The murder of Botham Jean, the black man who was fatally shot in his own apartment by white off-duty police officer Amber Guyger in Sept. 2018, sparked a media frenzy.
But a scene from the proceeding murder trial is what went viral for the wrong reasons.
During the trial, Jean’s younger brother announced that he forgave Guyger, and proceeded to give her a hug. District Judge Tammy Kemp followed suit, gifting Guyger a bible and a hug as well. In the exchange, Kemp said, “you can have mine [the bible]… This is your job for the next month. It says right here. John 3:16. And this is where you start, ‘for God so loved the world.”
These gestures, while applauded by many, solely function to absolve white guilt, weaponize forgiveness and further forgo accountability—which seeks justice by recognizing the intersection of Christian supremacy and white supremacy.
The establishment of Christianity as a criteria to whiteness is embedded in the policies and practices of the U.S. as a white Christian nation. The colonization of the 1800s proved dependant on Christianity to exclude and terrorize non-whites.
Colonies established their governance via Christianity, as exemplified by Virginia in 1862, determining slaves by “whose parentage and native country are not Christian at the time of their first purchase.” In 1862, the ideal of Christian supremacy over native nations became enacted in law; thus allowing white persons to seize land from natives and receive naturalization in tandem with the benefits of the Homestead Act and Merrill Land Grant Act: two acts which granted whites with acres of land and allocated money from sales of lands to establish universities.
The set precedent of exclusion continued forth as witnessed by the treatment of Chinese people in 1878, who were told that they may only receive citizenship once Christian missionaries travel to China and “wash their robes and make them white in the blood of the lamb.” In the 20th century, Christian supremacy has been nurtured via the prioritization of Christian Syrians seeking refuge.
The wealth gap and further disparities created from these policies of exclusion have continued to exist presently, due to the Christians’ roles in protecting and preserving the racial hierarchy. A key example finds itself in homeownership; an indication of security, education opportunities and a principle means to generational wealth begin passed on.
Following the economic crisis of the Great Depression, Congress passed the Federal Housing Administration, legislation which offered Americans the opportunity to buy homes with lower down payments, longer terms on the loans and mortgages backed by the federal government.
White Americans mobilized to bar black and brown Americans from home ownerships via redlining and withholding loans; as a result, white suburbia emerged and found defense by wealthy Christians and Catholics. In the Cicero race riot of 1951, Harvey Clark, a black man, and his family rented an apartment in a catholic neighborhood and were met by an angry mob of 5,000-6,000. The national guard was called to disperse the crowd.
Despite the successes of the Civil Rights movement, the perpetuation of violence against black and brown Americans persists through the reimagination of slavery: neocolonialism, mass incarceration and police brutality. And again, white christians preserve systemic oppression, the majority of whom elected Trump into office.
A hug cannot erase this truth nor can forgiveness alone. “Christians must see the link between historical dispossessions and present disparities, and theologians must repent of the way Christian supremacy was a tool,” says Jeannine Fletcher Hill, author of “The Sin of White Supremacy.”
To begin the process of healing inflicted trauma, Christians must face their role in systemic oppression by committing themselves to antiracist work and reparations. It is only then that forgiveness will breathe equality and justice, rights intended for all children of God.
—Sage Mace is a Christian creative who is dedicated to decolonizing her faith and works through writing and activism.
Story by: Sage Mace