Christians and Trayvon Martin

I haven't been nearly as faithful in posting on the blog this last year. I'm in the midst of working on my thesis and the last thing I want to do is write for fun. Still, I felt compelled to pause from research and writing this afternoon to post this. In my role as pastor, I tend to steer away from divisive, political and current event issues. Doing so will usually attract the label of being weak or wishy-washy or a wuss.

I'd argue that it makes me something all-together different: it makes me pastoral.

You see, even though we don't like to admit it, many of the views about which we are most passionate are opinions. And our reactions to those issues are generated from our worldview. Often, this transcends our religious views and are derived from other ideologies, but we confuse them and view them as essential parts of our faith. For example, within my faith tradition, there's a natural assumption that you align yourself with a conservative Republican worldview. I have other friends from a mainline denomational affiliation whose Christianity is connected to a liberal Democrat persepective. Even though I follow politics and am amused by it, for the most part I really don't care what you believe unless you mesh it indiscernably with your faith and force others to submit to it.

In our church fellowship we have people across the political spectrum: conservatives, progressives, libertarians, vegans, Browns fans, etc.. So my pastoral role is to cut through these worldviews so that it's perfectly clear which ones are biblical and which are not. If those issues infringe upon the political realm, then, and only then, am I obligated to speak out.

I think about this a lot in my preaching and teaching because I recognize that I too own opinions on how the world should work. But despite my studies and thoughtful engagement on these subjects, I have blind-spots. And since I believe I'll be judged as a result of how I pastor (James 3:1), I still try to hold to an old adage within my faith tradition: "where the Scriptures speak, I speak, and where the Scriptures are silent, I am silent." My job, as best as possible, is to keep my opinions to myself.

So, what brought you in: about the George Zimmerman trial concerning the death of Trayvon Martin.

A young man is dead and another young man will never escape this deed as long as he lives. I, like many of you, spent the past weeks watching the trial and the media buzz surrounding it; I actually started tracking the case immediately after Trayvon died. There has likely not been a current event like this in the past decade that has left so much open to opinion. And I say that because of the perfect storm surrounding the tragic issue of this event: only two people know for sure what happened and one of them is no longer alive. As a result, we have relied heavily on our worldviews to interpret what happened on a rainy night when only two people knew for sure.

But you likely immediately knew who you sided with—Zimmerman or Martin—once you heard about it. And you probably haven't waivered from that position since.

The main issue that continues to divide us concerning this tragedy is that these two participants weren't polarizing enough to make our interpretations easy. If either of the two had exemplified pure evil or unquestioned good, we may never have even heard about this case. The trial exposed that Zimmerman had done things that showed he could have been either a racist vigiliante or an average Joe. We also saw that Trayvon was a kid who did just enough wrong to leave people questioning his youthful innocence. So, in reality, the two ideally represented how all of us actually are: beings capable of both grace and sin.

But when there is nothing left to go on, we will default to our preferred narrative. And then, we're not even arguing about this tragedy.

We're arguing about our worldviews.

So what now?

First, a story.

This past week, our church hosted our first ever Vacation Bible School—a mini summer camp for children. Even though I'm the minister, I had very little to do with it. Other people developed the concept, organized volunteers, did the set up and tear down. All I had to do is show up and do as I was told. I've been involved with numerous VBS's over the years but it was different than any other I had ever participated in.

Our Walnut Hills neighborhood claims diversity and it models it. Developed as a rich, white suburb, it became a landing place for poor black families whose neighborhoods were eradicated in the 1950's, 60's, and 70's to build the interstate system through the city. The neighborhood has "leveled-off" if you will, with black/white and rich/poor living side by side. Within a mile radius of the church building we rent, some of the richest and poorest residents of the city of Cincinnati area reside.

Any week of VBS is exhausting but the thought of this mix of kids made me anticipate greater challenges. But you know what? It worked perfectly. Those children had no problem being together, learning together, seeing together, playing together. During one snack time, kids had to make the snack for the child next to them and any racial or socio-economic boundaries were non-existent. I'm not sure we've we really acheived the post-racial society we were promised, but these kids made me believe that it could be coming. But for those older people like ourselves, we still grapple with the present reality.

These next sentences will offend some, but the more I labored over them, the more I realized that their accuracy is what makes them painful: if you grew up being profiled, it will never leave you. And you probably relate with Trayvon and his family. And if you grew up suspicious of those different than you, it's incredibly difficult to escape it. And you likely feel for Zimmerman. And that's why, as a white priviliged male, I am saddened today. These opinions are derrived from experiences and there's nothing that can be done today to heal them immediately.

So I now will give my opinion based from my current worldview. See, I have many friends who are minorities who have spent their lives in fear from authority as a result of history and experience. They are frightened by this verdict because they feel that the same thing that happened to Trayvon could happen to their children as well. You may not understand that fear personally, but it truly exists. And for them, rejoicing in Zimmerman's aquittal is akin to celebrating the idea that their kids lives are insignificant. And to witness that perpetuated from other Christians is devastating.

If your humanity will not permit you to grasp that concept, you need a new worldview.

So as I simplistically opined last night, this isn't the occassion to be witty or wise. This isn't the time to talk jurisprudance or discuss proper legal outcomes. This isn't the opportunity to speak in anger and prophecy the forthcoming vengence of God.

It is a time for sorrow and to reevaluate how we view those created in the image of God. No one won here.

Jesus wept, and so must we.