Trayvon Martin, Racism, and the Church’s Problem (Updated)

By now you know who Trayvon Martin is, who was killed by George Zimmerman on February 26 in Sanford, Florida. This is likely yet another act of injustice committed because Trayvon Martin happened to be Black.*

I read an interesting piece by Tim Wise, Trayvon Martin, White Denial and the Unacceptable Burden of Blackness in America, which is a little long but worth the read. Wise stresses the problem of racism that lies behind the murder of Trayvon Martin. And that is why this problem is not just an American problem, it is also a problem for the Christian church in America. So allow me to explain.

In the Bible the Apostle Paul writes, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one…” (Eph 2.14). And with those words, Paul goes on to lay out the intent of the gospel whereby all people are reconciled to God and each other as one people. But that intent has largely been so far down on the list of what’s important that it becomes inconsequential to being Christian. Instead of pursuing this reconciliation, we have cherry-picked a couple of verses here and there from the Bible to make an entire list of other issues more important…all the while, ignoring the big elephant right in the room.

America came of age as nation in whom the majority professed Christian faith and yet we have a sordid history of racism. It is said that Sunday morning is still the most racially segregated hour on Sunday. Sad! Just plain sad that of all people, many Christians still remain divided by race. As a preacher, I spoken for a few churches during my lifetime and believe me, even in the twenty-first century racism lives among Christians. Yet I was once was told how unimportant this issue was as I was admonished for preaching on racial relations all the while being told that the problem facing the Churches of Christ was instrumental music being introduced into worship (a casualty of Bible cherry-picking).

I have been fortunate to serve as a minister for congregations that did share in the gospel vision of Ephesians 2:14ff. Yet even this has had its challenges. What I know is that racism is a product of ignorance. Because we do not know, we fear and eventually learn to hate. So if racism is ever to become a thing of the past, we must work to end the ignorance.

First, we must develop friendships. Only then can we learn about each other and the stories to share with each other. But to hear these stories as they are meant to be heard, we must seek to understand which requires listening before making any evaluations. Yet how many times have we judged someone without first listening to them…or even knowing them?

Ultimately, if we are to end the ignorance, we must learn the value of hospitality. This is the practice of sharing the table with people of other races, in our homes and their homes. It is one thing to converse with each other at the gym, at work, at a church building…it is another thing to sit in our homes together. Yet that is easier said than done. I know as recently as a couple of weeks ago I was invited to the home of a local Muslim and I found myself suddenly asking myself what I got myself into. And I knew that what was driving that feeling in me was a slight bit of fear because I did not really know a Muslim.

I’m not sure how to end this post except to say that if we call ourselves “Christian” then we must overcome our racism. It is plain and simple and it is what God desires!

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* I have updated this post based on some gracious feedback from commenter JD.  My remarks about Martin and Zimmerman are based on what I have gleaned thus far from the news reports I have read and listened too.  With that being said, my hope in writing this post was not to address the incident involving Martin and Zimmerman but to use that event to speak about the larger problem of racism in America and why this problem is the problem of the Church as well.

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11 responses to “Trayvon Martin, Racism, and the Church’s Problem (Updated)

  1. We had the opportunity to visit the Dachau Concentration Camp in Munich Germany this weekend. Between 1933 to 1945 over 450,000 people died there, either murdered or died as a result of horrific living conditions. They were sent there either for being Jewish, their political convictions, or because they were “undesirables”. We saw the rooms in which they were tortured, killed and cremated. The only thing to do standing in these rooms was to grieve and cry. Written above one of the barracks were the words: “Never again”. Perhaps we think we have overcome such atrocities but as long as racism festers the heart, it is a problem for all of us. Let us grieve those who have been murdered by the hands of another to the extent that we extend the hand of friendship to our neighbor as an example of what it is to love as we have been loved. Amy

  2. Rex, while I agree with much of what you have said, I would like to know how you know the following: “This is yet another act of injustice committed because Trayvon Martin happened to be Black.” There has been no trial, Mr. Zimmerman is in hiding due to threats to his life and family (it cuts both ways) … and he has yet to speak except through friends and lawyer. I want to stand against racism, for justice, but not for lynching the guilty party before he is proven guilty. He had some injuries himself, which seems to suggest that there was more than just skittles involved. we’ll learn more later.

    • John, I am basing my statement on what I have heard so far and I did wait a while before writing on this so that I had time to read and listen to various news reports. Any how, I did change the post a bit to read that Zimmerman “killed” (not murdered) Martin and that it’s is “likely” motivated by racism.

      Thanks for your gracious critique.

  3. “He who answers a matter before he hears it,
    It is folly and shame to him.” Proverbs 18:13

    Zimmerman was brutally beaten by the 6″ taller and younger man, had his nose broken and beaten on the back of his head to bloodiness there too. (Probably implying a concussion.) Zimmerman was being beaten while on the ground on his back and was eyewitnessed yelling for help while he was being beaten. (An audio witness Mary Cutcher presumed it was Martin calling for help, but she was not a eyewitness.) You could have listened to all 911 calls, read police transcripts, etc. like I did before I answered the matter.

    It is not enough to merely change “murdered” to killed likely motivated by racism. Repent of your prejudgment. And since that is what you accuse, it makes your accusation hypocrisy as well.

  4. Pingback: Christianity, Racism, and the Way Forward | Kingdom Seeking

  5. Pingback: Ad Hominem…Ad Nauseam | Kingdom Seeking

  6. This discussion highlights the problems with dealing with race relations in this country. The leap to assume that race was even an issue in the Trayvon Martin shooting. The distribution of information that is hearsay and opinion to convict one or the other before the finding of facts does nothing to seek the truth but support personal agenda’s. This display of hipocrisy does more to hurt christianity than to help it. The rush of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton to convict Zimmerman in the court of public opinion is an affront to christianity and a disgusting manipulation of the death of a young man for selfish reasons.

  7. Pingback: God: Slow to Anger « Peter’s Patter

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