Reflections on Ahmaud Arbery

December 14, 2021 | Tim Chow

“Today is Thanksgiving and I’m really, really thankful. My family and I are really, really thankful for the verdict we got yesterday.” These were the words of Wanda Cooper-Jones, mother of Ahmaud Arbery, the day after Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael, and William “Roddie” Bryan were convicted of Arbery’s murder. Arbery’s death was a sickening tragedy, but I believe there is a silver lining.

Over the past couple of years, I have been saddened by the way the national conversation on race has become highly politicized, taking us further away from, rather than closer to, true racial reconciliation. The church has not been immune to the polarization that afflicts the wider culture. But perhaps Christians with different views can start to find some common ground by sharing their feelings about Ahmaud Arbery.

Encouragingly, support for Arbery is nearly universal; for example, back in May 2020, Rod Dreher, a well-known conservative Christian blogger who has said many controversial things about politics, race, and many other issues, said of Arbery’s murder, “My God, it’s as bad as they say.”

Here are two suggestions for how we, as a congregation, can take this opportunity to build bridges across some of the divides that too often separate us. First, let us weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). We can all lament how Arbery, who had done nothing wrong, was hunted down, “trapped like a rat” (in Gregory McMichael’s words), and shot dead. We can lament the sin of the murderers, as well as our own sins, and cry out to Jesus Christ, the only one who can forgive our sins and change our hearts. We can intentionally seek out others at Stone Hill Church with whom we do not always agree on racial issues. Do not underestimate the importance of reaching out and showing that you desire to mourn together with your fellow believers, despite any differences you may have.

Second, let us reflect on how there was more to this story than the personal racism of the perpetrators of Arbery’s murder. For example, former District Attorney Jackie Johnson has been indicted on charges of violating her oath of office and obstructing police. The indictment says that she “did knowingly and willfully hinder” law enforcement “by directing that Travis McMichael should not be placed under arrest.” We should ask, were the McMichaels emboldened to act as they did because they knew they had friends in high places who would shield them from punishment? Would the criminal justice system that is supposed to protect people like Arbery have instead protected his murderers if the video of his final minutes had not leaked to the public and prompted outrage? Are reforms needed to ensure justice for innocent people in the future who may not be so lucky as to have a leaked video documenting the crime?

These are important questions that we should be prepared to face squarely and not sweep under the rug if we are to advance the kingdom of God and make progress on eradicating the sin of racism from our society. Let us pray for a spirit of wisdom and charity as we seek to build a unified vision of biblical justice at Stone Hill Church.