Yesterday, former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing Botham Jean, an African American man whose apartment she mistakenly wandered into — thinking it was her own — before assuming he was an intruder and firing her gun.
She could’ve spent the rest of her life in jail. Instead, she could end up behind bars for no more than five years. That’s arguably a slap in the face to other African Americans who say the leniency she’s been shown is a sign of injustice in the system.
One of the takeaways from her sentencing was the grace and forgiveness offered by Jean’s brother. Brandt Jean said he had only love for Guyger, forgave her, asked her to accept Christ, and gave her a hug. While his words were controversial for many, it was still a powerful scene.
This young man is EXCEPTIONAL!!!
She was found guilty of murdering his brother #BothamJean.
Listen to what he says to her ,even the judge wept! pic.twitter.com/4Q84mDIWQt
— Obianuju Ekeocha (@obianuju) October 2, 2019
I don’t begrudge him those words. I don’t mind that he brought up religion, suggesting that accepting “eternal life” would make up for the one she took. I can’t complain about the hug. How he grieves is entirely up to him. Even if you think the sentencing was too light, let the man have this.
The judge, however, is a different story.
After the sentencing, and after that emotional scene with Brandt Jean, and after Judge Tammy Kemp consoled the victim’s family, she went over to Guyger and had a completely inappropriate conversation:
The judge appeared to be overcome in the moment, and left the courtroom. She returned a moment later, a small Bible in her hand.
“You can have mine,” the judge said to Guyger. “I have three or four at home.”
She then began to counsel Guyger. The pair were talking low, barely audible, just the two of them. “This is your job,” the judge said, opening the book.
The judge mentioned John 3:16, saying this will strengthen her. Guyger nodded her head.
“You just need a tiny mustard seed of faith,” the judge said. “You start with this.”
Guyger embraced the judge, who hugged her back. Guyger whispered something.
“Ma’am,” the judge said warmly. “It’s not because I’m good. It’s because I believe in Christ.”
What the hell was that?
Why was a judge telling a convicted murderer that her task in jail would be to accept Christianity? Why was she treating faith as a virtue? Why was she giving Guyger a sermon? Why was she giving away a Bible?
Let’s go beyond that: What happens if Guyger becomes a Christian? Does that make it more likely she’ll get out of prison earlier? If she becomes an atheist, will the judge treat that as a personal insult and use it against Guyger?
Imagine if Guyger were Muslim or non-religious. Or if the judge was anything but Christian. That conversation would never be seen as a sign of generosity and love, but as a completely illegal request.
Unlike what Jean’s brother did, the judge’s actions were objectively disturbing. They deserve a disciplinary response. The compassion isn’t the problem. It’s the proselytizing disguised as compassion, as if the murderer’s acceptance of the judge’s preferred brand of mythology would somehow be a redeeming factor.
The Bible doesn’t make you a better person. Accepting Jesus doesn’t make you wiser or more decent.
For what it’s worth, it’s not even clear what Guyger’s religion is. For all we know, she’s already a Christian. But whatever she is now, the court has given her a clear indication that it’s to her advantage to at least pretend to be a Christian from here on out.