I have done all I could to avoid writing about the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. It seemed obvious that there was no need for one more voice to be put into the cacophony of anger, confusion, and dismay over what is at the bottom line an unbelievably painful tragedy for two families. But two things have led me to the conclusion that it was time. One is a book I have been reading called Think Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. It is a psychological study that, among other things, details the universal human reaction to not having all the information. We are notorious at jumping to conclusions and filling in the gaps of information and we usually do it in the worst possible ways. I found myself constantly reflecting on the various reactions to each tidbit of news that comes out in this case and felt I was watching a real-time display of Kahneman’s work. People have jumped to conclusions about both Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, the man who shot him. The second reason it became clear that I needed to address this issue is that I have heard very little from the Christian community, with the notable exception of an amazing presentation on racism by Tim Keller and John Piper. If anyone should be speaking to issues of racism, violence, and a community in turmoil, it is followers of Christ, because we should understand better than anyone, that ultimately when we all stand at the foot of the Cross, the savior who bled on it and died, did so for black, white, yellow, European, Asian, African, Latino, and all the other possible delineations of people. Jesus bled equally for you and me, for Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman.
If anyone should be speaking out it is the Christian community because this tragedy has the potential to either tear us apart or motivate us to come together and finally defeat this ugly beast called racism. The only way I know to defeat racism is through the power of God that comes only through a life changing relationship with Christ. And be certain that when I speak of racism I am speaking of how people of every race are to some degree racist. I am not saying that everyone is a racist. I am saying that no race, creed, ethnic group or gender is without people in it who treat those outside their group with disdain, hatred, or even violence. The sinners that we are means that we all battle with the propensity to trust our own kind and be suspicious of those we think are different. Racism has its roots in our sin which is why only a relationship with Jesus, the one who washes away our sin, can ultimately defeat our racist attitudes.
In processing all that is swirling around us I was taken back to a series of sermons I preached years ago. The basic idea for them came from John Ortberg who did a series of “What Would Jesus Say To…” messages. As Sanford Florida has come into an unwanted spotlight I wondered what would Jesus say to Sanford, and all of us, about what we are experiencing. A few things came to mind:
Jesus would surely say, “weep with those who weep”. (Romans 12:15) True compassion must in some way impact your heart in the same way it impacts those who are in pain. Trayvon Martin’s family is feeling incredible pain and they are weeping. But George Zimmerman and his family are also in pain and weeping. Certainly the pain is different but it is no less real. And Jesus didn’t say to weep with certain people who weep, and don’t weep with other people because you have a problem with them. As followers of Christ we don’t have the option of being selective about to whom we show compassion and mercy. You don’t have the freedom to opt out of weeping with Trayvon’s family because you think he first struck George Zimmerman causing George to shoot in self-defense. You also don’t have the freedom to opt out of weeping with George Zimmerman because you think he hunted down Trayvon because he racially profiled him and forced a confrontation. First of all, none of us know what really happened in that fateful 60 seconds. We may have some idea. We certainly have lots of people filling in the blanks with speculation, usually speculation based on their preconceived notions and not objectively on the evidence. Secondly, even if we did know, we are still not given the freedom to opt out of weeping for and praying for, both families.
Jesus would say, “Take the log out of your own eye” (Matthew 7:5) That wonderful saying was part of Jesus telling us that before you start trying to get a speck of dust out of another person’s eye you need to deal with the huge log protruding from your own eye. In other words, we all have this propensity to be able to point out the slightest flaw in another person while being completely blind to our own huge shortcomings and faults. So before you start blaming Trayvon for being a hoodlum or George for being a racist (of which you have no real knowledge to base either conclusion, so I refer you back to the jumping to conclusions presented in Kahneman’s book) take a long and deep look into your own soul. What kind of anger, hatred, bitterness, and even latent or not so latent racism resides there? What are your issues that are driving your reaction to all of this? Do you have a general distrust of all white people? Are you immediately cautious around black teenage males? Do you tend to blame problems on “those people” whoever “they” are? Even the best of us are still tainted by sin and have to be vigilant in guarding our own hearts and subsequent reactions.
