In Loving Memory of Ahmaud Arbery
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” ― Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from the Birmingham Jail
I grimaced as the video played on social media. I broke down and wept as I recounted the incident with an African American friend. The shock of witnessing three point-blank shotgun blasts taking the life of Ahmaud Arbery, followed by his lifeless body falling to the ground in death, is beyond words.
Have you heard the cries?
Have you heard the cries of grief coming from Ahmaud’s own mother? Have you heard the cry for justice from around America and around the world?
As I serve as a pastor of a white congregation in the suburbs of Birmingham, I have heard the cries of church members who have adopted African American children and from those who have an African American in-law or grand-children: “Is this going to be the fate of my family member because of the color of their skin?” “What if my grand-child jogs in a white neighborhood in a small town in the South?” “Will my family face injustice through the indifference of local officials?” “Who will stand for them?”
I have an elderly family member who witnessed the fire hoses unleashed on African-Americans on the streets of Birmingham by Bull Conner. When I grew to an age of understanding, he put me in the car and took me to the place where he stood that day. As we walked to the place where he stood, he began to tell the story. “I stood here and watched what was happening. I knew it was wrong. In fact, everyone knew it was wrong.” And then he began to weep. And as he wept, he said, “I was silent. I did not speak up. And if I could do it over again, I would speak up. No matter what the cost, I would speak up. I have lived with that regret my entire life.”
Several years ago, the News Director of a local television station who was a member of the church I served in Huntsville, Alabama, confided in me: “My African American reporters dread going into the rural areas of Alabama to do reports because of the open racism and antagonism they experience.” I grimaced at the thought. And now I realize, the story of Ahmaud and the story from a News Director reveal how we have unfinished business as citizens who pledge their allegiance to stand for “liberty and justice for all.”
Arrests were not made in Ahmaud’s murder because law enforcement saw the video; rather, arrests were made in Ahmaud’s murder because we saw the video. Do we hear the cries of God in the face of injustice? Do we have the sensitivity to hear the Voice of God through the Holy Scriptures?
Have you heard the cries? Have you heard the cries of those who have so eloquently spelled out the injustice happening on our watch?
But there’s another cry we need to hear,
A cry of wailing in our atmosphere;
The cry of our Maker who looks down and sees
How we have failed to bow our knees.
The cry of a mother who’s lost her son,
The cries of lament over what’s been done.
The cry of injustice as it weds with a lie
And then masquerades as an alibi.
This is a cry we’ve heard before–
The cry that weeps with the words, “No more!”
This is the cry of a true prophet and priest;
This is a cry that stands up for the least.
It was the cry from the Birmingham Jail,
It’s the cry for truth to prevail.
An illuminating cry with a transcendent ring–
It was the cry of Dr. Martin Luther King.
This is a cry for a nation to hear
To find the courage to face our fears;
A cry that is willing to begin to start
To face the change we need in our hearts.
Indifference and silence only enable
When we are all equals at the same table.
Perhaps these cries expressed in this way,
Will move us all into a new day.
–In memory and honor of Ahmaud Arbery, and in the prayerful hope that his murder
will birth much needed change in the hearts of our nation. —
Paul Lawler is the Lead-Pastor of Christ Church UMC. He and his wife, MJ, have four children and one daughter-in-law. In addition to serving as a pastor, Paul and his brother, Dallas area businessman Patrick Lawler, founded two Patricia B. Hammonds Homes for orphans at high risk for human trafficking in Thailand. The homes are operated through the international ministry of the Compassionate Hope Foundation. Paul also serves on the boards of The Wellhouse, The Compassionate Hope Foundation, and the East Lake Initiative. He often tweets Kingdom thoughts at @plawler111.