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The Death of Ahmaud Arbery: Seven Biblical Ways to Respond in a Polarized Age

05-17-2020
Image Source: AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

An autopsy released by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation reports that Ahmaud Arbery was killed by two gunshots to the chest. The report appears to match a viral video of the February shooting in which the 25-year-old black man was killed while jogging in a south Georgia neighborhood.

The young man’s cause of death is not disputed, but other facts of this tragedy are.

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The two men charged with Arbery’s death claim that they acted in self-defense after he allegedly attacked one of them. Two district attorneys recused themselves; one of them described the shooter’s actions as “perfectly legal.”

By contrast, the mayor of Atlanta called Arbery’s death a “lynching of an African-American man.” Celebrities and political leaders have demanded swift justice for him and his grieving family.

I have written articles recently on this tragedy, the sin of racism, and ways Christians can be catalysts for reconciliation and cultural inclusivity. Today, let’s identify ways we can respond to divisive issues by promoting reconciliation with biblical truth and grace.

Our society is more polarized than any point in my lifetime. Surveys show that our partisan political divides are growing; with the fall elections, we can expect such rancor to crescendo over the coming months. We are divided over moral issues such as abortion, same-sex relationships, the definition of marriage, and the ethics of euthanasia.

In a postmodern culture that considers all truth claims to be personal and subjective, our society has no objective compass by which to determine truth from falsehood. What was true in the time of the judges is true of our day: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

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How can Christians respond to our contentious and chaotic culture? Let’s define and embrace seven biblical imperatives that will empower us to promote reconciliation.

First, make “speaking the truth in love” our mantra (Ephesians 4:15). We are to be prepared always to “make a defense” of our faith, but we are to do so with “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

Second, avoid those who seek to spark controversy: “Watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught” (Romans 16:17). Avoid judgmental social media posts, especially as a reaction to another post. No one’s mind is going to be changed.

Third, respond to animosity with kindness: “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his or her opponents with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:24–25).

Fourth, live and work with humility: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).

Fifth, pray for the Spirit to manifest his nature in us: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23). By contrast, the “works of the flesh” include “rivalries, dissensions, divisions” (vv. 19, 20).

Sixth, choose to advance God’s kingdom, not ours: “If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth” (James 3:14).

Seventh, remember the One we serve: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Jesus called us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).

As we work for reconciliation by sharing biblical truth with biblical grace, we can know that our Lord is using us in ways we may not be able to see or measure. Alfred North Whitehead believed that great people plant trees they’ll never sit under. The word of God declared in the power of God always accomplishes the purpose of God (cf. Isaiah 55:10–11).

Martin Luther King Jr. testified: “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

Do you agree?

Dr. Jim Denison is the founder of the Denison Forum. His Daily Article reaches 1.5 million people monthly with subscribers in 226 countries. Follow him @JimDenison.

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