Jesus would say, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31) When Jesus first said this, people tried to manage the expectations by limiting who qualified as “neighbor”. Jesus made it clear that your neighbor is whoever happens to be around you at any given moment. For those who wondered what it meant to actually love your neighbor Jesus made it clear that sacrificing for them and serving them in their need is loving your neighbor. At this moment, Trayvon Martin’s family and George Zimmerman and his family are our neighbors. They each are in a time of need. The needs are somewhat different, yet very similar. They need to know they are loved and that people who love them will stand with them to give comfort and strength. It has nothing to do with what version of the story you believe or who you believe. Loving your neighbor has everything to do with the fact that while you and I were still enemies of God, Jesus loved us enough to go to the Cross in our place. That love from God compels us to love one another, even when it hurts.
There is much more that I am sure Jesus would say to Sanford and to all of us, especially His followers. I suspect He would be calling for us to take steps in our own lives to knock down barriers, open up dialogue, reach across the racial divide and find out that “those” people are in the end, people. People like you. They hurt, they fear, they laugh, they weep, they dream. They do all the things you do and experience life just as you do. I think Jesus might also say that when the Trayvon Martin case fades from public prominence, and it will, followers of Christ must not let issues of racism, equality, love for neighbor no matter their color, fade from prominence in how we live. Check your heart and then check your actions. What are you doing to show the love of Christ to people who are unlike you? What are you doing to show that following Christ really does make a radical difference in how we relate to one another. What are you doing to show that we all stand as equals before the Cross of Christ?
“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:26-28
38 thoughts on “The Trayvon Martin Case: What Would Jesus Say to Sanford Florida, You, and Me?”
Thanks, Dan! I really enjoyed your “take” on the subject. I agree with you 100%. It is up to us to set an example. Christ died for each of us, not just a few! His desire is for all of us to find salvation through Him! Even if we had all of the facts, it isn’t up to us to “judge”. Our job is to love and to forgive everyone involved.
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Excellent post. You are right that the Church has been too quiet on this whole story. We should be leading the way. Thanks for the reminder.
Great perspective. We don’t know all the facts and probably never will. The impact of racism goes beyond Sanford. People across the country, of all races are hurting over this incident. The country needs healing and should be asking itself why there is racism in the first place. We are all equal in the sight of God.
The lack of comment by the Christian community may be because we don’t know what to say. I am still speechless over it. I remember when a friends daughter was raped and murdered, the first thing the priest said to them was they had to forgive who did this. The incident had just happened and that is not what they needed to hear at that point. The Christian community because of their love for their neighbor and compassion often doesn’t know what to say, and don’t want to be like that priest and say the absolutely wrong thing.Sometimes it is just better to hold your tongue until you can say something sincere and out of love.
Thanks Dan! Once again your blog is right on.
Nice article Dan. The media fuels an already volatile fire of emotions and people are so quick to judge the actions of others forgetting that this tragedy has forever changed the lives of two families. In the end, there is only one judge.
That was really great Dan, and so true- we ALL are guilty of jumping to conclusions.. Many people regard racism as solely a “white” problem but in reality it’s a black heart problem- we ALL have hearts that are pitch black dirty until the Holy Spirit shines His light into them. When He comes inside us, He doesn’t immediately just do a Holy Ghost heart transplant (He’ll do that when we’re glorified). He comes in and shines His light in our hearts and removes a little dirt here and a little dirt there at the exact time He knows we are ready for His sanctifying work. The longer we’ve been walking with Him and the more dirt we are aware of that He’s taken out of our hearts and how much dirt He still must remove, the less apt we are to jump to conclusions and bang people over the head with the log in our eyes because they can’t see to remove the speck in theirs.
Jeff, thanks for the comments. Good to hear from you as always. Praying for you and your family. Are you deployed still? Thought you were in the states. What about your son?
