With racial tensions escalating in a U.S. presidential election year, a prominent United Church of Christ pastor who has described the death of jogger Ahmaud Arbery as a lynching will join panelists in a national online conversation on Sunday, May 31, about how Christians "can be actively involved in dismantling racism."
The event, to be held on the webinar platform Zoom at 6 p.m. EDT (5 p.m. CDT), will include a 22-minute cinematic sermon, "The Cross and the Lynching Tree: A Requiem for Ahmaud Arbery." Its preacher, the Rev. Otis Moss III, senior pastor of Chicago's Trinity UCC, will be one of the panelists. The public can attend by registering at this link.
The event, moderated by the Rev. Velda Love, minister of racial justice, is sponsored by UCC Justice and Local Church Ministries. Its leader, the Rev. Traci Blackmon, associate general minister, says she hopes the event will stimulate discussion and action on urgent issues.
"COVID-19 has laid bare the systemic inequities present in this country," Blackmon said. "Vigilante justice is rampant, as armed white rebel groups defy state orders by marching on state capitols. Undocumented residents are ignored in all stimulus packages. COVID infection rates rise among the most disenfranchised among us. White vigilante justice goes unchecked until communities demand attention. The state-sanctioned murder of Ahmaud Arbery offers a new and important opportunity for conversation."
In the video sermon, first shown during Trinity's online worship services May 17, Moss dramatically connects the Feb. 23 killing of Arbery – who was shot to death while out for a run in Brunswick, Ga. – to the history of oppression and exploitation of African Americans. Its title echoes that of a 2011 book by the late Union Theological Seminary Professor James H. Cone.
It also connects Arbery's death to a pattern of such killings. "Another life taken," Moss says in the video. "Another public lynching. Another news story. Another act of recorded Black death. It is disturbing our nation has become comfortable with weekly broadcasts of Black bodies falling to the ground. It has become an unsolicited prime-time series that we all hope and pray will be canceled from the collective consciousness of America’s civic memory."
The full panel on May 31 will consist of:
- The Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, Senior Pastor, Trinity UCC, Chicago
- The Rev. Julian DeShazier, Senior Pastor, University Church (UCC and Christian Church [Disciples of Christ]), Chicago, and Emmy Award-winning musician
- Linda Sarsour, Co-founder and Executive Director, MPower Change, Brooklyn, N.Y.; Co-Chair, national Women's March (2017 and 2019), Day Without a Woman (2017)
- The Rev. Naomi Washington Leapheart, Philadelphia; Director, Faith-Based and Interfaith Affairs, City of Philadelphia
- The Rev. Dr. Velda Love (moderator of panel), Minister for Racial Justice, UCC Justice and Local Church Ministries, Cleveland
In the video, Moss calls for faith-in-action in response to the pattern of killings. "We must pray, and then after our prayers, get up and vote," he says – urging actions to create a "moral economy," repeal "stand your ground" gun laws, and elect good district attorneys, sheriffs and judges. "If we identify the cross as a moment of lynching," Moss says, "we deepen our compassion and our call for the most vulnerable in our society."