“What the eyes see and the ears hear, the mind believes.” This quote from the famous stunt performer and illusionist Harry Houdini, pretty much sums up how I feel about watching the video of Ahmaud Arbery’s death. My eyes saw the 25-year old Arbery running down a street in the Santilla Shores neighborhood n Brunswick, GA.
My eyes saw a white pick-up truck parked in Arbery’s path with one man (Gregory McMichael, 64) in the cargo bed and another man (Travis McMichael, 34) having dismounted the vehicle. My eyes then saw Arbery run to the right of the parked truck and veer left running towards Travis McMichael who is holding a shotgun. A scuffle ensues and my eyes clearly see Arbery’s hands on the shotgun. My ears hear the shotgun fired twice, the final shot fatally wounding Arbery. My eyes watch as he stumbles to the ground. The aforementioned items seen by my eyes and heard with my ears are inarguable, empirical facts.
Our brains, however, do not process these facts alone. What our mind “believes” happened to Ahmaud Arbery is influenced by our perception, past experiences, prejudices, stereotypes, culture, additional details and much more. Was Arbery out for a jog (reportedly 12 miles from his home), or was he running from a house he just finished burglarizing and/or trespassing upon? Was he running away from the McMichael’s or toward them? Was he attempting to wrestle the shotgun away from Gregory or attempting to attack him?
Were the McMichael’s attempting to make a citizen’s arrest? Did they even know about this Georgia law at that point? Did they need two guns to arrest a man clearly on foot? If he was on foot, he couldn’t outrun their pickup, so why didn’t they remain in their vehicle and wait for the cops to arrive? If Arbery was a white male, would they have gone home to retrieve their weapons in order to pursue him? Did race play a factor at all? How we answer all of these questions determines what our minds will believe regarding this incident, regardless of the information provided.
I’m fully aware that I have 0% chance to influence what your mind has chosen to believe. You likely did not come to this blog looking for information, but affirmation to support what you already believe. Far too many people are more concerned with “being right” than they are with “getting it right.” The moment we are fed information that contradicts the narrative in our minds, we create arguments to justify what our minds believe.
In cases like this, trying to rebuttal the arguments in other people’s minds is like removing cobwebs, its externally pleasing to the eyes and ears, but does nothing to influence or eradicate the real problem – the spider. So today my purpose is to kill the spider, not the web. I’m not asking you to agree with what I’m about to say, I’m simply asking for you to listen so that you can understand.
For many people of color, Arbery’s death strikes at our heart. It sincerely hurts. He is now added to the list of unarmed people of color who were denied due process under the law and killed unnecessarily. In fact, they die twice. First their physical body is killed and then we sit and watch their character become assassinated. Here's how that happens: Unarmed person of color dies, but the person pulling the trigger feared for their life. The victim resisted arrest. Next, the worst photos from their social media profiles will appear. Any previous convictions or violations of the law will be brought up. Their actions, past, and character will be scrutinized and dissected in order to find something, anything, that supports the narrative that they in some way contributed to their own death. Already, the media has reported that Arbery was indicted for allegedly bringing a gun to a 2013 high school basketball game when he was 19 and arrested in 2018 for shoplifting. The release of this information certainly affects our perception of not only the person, but the actual event in question. For instance, Arbery’s shoplifting arrest means he could have been in the act of stealing something from the construction site he just entered. His firearm indictment constitutes proof that he is violent, explaining why he didn’t cooperate when the McMichael’s attempted to stop him and make their citizen’s arrest. After all, their guns were just for protection against an unarmed man on foot miles away from his home. Right?
You may still disagree, maybe this metaphor from Dr. Sarita Lyons (May 8, 7:32pm) will help you be able to empathize with how we process these types of events emotionally. She states,
"It is like a funeral procession... Whites stop their cars, politely wait, and watch while the funeral procession goes by. Maybe saying, from the comfort of their car on the opposite side of the street, “that’s a shame,” “that’s so sad,” “how could this be?”
