well said
October 7, 2019 at 1:33 am
Exactly! I saw it as maintaining the fact that white women the epitome of womanhood and I they are to ever do wrong, must be handle in a delicate way because they are sooooo “fragile”…side eye
October 11, 2019 at 12:33 pm
Exactly! I saw the brother and the judged actions an effort to maintain the fact that white women are the epitome of womanhood and if they are to ever do wrong, they must be handled in an oh so delicate way because they are sooooo “fragile”…side eye
October 11, 2019 at 12:38 pm
So well said. Thank you.
October 7, 2019 at 9:22 pm
October 11, 2019 at 8:22 pm
Sooo, had this grace of God not happened, would you eevveerr admit this and invite others to embrace what you call the truth of the matter? I am just asking.
October 4, 2019 at 2:47 pm
I think she probably would. I think she might already have done so. I’m going to Google Ms. Carlo and verify.
October 5, 2019 at 2:31 pm
A very thought provoking piece that seems to be well thought out. It gives you pause to consider the possibilities. More rational thought like this should invade our nation to replace what we are all slowly being swallowed by… intolerance often because we are AFRAID of what we are not familiar with.
October 4, 2019 at 3:09 pm
Great blog. Since I’ve been studying the ‘man’ Jesus, you mentioned a lot of biblical history surrounding his life I can identify. It is true in comparison when the majority of people keep the others in slavery, make them second class citizens, and oblivious to the fact they, the majority are privileged. Jesus knew it, preached it, and lived it, a threat to their privileged system, perhaps. The justice system in America is not and has not ever been fair to Blacks. In, the case of the trial, although I wouldn’t have hugged her and personnaly did not agree with it. I believe people have to do what’s best for them. I enjoyed reading this blog Karyn.
October 4, 2019 at 3:09 pm
You think that this woman had such intense hatred for black people that she chose to enter a random man’s home and shoot him in cold blood. That doesn’t ring true.
October 4, 2019 at 3:16 pm
No, it does not. And anybody not looking for hatred around every corner can see this clearly.
October 4, 2019 at 6:16 pm
Again, you’re missing the point of the article. The article wasn’t the defendant’s hatred/racism, but rather that of the system. You’re allowing your emotions to cloud your comprehension.
October 5, 2019 at 2:33 pm
Okay so how do YOU explain it? A woman enters another person’s home and shoots him as an intruder? Who does that? I am fifty-six years old and I have on occasion had more to drink than was good for me but NEVER, NEVER in my LIFE have I gone “home” to someone else’s house/apartment.
The whole scenario is stupid to the max and she should have received a much heavier sentence. As for forgiveness, like Jesus I would leave that one up to God.
October 5, 2019 at 4:52 pm
October 5, 2019 at 11:01 pm
Scott you are spot on, thank you.
October 5, 2019 at 11:02 pm
I AGREE WITH YOU SCOTT 100%
October 7, 2019 at 3:06 am
Of course she did. See her texts. See her views on MLK jr. She is racist and a liar. And a murderer too.
October 6, 2019 at 7:30 am
Check her social media. I think she did.
October 9, 2019 at 1:55 pm
cityofangelsbooks – ponder why you are so devoted to defending the criminal – is it your own defense of things here that you find in yourself? this article was call to folks to broaden their perspective of our race relations and how perhaps we reinforce those ills intentionally and on accident. The science on human behavior shows that our explicit and subtle bias contributes to actions that cause harm. The evidence in this case shows she held bias against black folks (text) and she lied about what happen (the figure coming towards her shot on couch) and her own audio recording shows her main concern was her job and well being not the innocent man she just killed. Those are the facts.
October 9, 2019 at 11:25 pm
That is not what she said. Think about this, if that apartment had a white man sitting in his apartment eating ice cream, do you think her intent would be to shoot to kill?
October 11, 2019 at 8:27 pm
The point is that our system of white supremacy allows this to happen without outrage. As in any instance, if you need to determine whether something is racist or result of racism, simply flip white for black.
As in, a black cop walked into the wrong apartment and shot a white woman eating ice cream. Imagine how that would play and what kind of sentence the black cop would have gotten.
October 12, 2019 at 4:42 pm
mick11 ~ Exactly.
October 12, 2019 at 6:03 pm
Praise God there is yet people with truth in the earth. Amen and Amen
October 4, 2019 at 4:32 pm
You say,” I will judge the way so many of us in the white community are so quick to applaud black people for forgiving white murderers.” I say this instead: perhaps, just perhaps, we white people applaud ANOTHER HUMAN BEING, A FELLOW CHRISTIAN, for extending amazing grace, love and forgiveness to one who most likely doesn’t deserve it. We applaud him, NOT because of skin color, BUT because of our admiration for him. Admiration given because we doubt we could do likewise in the same situation. I take issue with your assumption.
October 4, 2019 at 4:42 pm
You have assumed and assigned motive instead of taking a beautiful moment that speaks to the character of God in the midst of tragedy and injustice and have instead chosen to lecture people about how bad they are.
