My Response To The Botham Jean Tragedy
Speak Truth. Pursue Others. Love Kindness. Do Justice.
Last week, my son and I flipped the TV on to catch a little of the second half of the Monday night football game. It happened to be the top of the hour and the lead story on the local newscast featured several of my friends in the faith community making a statement about the tragic shooting and death of Botham Jean. There was one obvious fact about this particular group of faith leaders expressing concern over the case. They were all men of color. My friend, Bryan Carter, who is Pastor of Concord Church, was speaking for the group, and I immediately texted him the following message:
Praying for you...Is there anything you wish I knew that you aren’t sure I know? Is there anything you wish I was thinking that you aren’t sure I am thinking? Is there anything you wish I was doing that you aren’t sure I am doing? How can I serve you? How can we serve the city together? I am trusting you will call me any time. I’m ready to listen, respond, and serve.
That text started a series of events that ended with Bryan and I gathering with many other faith leaders from diverse churches and ethnicities to talk about this tragedy in our community and the opportunity it presented for us to speak together in a way that could serve our city.
I wish all of you could have been in the room with us so you could have been as encouraged as I was. My goal in the meeting was to listen, ask questions, and let my friends know that I cared deeply about how they feel. I listened to their perceptions and cleared up misconceptions they had about me and others who looked like me. We spoke truth to each other. We laughed. We prayed. We talked. We strengthened old relationships and formed new ones. We prayed again. In the end, we built trust.
Coming out of our time together, I wrote the words at the bottom of this post and forwarded to the other men for feedback; to provide them an opportunity to sign it with me as an expression of our mutual concern and to provide leadership in this moment. All of us wanted to make a statement and we knew that doing it together would be the best way to show our mutual commitment “to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [our] God.” (Micah 6:8). The letter was altered slightly for publication in the Dallas Morning News, but I’d like to share with our church family the full version that was initially sent to the men who were with me in the room and others who wanted to be but were not able to make it.
Speaking out against any form of injustice is not brave – it is our duty as followers of Christ. It is not radical to boldly acknowledge that we have a long history of injustice toward people of color in our country. It is ignorant to deny it or say otherwise. Past injustices are not remedied by future acts of injustice or by rushing to judgment in the case of Botham Jean or any other. But, past injustices do explain why our city is “on edge” and so many are confused and even outraged by this tragedy.
I am thankful for the many other men and women throughout our community who are committed to serving Christ and joining me in speaking with one voice about what is good, right, and true. As the protests continue, it is good that God’s people are leading with love for one another, shared conviction, shared willingness to speak up, and a shared passion to admonish all people to “return to [our] God; maintain love and justice, [as we] wait for [our] God always.” (Hosea 12:6)
Join me in praying that justice will “roll on like a river, and righteousness like a never-failing stream.” (Amos 5:24) Pray that all pastors will courageously lead their communities of faith with a spirit of unity and peace, as we pursue the justice, reconciliation, and healing that only Christ can bring. Pray for God’s continued protection and guidance for those in our law enforcement community who put their lives on the line to serve and protect this city every day. Pray that wherever corruption, favoritism, or racism exist, that it would be exposed and eradicated. Pray that past hurts are healed, and that we would be part of that healing. Finally, as the judicial process moves forward, pray for those leading the judicial process, that their actions and leadership would be just and be celebrated by people of every color in our city.
Join me in being an advocate for truth and a person of action…someone who fights to ensure others are cared for, represented, and assisted where injustices persist. Join me in building relationships with others who have different life-experiences and vulnerabilities than yours. Be slow to anger and slow to assume that the first thing you hear is the complete truth (Proverbs 18:17) – even as you remain in the fight for the truth. Be on the alert. Stand firm in the faith. Be strong, and let everything you do be done in love.
Full text of letter:
As leaders of Jesus’ Church we are committed to speak the truth in love, do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our Lord. We speak as men of one blood, with one Father and our only concern is to seek the welfare of our city as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. We serve a God marked by lovingkindness and Truth but also a God who has said by no means should the guilty go unpunished. It is our shared belief that equal justice is required for justice to be just.
Whether an individual’s skin has color or is white, whether their uniform is blue or their dress is that of a civilian, there should be no difference in how they are treated in a just society or in its court of law. For centuries, the images of “lady justice” have her wearing a blindfold for a reason. True justice is impartial to race, wealth, status or position.
In the current tragedy before our city we believe officer Guyger’s blue uniform should grant her no advantage in the investigation and prosecution to come. Any favor shown her or any compromising of the truth is a threat to justice and a threat to justice is a threat to our city. Peace finds its life in justice, not in appeasement or an absence of strife. Because we are men of peace we will remain vigilant in our call for justice. We are committed to stand together, as leaders in our city, against those who threaten justice and thereby threaten our cities’ peace. Amber Guyger’s identity as a member of the Dallas Police department is irrelevant in this case and cannot provide her with any unique status or advantage in its investigation or prosecution.
We grieve for all involved in this terrible situation and believe that a commitment to the truth and a consistent application of the law are best for our city, officer Guyger and the family of Botham Shem Jean. We have compassion for both Amber Guyger and the Jean family, and for those who have suffered injustices at the hand of those in power in the past.
Past injustices are not remedied by further injustices but they explain the strong reaction of many in our city and it is why we stand together in our call for the acknowledgement of any undeserved privileges already unjustly granted Ms. Guyger and for full transparency and integrity in the days ahead.
May God bless our cities’ leaders, justice department and citizens as we walk in wisdom together.
Todd Wagner, Watermark Community Church
Jeff Warren, Park Cities Baptist Church
Bryan Dunagan, Highland Park Presbyterian
Matt Chandler, The Village Church
Andy Stoker, First United Methodist Church of Dallas
George Mason, Wilshire Baptist Church
Mark Davis, Park Cities Presbyterian
Gary Brandenburg, Fellowship Dallas (at large)
Albert Reyes, Buckner Benevolences
Larry James, City Square Ministries
Grant Skeldon, Initiative
Michael Bowie, St. Luke United Methodist
Richie Butler, St. Paul United Methodist
T. D. Jakes, Potter's House
Gerald Britt, City Square Ministries
Bryan Carter, Concord Church
Vincent Parker, Golden Gate Baptist Church
Will McCall, Dallas Leadership Foundation