Faith leaders respond to Ahmaud Arbery tragedy: 'COVID-19 cannot be an excuse for injustice'

Prominent religious leaders called for justice hours before two white men were arrested and charged with murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a black man whose death sparked outrage after graphic video of the shooting emerged.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) announced Thursday night that Travis McMichael, 34, along with his father, Gregory, 64, shot and killed Arbery outside Brunswick on Feb. 23. A video shows Arbery, 25, jogging in  daylight before the McMichaels shot him, saying they thought he was a burglar and were attempting a citizen's arrest.

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Pastor Jentezen Franklin, pastor of Free Chapel in Gainesville, called it a "horribly heinous crime" and urged authorities to act now.

"COVID-19 cannot be an excuse for injustice," Franklin told Fox News in a statement. "I will be watching these developments closely along with thousands of leaders throughout our state who stand for justice. I pray for justice, and I pray for the family of Ahmaud Arbery as they still bear the pain of their loss."

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Carl Lentz, Hillsong Church pastor in New York City, called it "shameful" that no one was "held immediately accountable" in a post on Instagram showing his own son, who is white, and Arbery, in a split photo.

"We have let power structures exist that make your race or color a factor in whether you get to live or die, get justice or nothing even close to that," Lentz wrote.

Beth Moore, a popular Christian author and Bible teacher, tweeted that people should "dare to differ" on this issue.

"We know this is wrong. We know it is outrageous," she said. "But we don’t want to make our fellow whites mad. If they believe their white skin affords them privileges darker skin does not get, it’s time to make them mad. We will stand before God and answer for our silence."

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, asked for comfort for the Arbery family and for justice.

"Too many young black men in USA still have to look over their shoulder while they’re running after their dreams," Rodriguez tweeted. "We must confront these inequalities until the dream of Dr. King meets the dream of America."

Nick Hall, the founder of PULSE and host of Fox Nation's "Bible Quarantine" series, called it a "jarring reminder that the fear, frustration, and anger the black community expresses at our lack of progress is VALID."

"For every 'that was then' and 'why can't people move on' comment I have heard without responding, I AM SORRY," Hall added.

Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church, said his heart is broken for Arbery's family and friends, calling for action.

"The ongoing and outrageous violence in America against young African Americans must be stopped," Graham said. "We must continue to stand against injustice and inequality in all its sinful forms."

According to the police report, Gregory McMichael told officers he and his son first tried to stop Arbery by shouting, “Stop, stop, we want to talk to you!” The father claimed Arbery attacked his son and they got into a struggle for a shotgun.

Two days before the arrest, District Attorney Tom Durden formally requested the bureau join the investigation into Arbery’s death.

"We cannot remain silent on matters of gross injustice," DeVon Franklin, gospel artist, said on Instagram. "I've seen the video. If you haven't-don't. You won't be able to get it out of your spirit. And maybe that's the point."

Gregory McMichael, 64, left, and Travis McMichael, 34, are facing charges in the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, Georgia authorities say.

Gregory McMichael, 64, left, and Travis McMichael, 34, are facing charges in the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, Georgia authorities say.

Earlier Thursday, President Trump said he was expecting a full report on the Arbery case in the evening but had not seen the video.

"My heart goes out to the parents and to the loved ones of the young gentleman," he said at the White House. "It's a very sad thing."

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Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democrats' presumptive 2020 presidential nominee, also weighed in on the case before the arrests, calling for an investigation: "My heart goes out to his family, who deserve justice and deserve it now."

Arbery's family and friends organized a dedication distance run Friday, what would have been his 26th birthday, using the hashtag, #IRunWithMaud.

Fox News' Michael Ruiz, Tyler Olson, and the Associated Press contributed to this report.