October 4, 2019 at 9:22 pm
The more I read of your responses to those who are taking you to task on your post, the more I come to disagree with you.
October 5, 2019 at 3:35 am
I’m replying here because the reply button following your last comment to me has mysteriously disappeared. Your condescension is breathtaking, especially in a clergy person. You have accused me of needing to ‘take a closer look at history’ simply because I don’t speak in intersectionality jargon. You have accused me of ‘making it about myself’ because I reject the blanket assumptions you’ve made about me and ‘my kind.’ Reread the end of your own piece, below, where you seem to be making it all about YOU. Poor grammar I can handle (sorry for the pettiness, but now I’m mad), but arrogant condescension with no self-awareness or humility really pushes my buttons. How would you LIKE us to respond to this young man’s actions, Reverend? Should we castigate him? Ignore him? Patronize him? Rend our garments? Sorry, that’s not my style. When I see a rare example of pure kingdom love in action, I’m gonna make a joyful noise to the Lord and give thanks.
“I want to hold her and I both accountable, her for murder and me for whatever way I have, knowingly or not, contributed to the systemic racism that caused the murder. I reject cheap grace. I need justice to be done. I need the gift of true repentance for my own sins of racism. I need real soul salvation. I refuse to be written off as one of those who did not know what I was doing. I am better than that and so are you.”
October 4, 2019 at 9:49 pm
Did you read the article? Did any of the points resonate with you?
October 5, 2019 at 12:54 pm
Yes and Yes. I just thought there were assumptions of intent made, along with too much generalization and condescension from the author. The author also deleted some further comments on this thread, ones of which she came across as self-righteous. We need to be really really careful here.
October 5, 2019 at 2:29 pm
She didn’t say, nor did she imply, that she didn’t applaud the brother or the family. Not even once. You entirely missed the point of the article.
October 5, 2019 at 2:36 pm
Kate, it is you who misunderstands. I got the point of the article, ENTIRELY. I just DISAGREE with the point the author makes. If you read carefully, you will see by my very first post above that I am referring to the white folk that the author is criticizing. She makes broad sweeping generalizations of whites who “applaud black people for forgiving black murderers.” I never once said, not even once, that she was referring to the brother and family. Go back and re-read. It’s easy to see.
October 6, 2019 at 3:15 am
Please keep this in mind as you’re applauding his actions:
When black victims embrace white criminals in an act of forgiveness, it’s often a survival tactic as well. Even when being victimized we carry the burden of being seen as the aggressor, so we overcompensate because we know what messages are being sent by our very presence. It’s an act that’s a holdover from slavery and how Christianity was used as a way to keep enslaved Africans from being unruly (before you go on the offensive, I’m Christian. I also know my history). I’m not saying he shouldn’t have forgiven her. I’m saying that very public display of Botham’s brother, the bailiff and the judge, also served as a way to put white America at ease, intentional or not. I am all about forgiveness. But I don’t have to fawn over you to forgive you, especially if you have no remorse for what you did (and from what I understand, Amber’s team is appealing the verdict).
October 9, 2019 at 2:05 pm
I agree. This was well put. Jesus, often blessed and forgave sinners, not to condone what they did but to offer them a path to repentance leading them to be a disciple for change, understanding and love of one another. The sole has no color. What I saw was the LOVE of a very compassionate sole, understanding the pain and weakness of another. Isn’t understanding of others what we need? Let us focus on love of one another allowing God’s love will fill our hearts and lead us to change.
October 9, 2019 at 5:44 pm
Mostly everything you said seems truthful and well thought out. And personally i agree with most but my concern is for you. I can’t help wonder what happened to you in your life for you to now be so passionate about the life of another? My suggestion is to tell your own story first then what you say may exhibit more clarification to the people that read past what is said.
October 4, 2019 at 5:13 pm
So she, as a Christia and as a human, is being questioned about her care and concern about the oppression of others??? Either You missed the point, you’re being intentionally obtuse or you’re a sociopath. If you have to know someone personally or experience something personally to have compassion, empathy and deep understanding of those who have experienced it, you have a problem, not her. Humans do not, and should not need to have personal experience with something to recognize and understand it’s social, personal, economic, political, etc. impact. The fact that you and so many others don’t is why we’re in the situation we are in this country today with black people being killed by police with impunity, migrant babies and children being held in cages, increasing numbers of homeless people, and many other ills we’re facing. You should not have to tell your personal story or have a personal experience with these things to know they are wrong and be passionate about them AND take the time to educate others.
October 5, 2019 at 10:12 am
Very good point! Otherwise how is it we have many examples of, stories reported about strangers to one another being able to help others in distress/or in danger….we call them heroes or heroines. Human beings are capable of greatness as well as evil.
October 6, 2019 at 10:45 am
Sorry…what is your Ph.D in?
October 4, 2019 at 7:10 pm
What does her degree or lack thereof have to do with her argument? If you only want to read the work of PhDs, I have a suggestion for you:
Robin DiAngelo “Why It’s So Hard to talk to White People about Race.” Then check her bibliography and keep reading!
But since it’s likely you aren’t a PhD yourself, you may not be able to get through the entire book, so just read the short articles about it online.
