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Race-related Texas murder prompts self-examination

JASPER, Texas (BP)–Baptists in the East Texas town of Jasper have joined their neighbors in praying, grieving and asking why anyone would beat a disabled African American man, chain him to the back of a pickup truck and drag him to his death.
“There is a lot of reflection, people asking, ‘Have I done anything to foster an atmosphere where this could happen? Have I done anything to prevent an atmosphere from developing where this kind of thing could happen?” said Ed Robinson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Jasper. “There is some good introspection going on.”
The mangled body of James Byrd Jr., a 49-year-old father of three, was discovered Sunday morning, June 7, on a country road outside Jasper. Authorities arrested and charged three ex-convicts, at least two of whom were linked to a white supremacist prison gang, with Byrd’s murder. The three suspects were ordered held without bail after arraignment June 9.
Local church leaders planned a community-wide prayer service June 15, attended by about 2,000 people — roughly one-fourth of the town’s population.
Jesse Jackson met with Byrd’s family and preached at a Wednesday afternoon prayer service at Greater New Bethel Baptist Church in Jasper June 10. When the small sanctuary filled, an overflow crowd that included many members of predominantly white Baptist churches held a prayer vigil outside the church. Jackson helped to conduct Byrd’s funeral June 13.
While Byrd’s brutal murder apparently was racially motivated, it was “not so much a racial thing as an insane thing,” Robinson said, noting that it was not characteristic of a community where blacks and whites know each other well.
“This is not a racist town at all,” he said. “That’s not to say we don’t have our problems with racism, but this isn’t who we are.”
Byrd’s murder was “not in isolation from a society that has failed to eradicate racism and its demeaning acts,” according to Mike Lundy, associate director of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission.
Obedient followers of Christ who practice repentance and demonstrate loving reconciliation can “lead the way to healing the soul of our nation,” Lundy said. “As we abandon ourselves to God, we will find a way through the troubling separation from our brothers and sisters born of prejudice and fear.”

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  • Ken Camp