“Wisdom shouts out in the streets; in the public square she raises her voice.” (Proverbs 1:20)
True wisdom is never silent around hard things. Wise people must give voice to the truth left unsaid. When we don’t say something, we are saying something.
White Christians talk a lot about racial reconciliation. I’m glad for that. But my reading of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures teach me that justice is not the same as reconciliation. Justice comes before reconciliation. So injustice must be called what it is and given the name it deserves. Only then can it be seen as a concrete reality woven within the fabric of society and the human heart. Only then can repentance take place. If repentance is genuine, then in the spirit of the faithful Israelite and Judean kings of old, injustice must be dismantled and lamented. Until it is, justice is not complete and reconciliation impossible.
Lynching is understood as “the mob killing of a person suspected of a crime, especially by hanging, that is done outside of the law. Lynching is most commonly associated with the hanging death of Black men by white people in the United States, especially in the Jim Crow South.” (See Dictionary.com)
My hope is that white Christians will openly denunciate the death of Ahmaud Arbery and call it what it is, a lynching as an expression of white supremacy. Ahmaud Arbery was lynched. Not murdered. Not killed. Not shot. Not a victim of a hate crime. He was lynched. To call it anything else, in my sincere opinion, is to turn away from the larger narrative that framed his death: a historical and present narrative of white supremacy at work in our country, especially in my birthplace, the “Deep South.”
White fragility and defensiveness have no place (or purpose) here. My faith teaches me that rhetoric matters. Our words must be chosen carefully, courageously, and concretely in proportion to the sin-stained, sin-soaked actions seen.
I remember the moments when King Jesus chose strong rhetoric. He used words like, ‘white washed walls’ and ‘hypocrisy’ (Matthew 23:27-28) or ‘children of snakes’ (Matthew 12:34; 23:33) or ‘you are of your father the devil’ (John 8:44-47) or tell us that we neglected the ‘weightier matters of the law,’ (Matthew 23:23-24) or even ‘turn over the tables of greed and power (John 2:13-16). King Jesus would eventually offer an invitation to repentance and forgiveness to those on the receiving end of these words. But the threads of faith that are sewn together with the reign of sin and death must be pulled. Words can do that.
Ahmaud Arbery was lynched by the weaponized minds and bloodstained hands of white supremacy. Nothing less. The systems, institutions, policies, ideologies and leaders that support them arm these minds and provoke these hands. They must be seen as they are, called what they are, repented of, and dismantled. The Church of King Jesus must stand with Ahmaud Arbery. We must live into the work for God’s justice and of dismantling the principalities and powers of evil that uphold and promote all forms white supremacy.
But before we can do that, we need to get our language right.