October 5, 2019 at 10:17 am
You know there’s an “about the author” link at the top of the screen that you could have hit.
October 5, 2019 at 2:19 pm
Insightful and so wise. Thank you.
October 4, 2019 at 7:32 pm
I am not seeing this reflecting the exegetical understanding of Jesus’ take on forgiveness. Jesus Himself is God, and it means there is a clear disunion from him and the Father that one can forgive, but the other cannot. Furthermore, it is a clear separation of his teachings on forgiveness in the whole of the gospels. In other words, you are admitting that he does not practice what he preaches. Lastly, forgiveness is essential to being forgiven. Matthew 6:14-15 makes that clear. That isn’t a matter of cheap grace. It is a matter of either asserting that we are more important than God, or else servant to His love. Cheap grace is salvific favor without cost.
October 4, 2019 at 8:52 pm
Rev Carlo, yours the best parsing of the situation I’ve seen yet. I completely agree. I might add one thing. It is a matter of psychological defense for subjugated to forgive. It is how they’ve found to live with themselves existentially. While the analogy imperfect, this whole scene puts me in mind of the Stockholm Syndrome. I get that’s not what you are after. You are after something much larger. But one thing you need to understand. White Christians the first to forgive themselves, first to plead innocence of motive. On the basis of which mega churches rich. Also the first to demonize others. Put more succinctly, it’s like Nietzsche said, the last Christian was Christ. Your words spot on, touched with nobility even. Not a white Christian American who needs to be forgiven for racist complicity going to hear you. But please, rave on. Van Morrison said that.
October 4, 2019 at 10:24 pm
In my view, there is no such thing as “white” people and “black” people. Until we as a culture can get past using these unrealistic, hyper-simplistic, polarized descriptors and recognize and embrace the depth and complex beauty of color within all humanity, we will struggle in vain to make meaningful progress against racism.
October 5, 2019 at 2:22 am
So you think if we avoid acknowledging race, racial oppression and racism that our country was built on and continues to be perpetuated today in all our institutions, that race will cease to exist and racism will no longer be a problem? That is nonsense. Racism is about social, political and economic power. It is not going to go away because we ignore it. We should not have to ignore someone’s differences to treat them fairly and have compassion for them as fellow humans.
October 5, 2019 at 10:24 am
Lynn, I’m definitely not talking about avoiding acknowledging race, racial oppression, and racism. I’m not talking about ignoring it or ignoring someone’s differences at all. I’m suggesting quite the opposite! I very much agree with you! This is why I said we need to “recognize and embrace the depth and complex beauty of color within all humanity”. The problem I’m pointing out is that our use of language is preventing us from truly seeing people for who they are and the beautiful differences that exist among us. The words “white” and “black” are very narrowly defined polar opposites in our language and our psyche. They are completely inaccurate, inadequate, and caricatured descriptors to apply to the complex beauty of color that exists in humanity. When we label people with these inadequate descriptors it further polarizes the discussion and further caricatures the “other side”. We must see and celebrate our differences better. In order to truly see our differences we must stop using limiting language such as “white” and “black”, which distorts and narrows our view of people.
October 5, 2019 at 3:11 pm
Your position is naive and not rooted in reality. See my blackness. It not a defect. It is ancient it beautiful and it is constant. God put you here to observe all his graces. I am still here.
October 5, 2019 at 12:59 pm
Derrick, to be more clear I am not talking at all about ignoring differences, but about truly seeing them. I agree with you! We need to truly see and celebrate our differences! This is why I said we need to “recognize and embrace the depth and complex beauty of color within all humanity”. What I’m saying is the words “white” and “black” are not helpful in truly seeing people for who they are, but only for polarizing our view of people. The words “black” and “white” in our language are such limited and polarized descriptors that are inadequate to represent the beauty of color in people. No one is actually “white”; no one is actually “black”. These terms are extremely inaccurate and serve to polarize how we view people in our minds. They divide people and blind people from seeing people as they are and for who they are. I see you. I see your beautiful color! I see you as a person made in the image of God — a God who uses a beautifully diverse color palate for humanity! Let’s see and celebrate it all!
October 5, 2019 at 3:36 pm
Claiming “color blindness” is a privilege that only White people have. I have to be aware of my race every day I walk this earth. I have to be doubly aware for my son, a 27 year old black man. I would love to hold hands and sing “We Are the World”, but that requires me to ignore the institutional racism that exists everywhere, including in how Christianity has been used to control people of color in the US.
October 9, 2019 at 2:10 pm
I hesitate to comment, but I hope my comment will be well received in the good intentions it is given. Before today, I had not considered racist message that the celebration of Botham Jean’s forgiveness might send. I read your article yesterday, and while those who have already considered this issue seemed to find your words crystal clear, I could not make heads or tails of what the issue was. It was only after further discussion with friends and reading other articles that I finally figured out what you were saying. I only share this because based on the comments there are obviously others like me who couldn’t understand, and your response more that once has been along the lines of “wasn’t I clear?” So on behalf of all of us considering this for the first time, no, you really weren’t very clear.
