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!
* 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.