COMMENTARY | From Baptist Press
After a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty in the death of teenager Trayvon Martin, Southern Baptist leaders called for active love and respect for justice. They also acknowledged very real questions raised by the case, including the validity of state laws like Florida’s “stand your ground” statute, and the prevalence of racial tension and discrimination in the United States.
Zimmerman, a 29-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer, shot and killed Martin, 17, last February in Sanford, Fla. The case ignited a firestorm of controversy about race and gun laws across the country.
Churches had the trial on their minds as they met Sunday, July 13, after the not-guilty verdict was announced Saturday evening. Kevin Cosby, pastor of St. Stephen Church in Louisville, Ky., tweeted: “The black community is engulfed in grief. Service today was like attending a funeral. Despair!”
This is a perfect time for the church to be a “healing balm” for the country, Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter said. “Some people are upset, angry and frustrated, while others are in full support of the verdict, so where does the church fit in?” Luter asked in comments to Baptist Press.
“The church should be there to pray for both families, the city of Sanford, and our nation. We are to intercede and stand in the gap by showing the love of God to all those who have strong feelings about this case.”
Amidst the call to love and to pray, leaders also urged Christians to stand for what’s right. “This is our season as the body of Christ to heed the call of the minor prophet Micah to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8),” said Philadelphia pastor K. Marshall Williams, chairman of the African American Advisory Council of the SBC Executive Committee.
“The world needs to see God’s people of all races stand up not just on issues of morality but issues of race and social justice…”
Some leaders voiced questions about laws that enable discrimination against particular ethnic groups. San Diego pastor A.B. Vines noted while Zimmerman used Florida’s “stand your ground” law as a successful defense, Jacksonville mother Marissa Alexander was sentenced last year to 20 years in prison for firing a gun in the air – even though she injured no one – because of a state law that predetermines the sentence for firing a gun in public.
Alexander had secured a restraining order against a husband based on physical abuse. Comparing her case to Zimmerman’s, Vines said, “…Those are the issues I think Southern Baptists need to address … the disparity of the law and how certain laws affect certain ethnic groups differently than other ethnic groups.”
Russell Moore, president of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, also referenced a disparity in the justice various ethnic groups receive.
“This…ought to remind us of the blighted history of our country, when it comes to racial injustice. Despite all the progress we’ve made, we live in a culture where too often African American persons are suspected of a crime just for existing.”
Kevin Smith, an assistant professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., referenced that hard truth in a tweet the day after the verdict: “Revisiting ‘the talk’ with my rising senior (UK honor student) about where he hangs out – unique duty to parents of black males.”