Ahmaud Arbery (1994-2020)
As Black VineyardUSA pastors, we invite you to join us in pausing to acknowledge wrongdoing, pain and suffering in light of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. We do this in humility, knowing many have gone before us, stand with us, and will join us in the pursuit of justice. How we respond as individuals, as a nation, and as a Church determines not only how we can help, but how we can heal. Read, reflect and respond in a way that will help you engage in what following Jesus might look like for you in this moment.
“Laments are prayers of petition rising out of need. But lament is not simply the presentation of a list of complaints, nor merely the expression of sadness over difficult circumstances. Lament in the Bible is a liturgical response to the reality of suffering and engages God in the context of pain and trouble. The hope of lament is that God would respond to human suffering that is wholeheartedly communicated through lament.” Prophetic Lament, Soong-Chan Rah
How long, Lord, must [we] call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Why do you make [us] look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before [us]; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted. Habakkuk 1:2-4
Written on 5/8, what would have been Ahmaud Arbery’s 26th birthday.
We’re angry. We’re tired. We’re tired of being angry.
There is nothing different about this time except that we are in a pandemic. A pandemic that disproportionately affects Black and Brown bodies, due to unequal access to healthcare, food and other life essentials. A pandemic that has us saying goodbye to our parents, grandparents and relatives at an alarming rate. A pandemic that compels us to wear masks when we know what the consequences could be – dangers that run deeper than the risk of infection.
Besides that, what’s different?
A Black man’s life taken by a family affair: a father and a son.
A Black man’s life taken by a family affair: a nation stuck in cycles of racialized violence and death.
This isn’t new. It’s history.
Lynchings were public gatherings — spectacles where human bodies, still alive, were stripped, tortured, dismembered, sometimes burned, and left to die. Community is not supposed to be like this. Our churches, too, are public gatherings — a place where the Body, however broken, can seek healing from the One with pierced hands. And yet, as pastors, we can simply feel responsible for informing the church about these tragedies, even as we hurt inside, barely having had time to process them ourselves. The Church is more than a place to announce Black Death, it is a Body meant to uplift Black Life.
This uplift involves looking sin and evil in the face and standing against it. As Jeannine Hill Fletcher says, “If Christians desire a world of racial justice and religious integrity, understanding the sin of white supremacy and Christian theology’s role within it is our only way forward.”
God does not look away from the pain and affliction of his people.
Neither do we.
We could have written many different individual responses from places of tiredness, anger, frustration, and numbness. We decided to stand together. To sit together. To grieve together. Together, while apart.
This is what solidarity looks like. This is what self-care looks like. This is what vulnerability looks like.
This is how our Christ meets us. This is the good news. He stands with us, sits with us, hears our pain, feels our anger, stirs us from numbness, delivers us from evil, and gives us a Living Hope.
Not hope that erases the suffering of his cross, nor hope that erases the suffering of the crosses that we’ve been forced to bear. Rather, hope for a “new normal” that, finally, will look different through the power of resurrection and renewal. A new normal of justice, of dignity, of love. A new normal where Black lives are valued long before their hashtags.
A new normal of solidarity beyond just the Black pastors of the Vineyard. We invite you: stand, sit, and grieve with us.
Christ, run to us. Redeem our history. Bring healing to our family.
A Group of VineyardUSA Black Pastors*
Andrea Cammarota, Midcity Vineyard
Brandon Henderson, Vineyard Church of Central Illinois
Charles Montgomery, Vineyard Columbus
Clay Harrington, Vineyard Church of Central Illinois
Daniel Aaron Jones, Desert Vineyard
Deniqua Washington, Elm City Vineyard Church
Donnell Wyche, Vineyard Church Ann Arbor
Gary Dawkins, Syracuse Vineyard
Geno Olison, South Suburban Vineyard
Ibyi Parris, Miami Vineyard
Jeremy Pleasant, Vineyard Church of Baton Rouge
Josh Williams, Elm City Vineyard Church
Joshua Miller, Desert Vineyard Church
Keva Green, Syracuse Vineyard
Leon Powell, Syracuse Vineyard
Nathan Walton, Charlottesville Vineyard
Patrick J. Campbell, Cobb Vineyard Church
Rachel Conner, Sugarland Vineyard
Ray Longwood, The Experience Vineyard Church
Tommy Wesley, Mercy Vineyard
Vannae Savig, Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor
*This is not an exhaustive list. It simply represents a group of Black VineyardUSA pastors who want to speak from a place of unity and togetherness. If you are a Black VineyardUSA pastor who would like to join this letter, please email email@example.com.