October 5, 2019 at 5:00 am
It’s simply about forgiveness being given to those who are not sorry. The Charleston shooter was forgeven ans he’s stated repeatedly that he has no regrets of having gone into a church, worshipping with people and yhen killing them. He should not hwvw been forgiven. The forgiveness even almost seems empty because the person isn’t even sorry.
October 6, 2019 at 7:35 am
I don’t think that the article was about forgiving this who are not sorry. My understanding is that the article is based on the underlying premise that the massive celebration of a black man forgiving a white woman unintentionally sends the message that this is how all black victims should respond to white people who commit crimes against them. That this is how they need to respond to raise their status in society.
October 6, 2019 at 11:09 pm
Thank you Dr. Haynes for keeping it real honest. The truth will set you free.
October 5, 2019 at 5:44 am
She told the pure lin love truth!
October 5, 2019 at 1:24 pm
Dr Carlo, thank you for stating your position. I need time to think about it and let it sink home. I’m wondering — what is your view of eternal punishment — hell in other words. If forgiveness is so difficult, then where do those who do not repent spend eternity? Does hell have some kind of restorative justice? Or do the “lost” spend the remainder of eternity paying for their sins and offenses? Coming face to face with God and judgment must demand some kind of response. Or do you just throw out the idea altogether and consign these lost souls to oblivion and annihilation?
October 5, 2019 at 1:27 pm
Here is further food for thought. Where is the forgiveness here? What would Jesus say and do? Where are this woman’s hugs? Where is her forgiveness from the corporation she stole from? Did any of the CEOs come in and hug HER?
If you’re criticizing Rev. Carlo, you’re not paying attention at all…
October 5, 2019 at 2:52 pm
I find your groveling self-flagellation and white guilt repulsive.
October 5, 2019 at 4:24 pm
Pingback: My discomfort with compassion towards cop who murdered black man
I am not a Christian, though I was raised as one, so I appreciate your articulation of the “Father forgive them” story I learned as a child. I’ve been very disturbed by the sentencing and all that has followed. I have no doubt that Brandt was sincere in his forgiveness, but the rest of us are always so quick to jump to expressions of piety instead of clearheaded determination to uproot the causes requiring such extraordinary forgiveness. You are one of the few voices talking about this, and you have elucidated what has been bothering me, so I thank you. Everyday I learn more about my own white privilege, about how the entire country was built on the myth of white exceptionalism used to justify any and all atrocities, and about how far we have to go to untangle systemic racism. We won’t get there with self-gratifying piety and expressions of admiration that too often come from condescension. So thank you again.
October 5, 2019 at 5:04 pm
I’m repulsed by articles that start out “Dear [racial colour] People.” As though we all fit the stereotype and they get to sit in judgement of our morality — while immunizing themselves from the offense by owning up to their own role in it — and rubbing it off on the rest of us. Speak for yourself madam and get off your soap box. You make good points in an offensive racist way. IMHO.
October 5, 2019 at 5:40 pm
October 6, 2019 at 3:18 am
Oh, I get it. You think that you are an individual, and that you have completely individual thoughts, and completely individual actions that were not at all given to you by your ancestors and protected by a multitude of people your own color to this day, actions and beliefs that do not harm others at all? I think that perhaps you need to own that you belong to “white people” whether you realize it or not. This article bothers you so because deep inside, you know you are part of it, but you don’t want to be a part of it. Just because you claim to be an individual does not mean you are not part of the system. You know which one I’m talking about. http://libjournal.uncg.edu/ijcp/article/viewFile/249/116
October 7, 2019 at 1:42 am
October 22, 2019 at 12:51 am
So as a black person in the IS, I constantly carry the burden of collective representation. In other words, when I move through spaces where I’m the only Black person someone may ever encounter (and yes, this has happened often in my life), I carry the burden of representing the whole race, whether I like it or not. That fact that you were immediately turned off to the content of the article because it was addressed to white people is a pathetic cop out, and a way for you to absolve yourself from dealing with the information presented in the article. Stop being fragile.
October 9, 2019 at 2:17 pm
Finally calmed down enough to read her letter. It clearly won’t be very popular among some whites. But this lady certainly knows her history. And her points are spot-on.
October 5, 2019 at 5:46 pm
Thank you so very much for stating history as well as present day truths. As an African American woman in this day and age, the judicial system, and this country as a whole was NOT designed for the Black person to get ahead at all. That is not an argument starter or opinion, it is the truth. It is written in the laws of this country and still acted upon today.It was not surprising at all with the amount of time she received. Actually, the latest news I read(I’m not sure if it was real or not) stated they are trying to reduce the 10 years, saying it was a crime of passion. Quite honestly, she may serve 2 or 3 years either way and move on with her life.This is America.
