(RNS) — With the release of a viral video months after the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, a black jogger in Georgia, religious leaders have raised their voices to ask questions about how and why he died.
On Thursday (May 7), the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced it had charged two white men, Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son, Travis McMichael, 34, with murder and aggravated assault in the case, more than two months after Arbery’s death in Brunswick.
There has been outrage, which grew with the release this week of the cellphone video, that there had been no arrests in the case, which is now being handled by a third prosecutor. The second, District Attorney George Barnhill, told local police: "We do not see grounds for an arrest" in the case. He later recused himself, as did the first prosecutor. The third prosecutor asked the GBI to investigate on Tuesday, and the inquiry began the next day.
According to the GBI, whose investigation is continuing, both men confronted Arbery with firearms. “During the encounter, Travis McMichael shot and killed Arbery,” the agency said.
Hours after tweeting about the felony arrest warrants for the McMichaels, Lee Merritt, a lawyer representing Arbery’s family, tweeted a birthday tribute to Arbery, who would have turned 26 on Friday.
“Happy Birthday #AhmaudArbery,” Merritt said. “You’re bravery in the face of death is humbling and inspiring. I pray the ancestors give us all the strength and courage to #fightlikeAhmaud.”
Arbery, a former high school football player heading to become an electrician, died on Feb. 23.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, plans to host an online “call to demand justice” in honor of Arbery on Friday evening, featuring Arbery’s parents and their lawyers.
Here's a sampling of 10 voices from religious officials, authors and clergy who, across racial and ideological lines, reacted to the video and the arrests and questioned the circumstances of Arbery’s death:
The Rev. William Barber II, president of Repairers of the Breach
“Ahmaud Arbery’s death is akin to a modern-day lynching. Enough is enough. We demand #JusticeForAhmaud now!”
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
“There is no, under any Christian vision of justice, situation in which the mob murder of a person can be morally right. … (T)he Bible tells us, from the beginning, that murder is not just an assault on the person killed but on the God whose image he or she bears. Sadly, though, many black and brown Christians have seen much of this, not just in history but in flashes of threats of violence in their own lives. And some white Christians avert their eyes — even in cases of clear injustice — for fear of being labeled ‘Marxists’ or ‘social justice warriors’ by the same sort of forces of intimidation that wielded the same arguments against those who questioned the state-sponsored authoritarianism and terror of Jim Crow.”
Austin Channing Brown, author of "I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness."
“I will not dig for evidence; today we are going to assume all that is true about Arbery. Because Arbery is one person in a centuries old line of Black people who must prove they are human in order to call their murders unjust. … Lynchings are still here, but so are we. They haven’t been able to destroy us. The fear hasn’t kept us from showing up, from experiencing joy, from demanding more from America.”
Andy Stanley, founder of Atlanta-based North Point Ministries
“I’ve been advised not to post about the murder of Ahmaud Arbery until I calm down a bit. But that’s part of the problem, isn’t it? We calm down and go on about our business. This must end. Our black brothers and sisters need white advocates to bring this to an end. Count me in!”
Jemar Tisby, author of “The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church's Complicity in Racism”
"This will not be popular with some, but putting these men in cages won’t change much. These men and Ahmaud’s family need restorative justice. There needs to be healing (to the extent possible with such a crime) and not just incarceration."
Pastor Jentezen Franklin, leader of Free Chapel, an evangelical megachurch in Gainesville, Georgia
“After viewing this video, there’s one thing that should be crystal clear now to all Georgians: the authorities must expeditiously complete their investigation of the circumstances surrounding the death of Ahmaud Arbery and take all appropriate measures in response to what appears to be a horribly heinous crime. I am calling upon the authorities to act now; COVID-19 cannot be an excuse for injustice.”
Murtaza Khwaja, legal and policy director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Georgia chapter
“Georgia Muslims were dismayed and infuriated but not surprised by the video showing the modern-day lynching of Ahmaud Arbery. We strongly condemn this racist act of unjustified murder, which is part of a pattern of violence rooted in the historic subjugation of African-American men and women. We join the call for the arrest of the two suspects prior to the convening of the grand jury.
“These dangerous episodes targeting the African-American community are not unique, but rather are symptomatic of the racism that instills fear and distrust within our communities. It is long past time for law enforcement to take such crimes seriously.”
Beth Moore, author and Bible teacher
“Do not dream lynchings do not take place in the year of our Lord 2020.
Unarmed but not unnamed.
His name is Ahmaud Arbery.
He was 25 years old.
On a jog.
‘PURSUE JUSTICE.’ Isaiah 1:17”
David French, senior editor of The Dispatch
“When Arbery was confronted by armed men who moved directly to block him from leaving, demanding to ‘talk,’ then Arbery was entitled to defend himself. Georgia’s ‘stand your ground law’ arguably benefits Arbery, not those who were attempting to falsely imprison him at gunpoint.
“It’s also worth remembering that the long and evil history of American lynchings features countless examples of young black men hunted and killed by white gangs who claimed their victims had committed crimes.”
John Pavlovitz, digital pastor and author of “A Bigger Table”
“In the presence of the kind of cancerous hatred that killed #AhmaudArbery, the kind that is having a renaissance here in America, there are only two kinds of white Americans: there are white racists and there are white anti-racists.”