In Dallas, Houston and elsewhere, Christians ask God to bring #Justice4Botham
DALLAS — “Praise as protest,” declared the bold letters on…
DALLAS — The preacher stood wearily on stage, wiping tears from his eyes.
The mayor, working to bring healing to a city of 1.3 million, sought solace on a front pew.
Allison Jean, mourning the fatal shooting of her son Botham Shem Jean by a Dallas police officer, wailed as the 250-member, predominantly black congregation sang hymns such as “Trouble in My Way.”
“I know that Jesus — Jesus — he will fix it after a while,” the church sang.
Television and newspaper cameras captured the emotion — and the heartbreak — as the Dallas West Church of Christ gathered to worship Sunday, three days after the inexplicable killing of 26-year-old Botham Jean in his own apartment.
This was no ordinary Lord’s Day for Christians grieving the sudden loss of a beloved song leader and Bible class teacher — and doing so under an immense media spotlight stretching from Texas all the way to the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia.
“Somebody like Bo — why?” longtime church member Sherron Rodgers said, uttering the question on everybody’s mind. “Why did it happen to somebody like him? I’m just sad.
“He was a special, kind person who would never mess with anybody,” she added. “He’d take off his jacket and give it to you. That’s the kind of person he was.”
By all accounts, Botham Jean was a devoted man of faith with a “beautiful” and “powerful” singing voice.
He was baptized at age 10 in his native St. Lucia and moved to the U.S. at age 19 to attend Harding University in Searcy, Ark., where he often led worship in chapel and served as a ministry intern with the College Church of Christ.
After earning his accounting degree in 2016, he relocated to Dallas to work with PricewaterhouseCoopers as a risk assurance associate.
Officer Amber Guyger, who lived in the same apartment complex as Botham Jean, was charged late Sunday with manslaughter and booked into jail before posting bond. Lee Merritt, an attorney for the victim’s family, voiced frustration Monday that Guyger remained free for nearly 72 hours after the 10 p.m. Thursday shooting.
“This officer is absolutely getting special treatment,” Merritt said, demanding increased transparency in the investigation by the Texas Rangers and the Dallas County district attorney’s office. “She shouldn’t have left that scene without being in handcuffs that day.”
According to an arrest affidavit filed by Texas Ranger peace officer David L. Armstrong, Guyger worked her shift Thursday and then returned home. At the apartment complex’s multi-level garage, she parked on the wrong floor and then mistook Botham Jean’s home for her own. After entering through his slightly ajar door, she confused him with a burglar and opened fire.
But for the victim’s mother, a former top government official in St. Lucia, many perplexing questions remain.
The narrative about how her son died doesn’t make sense.
“The No. 1 answer I want is: What happened?” said Allison Jean, who was joined at a news conference Monday by attorneys and Allan Chastanet, the prime minister of St. Lucia, a nation of 178,000 people. “I have asked too many questions and been told there are no answers yet.”
At the microphone, Allison Jean was flanked by Botham Jean’s older sister, Allisa Findley, and his younger brother, Brandt. Noting that Botham Jean was her middle child, the mother said, “I stand in the middle to represent Botham.”
Botham Jean’s death has refocused national attention — and even international attention, given the St. Lucia connection — on police shootings of unarmed black males by white police officers.
“I’m really hoping the justice system takes the right course and that Botham’s name is redeemed,” said the prime minister, who indicated he has known Allison Jean for a long time and praised the “incredible job” she did raising her son.
Back at the Dallas West Church of Christ, minister Sammie L. Berry titled his hastily prepared Sunday sermon “Navigating Through the Perfect Storm,” taking his main text from Acts 27.
“Our hearts are saddened,” Berry told The Christian Chronicle in an interview before the assembly. “Our emotions are just swinging all over the place. We don’t know what to think. We have a lot of questions.”
Berry, described by the victim’s mother as Botham Jean’s “Texas father,” said the church would work to support the family and make sure that justice is served.
“Bo was an outstanding young man,” Berry said of Botham Jean, who had started preaching occasionally on Sunday nights. “You just can’t think of how this could happen to him. I mean, all he did was go to work, go to church, help people.
“We’re going to make sure that his name is lifted up. We’re going to make sure that we get answers to what happened,” the minister added. “We won’t allow this to be just brushed to the side and move on to the next case. He meant too much to his family. He meant too much to this congregation, to his college, to the place where he worked.”
“I can never give up because I know that Botham is singing with the angels, and I want to be in that choir.”
Allison Jean told the congregation at a prayer vigil Saturday that her middle son “did everything with a passion,” including serving the Lord.
“I can never give up because I know that Botham is singing with the angels, and I want to be in that choir,” she said. “I want to see my son. I want to look upon his face.”
When Botham Jean was born in 1991, his mother said, “God gave me an angel.”
While much of the national conversation focuses on race, she said Botham Jean “never saw color. He never saw race. He wanted all of us to unite, to be together.”
Before leading the church in singing “Our God, He Is Alive” on Sunday, Jeremy Bonner compared Botham Jean to famous men of the Bible.
“He was the epitome of, ‘Send me, and I’ll go.’ He was found working like David. He was a sweet song leader like David,” Bonner said. “Like Samson, he is a martyr. Like John, he proclaimed the Lord. Like Paul, he taught and corrected in love. And like Jesus, he was loving and kind.”
“Amen!” voices in the congregation responded.
“Was he the best of friends? No. That would be an understatement,” Bonner added. “He was the best of brothers. He was a son. And most importantly, he was a servant of the Most High God.”
“Amen!” the church said again, erupting into applause.
Turning his attention to those whose loss was greatest, Bonner said, “I want you to know, Jean family, your son was the spiritual tip of the spear. God rest his soul. God have mercy on him.”
Mayor Mike Rawlings, who earlier met with Botham Jean’s family to express his condolences, stayed for the entire two-hour service.
At the end, Rawlings told the congregation he came not in an official capacity but as a citizen, “wanting to soothe some of my hurt because the city of Dallas is hurting so bad.
“To be able to sing with you, to be able to pray with you, to be able to listen to this wonderful sermon was just what I needed because I feel like, as mayor, I’m in the perfect storm,” he said.
The mayor drew cheers when he agreed with Berry that “we all need to be like Bo.”
“God bless you,” Rawlings said as he wrapped up his remarks. “Let us pull together. We will be a better city once we know the truth and once we come together and heal.”
Tommy Bush, a retired executive minister, works with a small congregation in Romance, Ark., an unincorporated community about 20 miles west of Searcy.
Bush, 70, served as a professional mentor to Botham Jean his senior year at Harding and helped him land the job with PricewaterhouseCoopers.
The two became close friends and worked together to support missions in St. Lucia and Kenya — an odd pairing considering the difference in their ages but one that Bush said made sense because of their common faith.
“His theology — his philosophy — was to get as good a job as he could and to make money to be able to give,” said Bush, who came to worship with the Dallas West church and comfort Botham Jean’s family. “He had great ideas for serving poor children and orphans in St. Lucia.”
Bush said he prays the officer charged in the shooting knows Jesus.
“I just hope that she has the indwelling presence of Christ,” Bush said, breaking into tears, “because Botham will be the first one in line to give her a hug and welcome her home.”
“I just hope that she has the indwelling presence of Christ because Botham will be the first one in line to give her a hug and welcome her home.”
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