As a Christian, I am moved by Botham Jean’s brother’s obedience to the Christian faith. We are told to forgive the offence of others. I dont know what he was feeling or thinking then or now but I do believe that the forgiveness that he showed was an act of obedience to what he believes as well as something he needed to do to move on and not snap mentally on anyone in this world. What one MUST understand is, Black people have been dealing with these issues of being viewed as less than HUMAN for centuries now. It IS systematic and oppressive. It is painful and so sad. Forgiveness, grace and mercy has been our culture’s way. Period. This is how we move on and keep trying. The only thing that hurts about forgiving those who have oppressed us is… IT HAPPENS ALL OVER AGAIN, AND AGAIN, AND AGAIN. Yet and still, we will forgive once more and try one more time. It is in our DNA.
October 5, 2019 at 11:27 pm
A response to Dr. Carlo’s essay: http://www.roncitlau.com/2019/10/botham-jean-racism-cops-post-marxism-the-rca-and-the-bible/
October 6, 2019 at 2:58 am
Thank you, thank you, thank you. Your response is spot on and excellent.
October 6, 2019 at 3:29 am
You are mistaken in your assumptions. I am schooled in the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation, the backbone of mainstream. (liberal or progressive) Christianity and in Liberation Theology, particularly the Black Liberation Theology of my mentor, the late Dr. James Cone. While one may argue that Latin American Liberation Theology is influenced by Marx, most of Black Theology rejects Marxism as a white, western philosophical source. The post modernist philosophical tradition, another largely western construct, is similarly not part of my background. In other words, you have set up a straw man argument by completely misrepresenting who I am and how I think. I assume that, as a Christian, it is not your intention to bear false witness against another. Therefore I invite you to learn more about who I am and why I do the anti-racist work I do both in the US and in the majority world nations of Liberia and Myanmar before purposing to undermine it.
October 6, 2019 at 8:21 am
Thanks for engaging with me Dr. Carlo. Your essay is important, and I am always seeking to learn. These fundamental conversations serve the church; I know of many within my denomination, the RCA, are deeply interested in the substance of what we are talking about. I have sought to seriously engage your work; I in no way want to create a “straw man” as you say. If I have, I want to correct that. Perhaps this response can help in clarifying my position and the issues as I see them.
I want to share two reflections based upon your response. The first will be an attempt to show how black liberation theology is a kind of Christianized Marxism and that it fits perfectly well in the identity politics of the current moment. Secondly, I want to give a real-life example of the good of Western Civilization. The example I will give is how the marriage of capitalism and democracy is a moral good for the world. Hopefully, we will find common ground.
What an honor that you have been mentored by Dr. Cones. He is a significant voice in liberation theology and a serious thinker. He also was a devoted follower of Jesus. I’m sure he is missed. Since you build your argument for my “straw man” based upon his work, I will use his work to seek to prove my first point.
I am sure you are aware of his essay, “The Black Church and Marxism”. The essay is old, but it is a key text in understanding our culture today and the current form of the black liberation movement. The essay is highly critical of capitalism going as far as to suggest that capitalism stands in the way of justice. In it, he writes that no one will believe that the black church is serious about freedom,
If black churches do not take a stand against capitalism and for democratic socialism, for Karl Marx and against Adam Smith, for the poor in all colors and against the rich of all colors, for the workers and against the corporations… … it is clear that we blacks must begin to think of a radical and total reconstruction of this society from its material, economic base.
The way forward for Cones is to use the analytical power of Marxism but reimagine its implementation. He writes, “We can indigenize Marxism, that is, reinterpret it for our situation. We do not refuse to ride in cars or airplanes, nor do we reject any other useful instrument just because they were invented by whites”. Indigenized Marxism is black liberation theology in its infancy. It takes the insights and Marxist critiques, as well as its goals and seeks to place it within the Christian tradition. It is not traditional Marxism but a son of it.
As I’m sure you would agree, “freedom” for the current form of black liberation theology goes well beyond reimagining capitalism. Your essay is an example of where you believe freedom has yet to be won. Freedom in this context is a reordering of the power structures of society by deconstructing old structures of oppression and by building a new society that redistributes power—economic, social and political. This call for a reordering of society has been answered by other oppressed persons. The LGBTQIA is the clearest example. They have found identity in their mixtures of sexual identity, gender fluidity, new sexual ethics and the social rights are currently fighting for. They too desire a “reconstruction” of society. Both examples are birthed from the roots of Marxism. The philosophical term is post-Marxist. It’s includes Marxist critique but changes out wealth redistribution with power redistribution.
As I said in my last essay, it is Foucault who creates the bridge from Marxism to identity politics in which black liberation theology is a proud member. The Bourgeoisie is replaced with whites; proletariats is replaced by marginalized communities. The cure is broadened from economic restructuring to a restructuring of all of society. In practical terms this means removing the commodity of power from the top of the hierarchy and sharing it with those groups that have not had power in the past.
Post Marxism places white, male heterosexuals at the top of a socially constructed hierarchy built to retain power. Underneath, to varying degrees are the new proletariats—any group that has been victimized by those at the top and kept from enjoying the benefits of power. The goal is a demolition of hierarchies as they now exist. I believe this is a fair historical and philosophical analysis of the realities I asserted and now Black Liberation theology’s place in it. As you know, this weltanschauung fits well within the historical-critical method (quite a modern hermeneutic by the way). It is the body of knowledge and analytic lens you bring to the text. I hope this helps to see that we are dealing with no straw man. Instead, this is a well-developed worldview that I think is worth critiquing.
