EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was co-written by Dr. Harold Lewis, Converge vice president of Biblical Diversity, and Scott Ridout, Converge president.
For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice and the upright will see his face. Psalm 11:7
Silence is not always golden
Last week people across our country were shocked as a video emerged from a small seacoast community just north of the Florida-Georgia line. More than two months earlier, Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man in Glynn County, Georgia, was intercepted, accosted and killed by armed white residents on a jog through a neighborhood he had frequented many times before. Legal action was bogged down in indecision until the video’s discovery was highlighted in an article by The New York Times and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation stepped in.
The dialogue as to why it has taken so long for action meanders through leaders who recused themselves from action due to connection to the case and interpretation of local statutes, raising questions about racial profiling, the interpretation of self-defense laws and the wisdom of citizen policing. The Georgia attorney general has asked federal officials for a sweeping investigation, going far beyond the circumstances of this encounter to the way local law enforcement officials and prosecutors handled the case as months elapsed without arrest. On May 7, police arrested two men and charged them with aggravated assault and murder. Soon after the news of the arrest, the story disappeared from many circles of our country. The arrest has been made. The trial is coming. Good.
But that is not enough.
It was about eight years ago when Trayvon Martin was killed in Sanford, Florida, just up the road from where we live. That case has some eerily similar-sounding actions and assumptions, and the media attention around that case gained national attention as well. However, if you ask the people of color and culture in our area, “What changed?” as a result of local efforts after months of talk and planning, their response would be, “Not much.”
Despite the outcries and outrage over Trayvon Martin’s death and a number of other senseless deaths since 2012, the extrajudicial killings of unarmed people of color continue with shocking regularity. While this may seem to be an overreaction in some circles, it would not be uncommon for a person of color, after hearing about this incident to think, “Historically, the classic method of lynching was the rope. The vigilantes of our generation have simply replaced the rope with a bullet.”
Before you write off the rest of this article, think with me (Scott). We tend to relate to the things we read in the news from our personal experience, upbringing and opinions. We consistently write off interpretations that don’t align with our worldview. I’ve thought and acted that way in my life. Yet, as I have surrounded myself with people who have different upbringings, backgrounds and cultures, I have realized that their experience, even in the same community, can be very different. Rather than condemning their viewpoint, I have learned to pause my opinion and try to enter their world with questions, compassion and conviction.
The call for the people of God to stand up against injustice echoes throughout the Old Testament, the words of Jesus and the times of the early church. The Old Testament consistently calls for the people of God to fight for justice for the widow, the orphan, the foreigner and the poor. In Jesus’ inauguration of ministry, he read from Isaiah and focused on defending the poor, the prisoner, the blind and the oppressed. The New Testament writers echoed these emphases. It was never God’s intention for the church to focus on justification without the fruit of acts of justice.
In the midst of the COVID-19 season, all the normal routines of life have been disrupted — yet we cannot forget the call of God on the church to speak out against injustice at all times. This story is a tragic reminder that both now and when this is all over, there is still much work to be done.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
In 1770, Edmund Burke made this statement in a letter to Thomas Mercer: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
The people of God, both personally and corporately, should be the first to address injustice in their communities, country and world. True justice in this case, like many others, cannot be achieved solely through individual actions. We are called to speak out and to act against both situational and systemic injustice. It is becoming more apparent that unless entire communities, regions, states and countries choose to dive into the issue and are willing to acknowledge the possibility of unconscious bias, systemic inconsistencies and judicial inequities and engage in meaningful dialogue and action, this scenario will repeat itself, resulting in the senseless deaths of many.
I believe the church can truly make a difference in this arena. Yet to make a difference, we must respond differently — with greater passion, intention and action.
Here are a few steps we would ask you to take, in this situation as well as in an ongoing effort to change the narrative in our country:
Pray: Continue to pray for the Arbery family as they grieve the loss of Ahmaud. Pray as well for justice and racial equity for all people of color and culture in this country.
Act: Initiate a telephone campaign or a writing campaign to the district attorney in Glynn County, Georgia. DA Jackie Johnson, 701 H St., P.O. Box 301, Brunswick, GA 31520. Telephone number: 912.554.7200. Advocate for justice for Ahmaud and call for the indictment of the perpetrators and effective discipline of those who tried to cover it up.
Engage: Ask God to give you courage to stand in the gap for those who are oppressed, marginalized or forgotten in your community. Resist the temptation to retreat and remain silent, but become an advocate for change.
Explore: Inquire about the “stand your ground” laws and “hate crime” laws within your state. (Several states DO NOT have hate crime laws, including Georgia.)
Connect: Connect and covenant with organizations within your community that educate and support racial justice laws and then become a broker of justice, anti-racism and anti-white supremacy.
Shine: Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly. (Micah 6:8)
God, be gracious to the family of Ahmaud Arbery, give wisdom and discernment to those in the justice system in Georgia, and give courage to the church to fight injustice in all arenas of life.
Dr. Harold D. Lewis, Sr., PsyD, CDP
Converge vice president of Biblical Diversity
Dr. Harold Lewis, Vice President of Biblical Diversity
Dr. Harold D. Lewis Sr. is Converge’s Vice President of Biblical Diversity. A native of Greenwood, Mississippi, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, Mississippi, a Master of Divinity from Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta and a Doctorate of Psychology from the University of the Rockies in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He also has been awarded multiple honorary doctorates. Dr. Lewis comes to Converge with over three decades of pastoral and leadership experience as a turnaround church pastor and a transformational coach for clergy and laypersons. His ministerial experience also includes more than 10 years of multicultural and justice responsibilities, which included collaborating with and resourcing Native American, Micronesian, Hispanic, Korean and Haitian ministries, as well as Black Methodists for Church Revival and the Conference Committee on Religion and Race.