George Zimmerman was found not guilty of the murder of Trayvon Martin, and the verdict has expectedly led to strong reactions of both agreement and disagreement. There are so many variables involved in this case and the subsequent verdict and certainly no lack of people offering their opinions and editorials regarding race and justice. It’s complicated to say the least and all the more difficult when the tensions of racial issues are involved.
The outcry and commentary from political pundits and racial leaders is to be expected and is somewhat predictable. The question for us, however, is how should the church and Christians think and respond to this event in our cultural history? Personally, this case and the responses to it don’t sit well with me. I am a white father to four adopted children, none of whom are white. I am fearful for them at times.
One of the great difficulties in responding rightly to this case is that while the verdict may have been correct by legal standards, it did not do much to assuage the haunting feeling that justice was not done. The tragedy is not simply that a 17-year-old young man is dead, but it is that he didn’t have to be. There is no way to know the heart or motivation of either George Zimmerman or Trayvon Martin.
As we evaluate we must go by the facts as we know them, just like the jurors did who found themselves deliberating one of the most difficult cases imaginable. Here are some of the important facts…
– Regardless of motive, Zimmerman initiated the events that led to the death of Martin.
– Martin’s actions did not warrant the urgency in which Zimmerman responded.
– Neither Zimmerman nor any vehicle, home, or other person was in imminent danger to necessitate Zimmerman leaving his vehicle to pursue Martin.
– Zimmerman’s course of action stopped being wise when he decided to aggressively approach Martin rather than waiting for the police.
– Martin’s response as a young black teenager being followed by a vehicle and then pursued by a stranger must be taken into account. Historically, it must be admitted that these situations have not usually ended well for the young black man.
– Martin’s wisest course of action would have been to either stay on his phone reporting what was taking place or doing all he could to remove himself from the situation.
– Martin’s aggressive response to Zimmerman’s aggression led to a guaranteed violent encounter.
– At the time of the violent conflict, both Martin and Zimmerman were more than likely (in their own minds) acting in self-defense
My assessment is that the real story is not as one-sided as Zimmerman has portrayed it and that Martin is not as innocent of a victim as the narrative is being crafted. Neither of those opinions alleviate any of the tragedy of an extremely unnecessary death. It is important to make the distinction that Zimmerman was found not guilty but he was not found innocent because he wasn’t. All of our actions have consequences. Zimmerman may have been not guilty of second degree murder or manslaughter under the law, but he is not innocent by any means of actions that put him in a position that led to him taking a life. Martin was certainly a victim, but his actions as well put him in a worse predicament than he needed to be in.
As we try to respond rightly, we must not allow ourselves to fall into the stereotypical responses that so often accompany these types of issues. I would like to offer a few insights that, Lord willing, will help us think well about this…
– There were no winners in this verdict. A 17-year-old boy is dead and didn’t have to be. It is tragic even if the letter of the law was served.
– There is no real reason to take sides. This is not a black/white, left/right, or liberal/conservative issue. We should not view tragedy in terms of winners and losers.
– We make no progress by denying race played a role in this case nor by saying it was the sole factor.
– Christians (of all races) must acknowledge any racism, whether overt or latent, repent and work on crucifying this part of our fallen fleshly humanity.
– Before making quick judgments, those of us who are white, need to try our best to understand why a young black man would feel threatened or what it is like to be viewed suspiciously for no other reason than the fact you are black. The majority rarely understand what it is like to not be the majority.
– Before making quick judgments, blacks need to remember and know that many of us who are white hate racism, want it to end, and are saddened by it, even if we don’t experience it like you have.
– As the church, we should seek to be salt in light in racial issues just as we are to do in all areas of life, and all races need to understand that we were adopted by a heavenly Father who shows no partiality and sees no distinctions and because of that neither should we.
There have been some excellent pieces written on this issue over the past few days. I would wholeheartedly recommend the articles by Al Mohler, Russell Moore, Thabiti Anyabwile, and William Saletan.