As I have said, I find deep problems with liberation theology, post Marxism, identity politics and the harm I believe they together bring into the public square as we seek real answers to the racial challenges facing our country. I find little good in these connected realities. I don’t see how they can bring about biblical justice which is our aim as Christ followers. Instead, these movements divide us. In the 18th, 19th and much of the 20th century we were divided by the institutionalized racism and slavery found throughout the United States. Now, we are in danger of swinging the other way by seeking a reordering that has no historic precedence and will in the end, I fear, make all of us less free, less prosperous and less able to pursue “happiness” as each individual sees it.
I want to make a positive assertion of what I am arguing because there is no benefit in just deconstructing something to its roots if a person isn’t willing to give a hope-filled answer. My reflection is birthed from my classical liberalism. As I see it, classical liberalism is rooted in the biblical principles of humans as bearers of the imago dei, God given personal agency and a belief that civilization, culture and politics are given by God for the common good.
With my intellectual cards on the table, capitalism in a democratic society is a moral good. I will define the goal of American democracy as loosing the commodity of freedom—personal, economic and national—for the “pursuit of happiness.” Of course, this is a dream we have often failed historically especially with our black citizens. In this moment in history though, capitalistic democracies (which the United States is still the shining city on a hill) are the freest, most prosperous and provide the most access-to-opportunity to its citizens. It is Western culture that has made the most strides towards the moral good of equality for the black community, the right to vote, and an ever-widening door of opportunity. There is much more to do but we need to celebrate the great progress of the last few generations. This was won by the black church fighting for and winning, with generations of blood and tears, full access to the American dream. Concerning this all people of good conscience agree and believe it is a radical good.
Capitalism is defined as the distribution of goods and services based upon supply and demand. Prices and worker pay are based upon “an invisible hand”. This hand “chooses” winners. In its pure form winners are the most innovative, the most daring and those who bring something into the market that everyone wants. Winners are well compensated. This drives the rest of us to compete to find our “piece of the American Dream.” There is no pure capitalist economy, and this is a good thing. In an economy of limited wealth that is distributed by market forces, there will be those who suffer. As the country with the greatest wealth in human history, we must consider how we can help those left behind. Primarily this will be done by enabling access so that they can enjoy the dignifying work of pursuing happiness as they see it.
American democracy and its spread around the world have been the vehicles for the largest percentage of humanity being free in history. Paired with ever widening access to the Capitalist market, wealth is spreading around the world but most especially in the United States. Consider this one statistic from humanprogress.org: “In 1820, 94% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty. In 1990, 34.8%, and in 2015, just 9.6%”.
For a more American-centric view, go to https://humanprogress.org/ylin . Or perhaps the growth of wealth in the United States since 1960: https://humanprogress.org/dwworld?p=140&yf=1960&yl=1961&col=1 . Or perhaps the purchasing power of the African-American community: https://fortune.com/2018/02/28/raceahead-nielsen-report-black-buying-power/ . Or perhaps this Brooking Institute study: https://www.brookings.edu/articles/black-progress-how-far-weve-come-and-how-far-we-have-to-go/ .
As I have said, many have had to fight for the current freedom and opportunities we now currently enjoy. But It is unarguable that racial justice and equality is being achieved to ever greater degrees. Capitalism and democracy have been the vehicles for this. You will find no list like this in the Marxist, post-Marxist world. It does not exist. What we have found is that these non-democratic, non-capitalistic systems work very well at collecting and keeping power among a ruling elite. Millions of lives have been lost proving the case.
Capitalism and democracy are common goods and morally good, but neither are a kingdom good. Another economy and government will take their place in the life to come. For now, these are the best way forward. I will end with a few questions. I know you are busy, and I started our conversation, but I would like to see productive movement in our discussion. The answers to these questions might help:
1) Within your essay you place blame for the Christian response to the brother’s forgiveness within a certain historic context. It is one focused on race. The “White Supremacist Nation” needs to repent of known and unknown ways of its racism; we need to do our part to rectify the murder of this young man. This will bring justice. How will your “medicine” make us well?
2) I have heard, though not from you, that in this reordering we are experiencing culturally that some people, usually whites, will need to suffer by losing certain rights or certain doors of access. This is called a “corrective”. Is this the implicit goal of your essay. In other words, are you seeking to prophetically put whites in their place and let everyone else have a turn? What do you think this achieves? Or is there another way you would phrase it?
3) In what tangible ways has the current black liberation theology been an agent of good in our current world? It seems to place every racial interaction into a lens of post-Marxist ideology. How am I wrong?
4) If you were Queen of the world for a day, what is the world you would desire? What holds us back?
5) How can people of good will work together to find common ground on the challenges of racism and division we now face?
Perhaps by conversation, we can do actual good.
October 7, 2019 at 1:02 am
You took up a lot of space and words to say what you really think and what you really are..A CAPITALISM.
