On Wednesday, October 2, former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the murder of Botham Jean. During the victim impact portion of the sentencing hearing, Jean’s younger brother, Brandt Jean, gave an incredibly compelling and compassionate statement in which he forgave Guyger and encouraged her to turn her life over to Christ.
Before Guyger left the courtroom, Judge Tammy Kemp went into chambers and returned with her Bible, which she gave to Guyger to take with her to prison. There is no way to paraphrase the raw emotion of either of these actions other than to say they originated from a state of grace. That is, unless you’re part of a perpetually offended, ardently anti-Christian group of atheists.
Less than 24 hours later, on October 3, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed an ethics complaint against Judge Kemp accusing her of inappropriately proselytizing to the newly sentenced Guyger when she gave the Bible to Guyger and suggested Guyger read John 3:16. Kemp had reassured Guyger that God had a purpose for her and she could be forgiven.
The complaint stated, “Delivering bibles and personally witnessing as a judge is an egregious abuse of power,” and argued that doing so violated the Code of Judicial Conduct. The group also referred to Kemp’s act as “shocking.” The frenzied FFRF atheists imply in the complaint that Guyger was being held hostage, as if she were surrounded by armed guards as Kemp beat her about the head and neck demanding a conversion.
If that’s not a gross exaggeration, I don’t know what is. There isn’t the remotest argument that Kemp could have influenced either the jury’s verdict or the subsequent sentencing process. At the time Kemp had her interaction with Guyger, the sentencing phase of the trial had ended and the jury had been dismissed. The trial transcript won’t contain any of the interaction because the court had adjourned and everything that followed was off the record.
By all accounts, the only group truly agitated by the judge’s actions is the FFRF (and the angry Twitter mob, which is to be expected), whose leaders couldn’t contain their not-so-righteous indignation at the mere mention of God or the physical presence of a Bible in the courtroom. Predictably, the FFRF pealed off their subtly threatening letter and accompanying complaint assuming, as is often the case, their target would back down. But Kemp, who isn’t up for re-election until 2022, did no such thing.
On Monday, October 7, in her first comments since the ethics complaint was filed, Kemp stated, “She asked me if I thought her life could have purpose. I said, ‘I know it can.’ She said, ‘I don’t know where to start, I don’t have a Bible.’” It was at that point Kemp told Guyger she would get her one.
Kemp went on to say, “If she wanted to start with the Bible, I didn’t want her to go back to the jail and sink into doubt and self-pity and become bitter. Because she still has a lot of life ahead of her following her sentence and I would hope that she could live it purposefully.”
The judge’s acts came from a place of Christ-like compassion. She simply and humbly offered comfort, not conversion; encouraged dignity, not despair. Kemp did not command Guyger to read the Bible, she merely suggested it was a pretty good place to start. We won’t know how this will play out, however, until the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct completes the investigation.
Guyger left the courtroom clutching that Bible; the Bible she wanted, and the Bible a compassionate, God-fearing woman provided for her. Perhaps she tossed it aside before heading off to serve her time. But I believe it’s more likely that she took it with her and will eventually find that mustard seed of faith and a purpose for her life. The event ended with Kemp’s final statements to Guyger before Guyger left to begin her sentence. She said, “You did something bad at one moment in time. What you do now matters.”
Judge Kemp gave Amber Guyger hope in a dark time that can’t be overshadowed by the fact FFRF leaders are offended. We (including the FFRF religion police) could all stand to remind ourselves of that now and then: There is hope, and we’ll find it in the same book a compassionate judge dared to share.