Let me just warn you in advance: This is going to make someone mad. In fact, it may make a lot of people mad, perhaps even some people whom I love and care about very much. I have avoided finishing this since Sunday afternoon because I fear the backlash that it might cause. More than that, I fear that I will use the wrong words or that people might read something into the words that is not intended.
There is a lot of that going around these days, particularly regarding the Zimmerman-Martin case.
Saying little to nothing on this would be the safe and painless route, but it’s not acceptable. Particularly for pastors. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and blow off an event that has dominated the news cycles and social media. This event is so big that it actually caused me to agree with Southern Baptist Seminary president Al Mohler on something, and that hasn’t happened since…well…ever.
I have prayed over and poured over this in an effort to speak wisely and fairly; and while I don’t think that I’ve even remotely approached that, I offer the best that I have of all the thoughts and emotions that are running through me.
The George Zimmerman murder trial is complete, and he has been acquitted. There is an extremely long list of things that range from curious to troubling to downright depressing. In the wake of this decision, I find myself being sad almost to the point of despair.
Sadness comes from the fact that this situation ever got to the point where there was a shooting, a death and a trial. Despair comes from watching society react to the verdict.
From all that I have read in the post-trial, the verdict was at least technically correct. The consensus among legal analysts is that the prosecution failed to offer proof from a weak circumstantial case. And the bottom line is that we will never know exactly what happened that night after Zimmerman got out of the car to confront Martin. It’s also important to note the words of Christian author/blogger Dr. Tony Jones when he points out that courts & juries are designated to follow the law even beyond a sense of justice.
Mark NeJame, an Orlando attorney who turned down the chance to represent Zimmerman, offered a challenge in his post-trial analysis: “We were able to have a fair hearing and an open trial but this is not a time for jubilance, it’s a time for reflection…A young man is dead. This is just a tragedy and we need to figure out a way to do better.”
It’s a time for reflection. So allow me to reflect on the things that make me sad about this entire incident:
–It makes me sad that I read/hear people saying–and cheering–that Zimmerman was right to confront Trayvon Martin. Just because you have the right to do something doesn’t make it the right thing to do. Legal or not, Zimmerman’s actions were irresponsible, foolish, and ultimately deadly. If he stays in the car, maybe this never happens.
I don’t have a clue what it’s like to be Trayvon Martin. I do, however, know what it’s like to be angrily confronted in a place where you have every right to be, doing absolutely nothing wrong. Luckily, I saw the gun before I reacted, which may well have saved my life.
This isn’t Gunsmoke. This is the real world where real people get real dead. Confronting people with a firearm in tow is something to do as an absolute last resort, particularly if your only evidence is that they “look” suspicious.
–It makes me sad that people say Trayvon Martin “got what he deserved” and had a “checkered” past. Oh, how quickly and conveniently we forget: THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD GO I.
I thank God EVERY DAY that I didn’t get what I “deserved”, particularly as a 17-year smart-alec idiot who thought that he was invincible. Before choosing to go down that road, we might want to give another reading to Matthew 18:21-35.
–It makes me sad that I have friends who are saying “Justice was served” with the not guilty decision. Let’s keep in mind that Florida is the same state that acquitted Casey Anthony, and I don’t remember anyone calling that decision “just”. Florida is also the state where this lady has been sentenced to prison. Right by law is not necessarily justice.
–It makes me sad that people are not calling for prayer for Zimmerman. I think it’s safe to assume that his life may well be one of misery, even if he never serves a day in jail. Jesus is clear: We love our enemies, and pray for them. No amount of pain brought down on Zimmerman will bring back Trayvon Martin, but hating him will rot our souls from the inside out. He is just as needy of grace and forgiveness as anyone else; and once again, we didn’t “deserve” that when Jesus offered it to us.
I suspect that prayers for both the Martin and Zimmerman family will benefit the pray-ers as much as the pray-ees.
–It makes me sad that some feel the need to create riots when there was almost nothing approaching that. And yet, it also makes me hopeful that the riots had to be invented because the protests were largely controlled, by both demonstrators and police as needed.
–It makes me sad that I hear so many people blaming others for racism rather than looking at themselves. As the attorney NeJame said, this is a time for reflection. Too many of us are using it as a time to reflect on what we think other people need to do. What we should be doing is reflecting on what we need to do, and acknowledge the prejudices that prevent us from seeing the other as human, relevant, created by God and no more faulty or flawed than we are ourselves.
We need to recognize that “He started it!” or “She did it too!” is not a justification.
