My heart is heavy and grieving over the video footage showing the shooting of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery in the state of Georgia.
Arbery, a black man who was out jogging in his neighbourhood, was gunned down by two white men. It has taken more than two months for his killers to be arrested, and only after a sustained campaign and the aforementioned video footage being released publicly.
But I want to focus in on the word “images” for a moment. You and I, regardless of ethnicity, gender, economic class status or first language are made in the image of God, beloved by God, gifted by God and have access to living out a great ‘God purpose’. We have the opportunity to live as God’s vehicles of truth, transformation, love, compassion, reconciliation and justice.
Though all this is true, we live in a world of brokenness, injustice, division, oppression, and hatred. There are natural and spiritually evil forces working against the ‘images of God’, so that they may not live out the fullness of who they are in God.
Racism is one of those evil forces that invades the image of God for non-white people in our world. Racism is prejudice plus power used in systems, structures, institutions, ideologies and theologies to oppress people groups based on the color of their skin.
But racism is not just something I am able to define theoretically, it’s also something that I have experienced personally and have observed through the marginalisation and discrimination my own parents and grandparents had to endure. They all lived through the system in the United States called Jim Crow, which enforced racial segregation.
My father never experienced integrated schools growing up and personally felt the sting of “White Only” signs and institutions. I was born in 1969, so I represent the first generation of African Americans who were able to take advantage of both the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts in this nation.
But even with my being born into the era of integration, I have been pulled over by the police multiple times for no other reason than my skin colour. A police officer once stopped in front of my house as I was standing in my own driveway and asked me what I was doing in the neighborhood? My answer was a saddened, yet respectful: “Because I live here.”
I have walked by cars to hear the sound of the doors being locked. I have been called the “N” word. This is not meant to paint a negative light upon all police officers or all white people in any way. I’m simply sharing what I have unfortunately experienced. I know what it’s like to be seen as a threat.
The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act alone have not fully dismantled the evil of racial profiling and prejudice. My heart’s desire is that my white brothers and sisters would be just as aware, just as grieved and just as motivated to speak out.
I’ve grown so weary of watching videos of unarmed African Americans dying violently while armed white young men go into schools and churches, take multiple lives and are peacefully arrested. And then there’s Ahmaud Arbery. While jogging, he was pursued, cut off and shot to death. He was not seen as one made in the image of God, but as a threat to a community; his community.
As Christians, we are called to reconciliation, righteousness, compassion and justice. We are God’s solution to division, injustice, prejudice and racism. We are made in the image of God and we were made for this moment. I encourage you to rise as God’s reconcilers.
Dr Efrem Smith is a pastor, consultant, speaker, and author, living in California. He is passionate about life transformation, multiethnic development, thriving churches, and community development. As a product of the African American Church, he also serves as a collaborative catalyst for African American Church Planting, Disciple Making, and Urban Empowerment Movements