Summing it up you said:
Winners and losers. The White folks that have had All The POWER from day one, built on the backs of the underclass are the winners, you others go fuck yourselves and stop complaining.Yeh, I get it my man. This is not about communism or Marxism, it’s about Systematic, Well Thought Out RACISM AND OPPRESSION TO MAINTAIN CAPITALISM FOR THE “WINNERS”.
You wasted a lot of ink to disguise your racist poing of view. I’d rather talk to and hear from the KKK, AT LEAST THEIR HONEST RACIST.
Screw You Ron🤢🤮🤬
October 7, 2019 at 3:43 pm
This is not a good rebuttal to Dr. Carlo’s essay and the author clearly misses the point that Jesus was all about social justice and defeating elitist ideas and leveling the playing field. Jesus was ALWAYS pointing out to those who were leaders the error of their ways and for them to turn from them and embrace all.. no this is not a response that somehow tears down the points made.
October 6, 2019 at 3:39 pm
Meanwhile, the witness who testified against Guyger was shot in the mouth, plus the woman who recorded the incident has been fired from her job….Just the DPD cleaning up its mess. But y’all want to forgive a murderer because she fake cried.
October 6, 2019 at 4:29 am
October 6, 2019 at 4:52 am
There is nothing I’ve seen about Amber Guyger that I like. In fact, I think she’s despicable. I do though, as a Christian, admire Brandt Jean for offering forgiveness to her in such a dramatic way. I’m glad for his sake, not hers. I’m glad that he has found a way to be free from the things that could destroy him by not letting go. As for ultimate forgiveness…that is between Guyger and the ultimate-forgiver God.
October 6, 2019 at 12:11 pm
Thank you for this piece and i know white people will be quick to jump on you so your courage must be applauded. They have been conditioned to do so especially when the truth is presented to them about their violent history toward people of color. I was just explaining this exact issue to some one the other day who also hoped all over the hug of the brother. I even used the word Goldilocks while describing Guyer. I to feel thatblack people being the ones to forgive while same is not reciprocated is growing real thin with most people in the black community. Fact of the matter is the hug does not take away from what Guyer has done and attempted to do to that young black man. The hug is not the issue here as society was so quick to make it.The issue is that another young black live was taken away at the hands of a police officer. And she only got 10 years for killing a man in cold blood. Guyer if she keeps her nose clean will only do five years of the ten year sentence. She will not be in general population and upon getting out in five years will carry on with her life as normal. Let that sink in five years for murdering someone in cold blood. There r people of color locked up in jail all over the country for drug possession spending more time than that. So those who perceived that hug as symbols of forgiveness can go suck an egg. U can’t just forgive 400 years of this stuff.
October 6, 2019 at 4:49 am
When I saw the pictures in the courtroom, I felt that something very weird was happening. I am a Christian, but sometimes like the writer I feel that some of these forgivenesses are fake. They are done not because you have actually forgiven, but that you are just playing to the gallery. Granted that you have forgiven, do you have to embrace your brother’s killer?. And to make it weirder, the judge herself came down to hug her also. They may as well have given her an award. Oh give me a break!
October 6, 2019 at 5:16 am
Joshua Brown, the late Botham Jean’s neighbor and witness for Prosecution was murdered, his mother said he has no known enemies, she wants answers.
October 6, 2019 at 11:48 am
October 6, 2019 at 12:01 pm
Excellent article! Thanks for penning this. You absolutely get it!! Hope other whites will as well!
October 6, 2019 at 1:07 pm
Wow! What a great conversation. This is (only) the first step in standing toe-to-toe with one of the strongest demons in Satan’s army – racism. But Satan will be victorious if we stop or limit this to just “conversation” or to this platform like in previous atrocities of this nature. They are poised and waiting for us to “hush now and forget” (again). The Bible states that “our words have power”. I thank the author for beginning this critical conversation and pray that the rest of us will continue to face this dragon with the Truth. And to God be the Glory.
October 7, 2019 at 5:15 pm
Slavery runs deep.
October 8, 2019 at 12:26 am
Having read most of the statements here and having read he; whatever you want to call it. I am white BUT I do not feel the need to apologize to anyone nor make reparations to anyone for what happened in the past… I was not a part of it. The past is just that; THE PAST… we can learn from it; I believe this 100%. People who feel that just because you are 1 race or another that it means you have to make amends for everything bad that happens are in MY opinion… idiots… we have made the world what it is…. if you want to change it; start with yourself. I live a simple life; I get up in the morning and go to my place of employment… I commit no crimes, nor to do I go out looking for trouble… Guess what; none finds me, and there is no violence around me. Everyone should take care of themselves before they make comments on how others should act.
October 8, 2019 at 4:01 pm
Oh baby are you one for the books! Your sense of entitlement runs so deep you can’t even find the roots.
Lemme tell you something: the fact that you are white is the SOLE thing that protects you from what people who are NOT white have to go through. EVERY DAY.
October 8, 2019 at 5:04 pm
Amen, amen and amen! I totally agree with you scottsteaux63! Totally oblivious to it all.
