As governors open or don’t re-open their states, as businesses navigate how to re-open and whether or not to apply for payroll assistance, as churches and their leaders walk the tightrope of opening too soon or too late, something else is going on.
In the immortal words of Marvin Gaye, “What’s going on?”
What’s going on is the same thing that’s been going on here—the United States—since, well, at least since here got started.
One group thought they were right and that the other group was wrong. One group thought they were smarter and closer to God and that the other group never would measure up. One group thought they were naturally superior and that the other group was naturally inferior. One group brought slaves from Africa and enshrined into law their subjugation.
And on Feb. 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed while out for a jog.
Seems like a big jump, doesn’t it, but only if we neglect what’s been going on all the while.
Ahmaud Arbery was a black man. The two men who shot and killed him are white men.
The reasons for the two men doing what they did are under scrutiny and should be. But no amount of reasoning changes the bare facts. Two white men shot and killed one unarmed black man. Those two men have been arrested and charged and will have their day in court. Ahmaud Arbery is dead.
Trying to answer the why question
Does Ahmaud Arbery deserve to be dead? Did he deserve to be hunted, yes, hunted?
There are variations on two answers—yes or no.
If yes, then why?
Some have said he wasn’t an angel; he wasn’t innocent. Some are trying to justify the killing of Ahmaud Arbery by making him less worthy of dignity, respect and human decency than the men who killed him. They are trying to make him responsible for his own murder in the same way some blame rape victims for being raped.
While it is true that none of us is completely innocent, why don’t all of us risk running up on our killers?
Just as there is no justification for rape, should every person who isn’t an angel, who isn’t innocent expect to find armed citizens waiting for them in the middle of the road?
Yes, but … But what? He shouldn’t have been? Those two guys shouldn’t have done it? Yes, but … No, go on. We’re listening.
No, but … We all deserve to die, but not like that? Is that it?
No. No, Ahmaud Arbery didn’t deserve to be hunted, and he doesn’t deserve to be dead.
I agree, but why?
The why that matters most
Ahmaud Arbery didn’t deserve to be hunted and killed because he was a human being who deserved, at the least, the same kind of respect his killers might expect for themselves.
Even that assertion requires a prior reason.
The most fundamental answer to the question, “Why,” is that Ahmaud Arbery was created by God in God’s image. Ahmaud Arbery bore God’s image. That’s “why” enough. No, that’s more than enough; it’s overabundant reason.
Until we grasp the significance of all people being created in God’s image—black, brown and every other flesh tone—we will continue having this conversation. The fact we are having it now is prima facie evidence we don’t think others have as much—if any—of God’s image in them as we think we have in ourselves.
The news continues to report the deaths of black men and women who, rather than being regarded as bearers of God’s image, were feared, suspected, targeted, assaulted and/or killed. In some instances, the assailants or killers face no consequences for weeks.
Our actions reported in the news and known by our communities continue to indicate—if not reveal outright—our true estimation of one another.
To understand fully the meaning and significance of being created in God’s image will take more than op-eds, even powerful op-eds like Trent Richardson’s. It will take deep and enduring action.
For us to understand fully what it means that God created us, that we are created in God’s image and that every one of us bears God’s image requires transformation in us, the kind of deep and enduring action that can’t come from government regulation or social pressure, but can come only from the Spirit of the God who created us and transforms us.
There is hope
“Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed … ” (Romans 12:2).
And there is our hope, in case comprehending our createdness isn’t enough.
Even though the fight against racism has been longer than all other wars combined, there is hope in the transforming power of Jesus Christ, before whom people from every nation, tribe, people and language no longer are disparaged or dehumanized.
May we allow Jesus to transform us into the people we were created to be.
Eric Black is the executive director, publisher and editor of the Baptist Standard. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @EricBlackBSP. The views expressed are those solely of the author.