But blacks, we are the funeral procession. We have the orange sticker in our window, our lights are flashing, we line up with tissues in our pockets and wrinkled obituaries in our hand that we will place in some drawer at home to remember. We wear sunglasses covering our tear stained eyes - puffy from weeping, there is an ache in our belly and a lump in our throat that is too familiar - it’s not cancer, it’s grief. We are in the cars crying. We are in the family car, the black limo behind the hearse with the dead body of our beloved heading toward a hole in the ground that has been dug to place our kin in and cover with dirt, like America covers it’s sins... and as if that isn’t traumatic enough, we are asked by the world, to wipe our face, celebrate progress, and move on."
This brilliantly expresses our emotional connection to the people we have never met. Again, I am not asking for you to agree, just to understand.
So how do we accurately and adequately address the problem? Well first, we must focus our time, energy, and resources on killing the spider, not the web. From a biblical perspective, it is my assertion that racism and hatred of black people is not the problem. These are the consequences of the problem. The effect, not the cause. The symptom, but not the disease.
Hatred, racism, stereotyping, and profiling are not a skin problem, but a sin problem. How an individual externally acts upon their internal biases, finds its root in the sin problem that is located in their heart. Our righteous indignation, votes, protests, and petitions have no ability to change the condition of mankind’s sinful heart.
The heart that is capable of racism, hatred and injustice towards people made in God’s image is unaffected by even our most brilliant political strategies. Furthermore, the heart that turns a blind eye towards, or defends injustice against their neighbor demonstrates the sinfulness of the human heart. It is not a skin problem.
The problem of sin can only be eradicated by first acknowledging that there is a problem, that we are wholly incapable of eradicating it of our own efforts, and placing our faith in the salvific work of Jesus the Christ to regenerate us from this sinful, fallen condition, and give us new hearts that will allow us to view and respond to injustice righteously.
Praying for spiritual change does NOT alleviate us from our natural responsibility. All the faith in the world is dead without works attached to it. Our works do not provide or secure our salvation, they are the byproduct of having received it.
We are not seeking justice for Arbery because we share the same skin color, but because we share the same internal Imago Dei – image of God. People of color are not asking you to address injustice against us because we are black, but because injustice in and of itself is inherently wrong, it just happens to be consistently affecting us.
We need the world to pray and seek God’s face for justice for us, just like we prayed and sought justice when Jews were being persecuted and killed during the holocaust and Muslims were being unlawfully detained and tortured after 9-1-1.
You cannot be a Bible believing Christian and be silent on injustice. That is incompatible with the teachings of sacred scripture. Here is orthodox Christian teaching regarding injustice: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic 6:8 ESV). Isaiah adds, “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause” (Isa 1:17 ESV). David aptly notes, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you” (Psa. 89:14 ESV).
If a Christian holds to these Scriptures as orthodoxy (right teaching), that orthodoxy should result in orthopraxy – right living. Orthodox Christian teaching is interested in our education so that it leads to transformation – a change in the way we live. Lastly, our orthodoxy and orthopraxy should reflect a biblical orthopathy – right passions, emtions, affections, empathies, etc.
If you can see your brothers and sisters in Christ continuously driving down the road in our funeral processions and you cannot feel what we feel, pray, and ask God to touch your heart. We do not need your sympathy. We do not want your flowers, money, or comfort food. What we want is for you to feel what we feel until you take up the cause “with” us and we fight injustice together. We want you to listen…and understand. We need you to empathize.
Any efforts to impact change from the external will be fruitless. We are not wrestling against flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12). The worst racist in the world is not our true enemy. Christians who are silent against injustice are not our true enemy. At worse, they are our brothers and sisters in error.
We have one common enemy and that is Satan. His greatest trick, like Harry Houdini, is misdirection. The greatest magicians are superb at convincing our minds to believe that what our eyes see is actually magic. Our eyes and ears are focused on everything except the needless loss of life of an image-bearer. Misdirection. Causing us to fight each other and not our true enemy. Misdirection. Today I pray God opens us our eyes so we can see behind the illusionist’s sleight of hand. I pray that He will reveal the truth, that behind the skin problem, lies the problem of sin. Kill the spider…not the web.
*Quotes inside from Pastor Dywane Dawkins public Facebook page.