October 8, 2019 at 8:31 pm
You may not have caused the problems that happened generations ago, but you still benefit from it in almost all of our institutions. Please know the full history of your country.
October 9, 2019 at 2:23 pm
We don’t get to be let off the hook based on the feeble excuse that we did not do the horrific acts of generations ago.
October 9, 2019 at 2:29 pm
And Botham Jean? Did he commit a crime? Did he go looking for trouble?
October 9, 2019 at 8:04 pm
The past may be the past, but it keeps repeating itself even to this day. Many of us as black people try to live a nice, quiet life, we do not go out looking for trouble but strangely enough trouble has a way of always finding us on a daily basis.
November 5, 2019 at 6:11 pm
It’s the same reaction you see with anyone who has lived under oppression & fear, be it in war or in an unstable, violent home. I’ve have seen the connection of racism to poverty. Racism is real and the door swings both ways. Poor people have more empathy for other poor people, sharing more of what little they have, because they need each other. This systemic world drives us all apart. We are constantly scraping our way up the rung, too busy to be bothered by anyone who doesn’t share our beliefs or background, driven by greed, by fear. Chasing what the world says measures our success.
Yes, as a Christian it was unbelievable to see forgiveness. We are all to forgive, not because of ignorance, but because we all have our issues, our history, our teachings and that clouds our judgements in all ways. We see what we have known, what we fear. We don’t give each other the benefit of doubt in any circumstance.
If it were 2 white people or 2 black people, would the thoughts be different? Would it have been any less of a crime ? It could have been any of us, any color, any religion, relaxing, eating ice cream in our home. It’s bizarre.
October 9, 2019 at 5:02 pm
Quite simply your post was well though out, concise and poignant. I applaud you for such a deep reaching assessment of self reflection and critical analysis.
I am sure you anticipated the negatives associated with your hard hitting expose’that were to follow. I am happy you chose to value how GOD VIEWS your heart over any who would try to subjugate your SPIRITUAL and moral well-being for cheap meaningless approval.
As you know, THE ROAD TO RIGHTEOUSNESS is sometimes a lonely road to travel. Know that you are not alone here, and your DESTINATION is worth all this and more! GOD BLESS YOUR HEART. HEAVEN awaits patient Saints!!
A Black guy who LOVES TRUTH!!
October 10, 2019 at 1:01 pm
I think she deserved more than 10 years, and there was nothing wrong with the brother’s forgiveness. There IS great power in providing forgiveness and the Forgiver will receive blessings and peace of mind. But not every act of repentance acceptance by Jesus (Yahshua) is swift if accepted at all. There is no power or blessings for failure to fully repent, and sin no more, by the killer or oppressor. Also, if you never receive Jesus (Yahshua) as your Lord and Savior you are under the wrath of God (Elohim) and not under grace. There’s also the issue of Romans 12:17-21. (#FAKEFIREINSURANCE)
October 12, 2019 at 8:55 am
I came across this last week and it seems very relevant to your article, Rev.
Peace. And I do agree with your article and hear its point. I am a Black American and living in in Los Angeles (now in Wesley Chapel), I have see this many times. Black Americas being expected to forgive whytz for their crimes against them, but the reverse is abhorred of and not even spoken of. We are expected to forgive them, they are expected not to forgive us.
October 13, 2019 at 10:32 pm
An African-American friend (I am white) referred me to your blog. Thank you for being so forthright. My own church has had discussions along these lines and I need to recognize the unconscious ways in which my whiteness benefits me at the expense of others. It starts with listening to nonwhites and entering into their perceptions – which are gloriously multivaried. I do want to read your future blog, however, on how racism is part of substitutionary atonement. The latter is a fundamental part of my personal faith, not from my upbringing (which was nonreligious), but from personal experience of forgiveness and victory over sin. The power of Christ’s work in my life makes me want to stand for justice and with the oppressed. To have that altered would be far more challenging to me.
October 22, 2019 at 4:01 pm
I will post soon on the connection between substitutionary atonement and white supremacy. Meanwhile you may wish to refer to my paper entitled ‘White Supremacy is Not the Gospel.” It touches on the subject
October 22, 2019 at 4:47 pm
I did read it. Would like to hear what you think in light of current events. Full disclosure: I’m United Methodist in a progressive congregation, former American Baptist, longtime church musician in Midwest, many privileges (straight white married cis male), grew up in atheist/agnostic home, came to faith partly existentially believing in afterlife and partly dealing with confusions where faith gave answers human psychology didn’t; influenced on journey by three African American ministers, one my current pastor. We will soon be discussing some of this in my church study group. Substitutionary atonement certainly has been used by white supremacists and is the theology of many – but is it a necessary connection? Does it make one a Trump-ite by definition? Was Anselm in 10th century England a white supremacist? Is Christianity itself so tied up with Greek/Roman thought that it’s Eurocentric at the core? Or is there, as I believe, a universal truth that all have sinned and come short of God’s glory, and that we are made right with God through Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection? Far from turning me away from justice in this world, that great gift makes me want to fight for equality and justice.
June 13, 2020 at 12:16 am