We need to embrace the fact that “those people” are OUR people in the eyes of God.
We need to battle for love and understanding in the face of anger and hatred.
We need to step up and say that the end of prejudice and racism starts with the person I see in the mirror every morning. We cannot force others to act as they should, but we can choose to strive towards what Christ commands us to be.
We–meaning white people–need to stop saying that “they just need to let it go” and “racism is in the past”. That would be easy for me to say, If I choose to do so, because I am never going to be black. I can listen and empathize and stand beside my black friends, but I CANNOT fully understand. Failure to acknowledge that is a failure to acknowledge the full personhood of my African-American friends, colleagues and fellow church members.
We (or more appropriately “I”) need to stop avoiding the subject because it’s difficult and dangerous. If we cannot discuss these issues in the church among people who have a common calling to faith in Jesus, then there is little hope for confronting them anywhere else.
–It makes me sad that so many of us decide to be outraged or take action AFTER a tragedy. People have the right to protest; but once again, that doesn’t make it the right thing to do. Why do we wait for a tragedy to become activists? What will it take for us to invest in young people in our schools and communities rather than getting angry AFTER the train goes off the rails?
My high school friend, Farrell Thomas, is a a teacher and an African-American. He posted this on his Facebook page Sunday:
Ok folks I am probably about to make some people mad as I pull my Bill Cosby card!! People talking about protesting and marching. Well ok but how about marching your blessed assurances down to the school house!! Where I have to deal with and teach mostly black kids who have low test scores, who are below grade level and who are very disruptive in class. No support from half the parents, won’t show up for conferences, kids continually disrespectful to teachers and other students!! March to the school and work with your kids at home!! Stop sending them to school with no supplies but they can tell me about every reality inappropriate tv show on tv, can sing every inappropriate rap song and do every dance. March on down to the school and have a conversation with the teacher without cussing them out when they said something you didn’t want to hear or like but they continue to show up with books or homework and you never say a word about that!! March down to the school to inquire why they are below basic on the PASS test and are placed into another grade instead of being promoted because they are too old to be held back again!! March down to the school because your child was caught having sex at school or fighting on a field trip!! March on down to the school went your child chooses to act out because he or she can’t read or do the work in class. No we want to protest when we feel someone else has done us wrong but what about the mess we are doing to ourselves? I am a teacher and I am held accountable by my principal and the state to teach your child and create a miracle, but who holds you accountable for being damn slack and helping accentuating the problem instead of diminishing it! We have more black boys in jails then colleges. We have more teen pregnancies and unequipped parents than masters degrees!! Protest this and march for this!!! Because in essence we are no different than George Zimmerman!!
If you choose, keep posting articles on Facebook about who is more racist, who is at fault, and who really caused all this. Keep repeating the false mantras that “All white people ________” or “All black people _________”. Yell for or against all the politicians. Cheer for the guy with the gun and be self-justified in your fears and misunderstandings. Or hate that same guy until it eats your heart and blinds your eyes.
If you choose that path, at the end of the day, you have done absolutely nothing, for yourself or anyone else.
You can also choose to do what my friend Farrell says, and pour that energy into your local school. You can be a mentor to a young man or woman. You can teach young children how to read. You can start a tutoring program at your church. You can be a classroom volunteer. You can lead your church family to invest in local schools and local students. Want to truly make a difference? Then stop blaming Zimmerman or Martin, and take responsibility to do what you can to change hearts and minds and lives.
When we hear the words “All” and “Everyone” in regard to people–and particularly to race–red flags should fly all over the place. Except in one regard. “All” people need help and guidance, “Everyone” needs love and support. And those are truths that cross any social, cultural, economic, or racial lines. We simply have to want to be part of the solution more than we want to just yell about the problem.
Perhaps the greatest hope in all of this comes from some of the Tweets of Trayvon Martin’s parents after the trial:
“Even though I am brokenhearted, my faith is unshattered. I will always love my baby Tray,” Tracy Martin said in one of three Tweets posted shortly after the decision was announced.
“Lord during my darkest hour I lean on you,” she wrote on Twitter. “You are all that I have.”
Perhaps its time for our faith in Christ to change us, to a point where we can be lifted from one of our darkest hours. It’s time for us to seek the constructive, productive path rather than just posting another link to the Twitter account. Speaking out is fine, but it pales in comparison to doing something.
What should you do? I’ve made a few suggestions, but I don’t ultimately know what you as a person are gifted, led or called to do. This much I know: We have to follow the advice of attorney Mark NeJame, and figure out some way to do better.