Late Saturday night a jury of six women found George Zimmerman not guilty of committing Second Degree Murder against Trayvon Martin. The announcement of the verdict has created multiple waves of reaction and emotion. For some there is a deep sense of injustice. For others there is a belief that the correct verdict was rendered. There would be no winners at the end of the trial. One young man lost his life and another’s life has been marred and changed forever.
Regardless of what side you find yourself on it is clear that our nation is still fractured to some degree by race. 150 years after slavery was ended and 45 years after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, we are a nation still wrestling through race, justice and equality.
So how does the church respond when there is such a nationwide focus on these issues? How do God’s people respond to the emotion and outrage our neighbors feel? How do we speak to race, justice and equality in the face of events like the Zimmerman case? Here are just a few thoughts for us to think on:
1.) We are Christ like when we’re empathetic towards those who suffer. Those of us who are privileged (white, middle to upper class, educated, males) need to consider the privilege of ‘privilege’. This is challenging because rarely can we see through a lens other than our own experience. It’s easy to say “get over it” or “just move on” from something we, nor our ancestors experienced. My grandfather and father were born with a full slate of rights. That wasn’t the case for my black neighbors just down the road. As social psychologist Christena Cleveland points out, the benefits of privilege are difficult to detect and I don’t typically notice these benefits. I take them for granted and think that everyone else enjoys them as well. In order to have empathy for those who are oppressed we must be self aware of our inherit privilege. The hard thing about blind spots is, well we are blind to them.
2.) It’s easier to make a point than to make a difference. We live in an age of social media where we are tempted, and often give into the temptation to spout off our feelings and unfettered thoughts on controversial subjects. While it’s your right to speak your mind – if you’re a believer you’ve surrendered your rights to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Paul admonishes us in Philippians 2 to “consider the interests of others as more important than our own”. That would include people with whom we disagree with. Our greatest desire should be to move people to the heart of Jesus. However, if by making our point – even if our point is right, we lose the ability to have influence and relationship – what have we gained? Sometimes it’s a messy, grayish life the Christ follower is to lead. To have the kind of influence needed make a difference in people’s lives, you have to avoid simply making your point. If you make your point in such a way that you forfeit the ability to make a difference, you’ve lost.
3.) Trayvon’s death was tragic. The loss of life is always tragic – regardless of the circumstances. Trayvon’s life, like all life was precious. The Bible commands all followers of Jesus to “weep with those who weep”. (Romans 12:15) Trayvon’s parents, family and friends are grieving the loss of a loved one. Our attitudes should be compassionate and sympathetic towards them.
4.) Pray. We should pray for George Zimmerman and his family. The jury may have found him not guilty, but to millions of Americans he’ll always be guilty. His life will never be the same. His family’s life will never be the same. He’s faced with the sadness and reality that he took another person’s life as well as the repercussions that has brought upon him. We should pray for his safety, healing and salvation.
5.) Trayvon, George, Me and You are all in need of rescue. We are all sinners, guilty before a holy God. There is hope of pardon though in Jesus Christ. As the famous Hymn so adeptly puts it:
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
Jesus died so that we might live. My prayer is that George Zimmerman experiences, if he hasn’t, the freedom that comes through salvation in Jesus. He alone can free us from guilt and shame.
May we seek to love one another, show kindness, seek justice and live at peace.