By now most Americans are aware of the killing of 17 year old Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman. The incident occurred February 26 in Sanford, Florida. Beyond these simple facts, the picture begins to get hazy. So hazy, in fact, that I couldn’t find a current non-biased link in which to direct my blog readers in the event they would like more detailed information about the case. It seems opinions have turned from neutral (we do not know all the facts) to very biased.
As a Christian, I want to know how I should think about all things, and this incident is no exception. So, here are my thoughts around this issue:
1. A young man is dead, we should all mourn. Trayvon was just 17 years old. He had his whole life in front of him. From what I know, he was a typical 17 year old, and well-liked by his peers. Was he perfect? No. But then again, none of us are. For him to have been killed by a gunshot wound to the chest should be no way for any young man to die.
Accounts abound as to the whys and wherefores of how Trayvon got to the place where a bullet ended his young life. However, this is the manner in which he died, and we should rightly mourn when a young person is snatched away from us so violently. As the father of a son, I mourn with his father’s grief and pain. As a pastor for teenagers, many of them Trayvon’s age, my heart grieves to think it could’ve easily been one of my group. My prayer is his family, friends, and those affected would turn to God for comfort: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
Our attention should also be with George Zimmerman. Like Trayvon, we do not know every circumstance that led to his pulling a gun and shooting. Only he and God knows what was going on in his life and mind in those moments. I do know that, unless you’re incredibly warped, no one would have pleasure in gunning down a teenager, or anyone for that matter. Mr. Zimmerman now has to live with the truth that he shot and killed someone, and that can’t be a light burden to bear. Therefore, we should also mourn for him, and the anguish he is most certainly experiencing.
It doesn’t matter if you think Trayvon was a thug or an innocent teen, Zimmerman a racist or a saint. The fact is, this case should be a cause for all-around mourning.
2. All the calls for “justice” should be calls for mercy. Sadly, after watching several interviews and reading several articles, I think the majority of people have the concept of justice confused with punishment. So really, the calls for “justice” in the Trayvon case are really calls for punishment. Many people are convinced Martin was killed in cold blood by Zimmerman, therefore, someone has to pay. If Zimmerman did kill without cause, and is found guilty, it is the court of law which must decide the conviction and the penalty.
Even more alarming to me is the fact that many of the most vocal calls for justice are from those who associate themselves with the church. They seem unconcerned with facts and due process, much less the biblical admonition that “judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). In this case, like so many others, Christians should be cautious to rush to judgment, but swift to call for mercy.
3. Racism (and race baiting) is alive and well in America. If anything, this tragedy has exposed the fact that deep-seated racism still exists in places in America. I’m not going to say it’s as prevalent as some would have us believe, but it’s still there nonetheless. This is 2012 and people still allow a person’s race or ethnicity to play in their perception of that person. Some are claiming Trayvon Martin was killed simply because he was black. Some are saying George Zimmerman is ethnic (meaning non-white) himself, and is known to be hospitable towards people of varying races. Whatever the case may be, there can be no doubt that the fall-out from this incident is racially charged.
Worse yet, race baiting has also reared its ugly head. Race baiting is the unfair use of statements about race to try to influence the actions or attitudes of a particular group of people. Again, we have those associated with the church, who should be calling for unity of all in this case, using their pulpits and platforms to say disgusting things like this situation is a “race war” and calling for race-based civil disobedience if “justice” is not served.
Regardless of skin tone and ethnic heritage, all people were created in the image of God. Therefore, we all have dignity and worth, as well as mirror certain attributes of our Creator. For anyone to disparage and twist this, especially “reverends,” is dispicable. I think now, more than any other time, the church should be modelling racial unity and solidarity, instead of letting ourselves be swayed by our own sinfulness. I mean, if we know Jesus, aren’t we one in him (Galatians 3:28)? It doesn’t say we’re one in race, ethnicity, gender, social standing, or location — we’re one in Christ Jesus. He alone can truly unify us. Therefore, the call should be for oneness in Christ, and not division over race, etc.
4. Where is the call for responsibility and prayer? I’ve heard very few call for responsibility and prayer in all this. Pastors, politicians, and the public are pronouncing one man guilty, due process be damned. Celebrities are using social media to stoke the flames. What I HAVE seen is chaos, accusation, confusion, conflict, and revenge. None of this serves to better humanity. As Christians, we should look at this tragic situation as an opportunity to inject responsibility into the conversation. By that I mean we should point out the fact that, as a nation we own the Trayvon/Zimmerman incident. As a church we own it also. Are we teaching what Jesus taught on race? Are we teaching mercy? Are we on our knees in prayer for unity? For God’s mercy on our nation? For understanding? For other pressing needs that only God can change?
I have read some great articles and blogs from Christian leaders who are being responsible. Unfortunately, their voice isn’t as loud as some of the others who claim to speak for the church, and many times they are preaching to the proverbial choir. Calls for understanding, responsibility, civility, and prayer simply do not make good press in the United States at this moment.
My prayer is that it changes soon.