Thanks Darden, great to hear from you. I appreciate the encouragement
Bruce, thanks for your comments. I totally get the point about sometimes it is best to say nothing to the grieving. Job’s friends did just fine sitting with him in his grief and keeping their mouths shut. When they started to talk it all went downhill. Yet there does need to be some ongoing effort but the Body of Christ to bring healing and reconciliation across racial lines. Let’s pray we have the wisdom to know when to speak and what to say. Dan
Thanks Dave, sadly it is very hard for us to work through our own prejudices and set the right example. Even Christians are more a product of our environment than we want to admit. Dan
JB, I trust you will join with me in speaking the truth in love. Glad to see you got a blog going and look forward to reading more in the future. Dan
Hi, Dan, the verse in John, I think, says it all…I can’t find it right now at work but essentially it says that when we show love for one another we show that we are truly His disciples.
It’s very hard sometimes because a fellow Christian a few weeks ago posted on facebook that because of this story, he believes that most pro-gun people are really white supremacists. I did not take that well at all because that is just inflammatory and untrue. So then I was accused of not searching my heart enough. And my thought was, well, when I’m accused of being a white supremacist, then heart searching kind of goes out the window. I had to delete him from my friend list (just an acquaintance) because I could not deal with that kind of stuff within the body of Christ.
I think that is the challenge here and probably why the church has not been more responsive. Kind of a lose-lose situation in some ways.
Thanks for your challenge and for reading my blog!
Reblogged this on Chief of the least.
This is a much needed topic which deserves great attention. I even touched on it in my own blog post today because, as my pastor preached on washing the feet of others Sunday, I realized (when I looked around my church where we all look basically alike) that I often just don’t get it.
I imagine Jesus looked like us and assume we are to minister love to those who are similiar to us. God has been giving me opportunities to bust out of my comfortable bubble and minister to those of other cultures. And He has opened my eyes to see the plank that was skewing my view (a.k.a. prejudism). I am ashamed. But, I am thankful to have been set free. 😉
Don’t we all descend from Adam & Eve? All of us? Didn’t God place all the gene variations in the first man and woman? Dark or light skin genes, eye shape & color, hair color and texture? When you said the only way to defeat racisim is through the life changing power of Christ; that is the answer. We are one race–the human race.
Beautifully written. I have tried to write about this but just can’t get it out the way it should be.
Dan: I sure don’t want to be a pain on your blog but when you say prejudice I quickly envision the other forms of prejudice. Personally I have no problem with any person because of the color of their skin, gender, or status.
When I was teaching an adult Sunday school class in Tallahassee, Fla. I commented that the bridge most of our parishioners drove under on the way to church had several homeless families living under it. I was told that was not the case by one woman. The next week she admitted she saw them and had always looked past them. They were there but she didn’t want to see them and so she ignored them. A form of prejudice based upon their status. I have Indian friends who to this day are the subjects of prejudice. One is a Pastor of at least three Christian churches but he is ignored by many because he is Apache. Another is a college professor who is spoken down to or ignored – also a Christian, because he is Mohawk Indian. Women are now being verbally abused because of gender. There is prejudice everywhere I look and it is disturbing to me.
I don’t have the words to describe all I see adequately. I wonder when will it end and when can we start to accept people for who they are and not what they are. To understand prejudice is one thing but do we as Christians practice not being a part of it? Seems to me if Treyvon was the victim of prejudice ( I don’t know for sure he was) that it is only the tip of the iceberg.
Bruce, one of the points I think I was making is that we all jump to conclusions. Those jumps are often driven by our preconceived ideas about a person which is basically what prejudice it. It means to pre-judge someone, usually based on a limited, external observation. I totally get the native American concern. My dad was 1/4 Cherokee so I have always paid attention to that. Christians are not immune to prejudice and it’s more insidious cousin, racism. The sooner we realize that we are all sinners, equally guilty at the foot of the cross, the better. Thanks again for your comments. Always love hearing from you. Dan
Thanks John, glad it was meaningful to you. Feel free to pass it on to others. Dan
Joigrl, A BIG AMEN to that.
Thanks for the encouragement. I checked out your blog and added it to my bookmarks and will be subscribing as well. Love how you write and your attitude about life that came from your dad’s shirt. I borrowed a line from a friend of mine and have been using it a great deal lately, “Be Safe But Live Dangerously” I look forward to reading more of your stuff in the future and hearing from you again. Dan
Thanks Holly. I would love to connect with you and your husband at some point. I travel to India once or twice a year to do training for pastors there. Mostly in Orissa. I will be back there in November not far from Raipur working with house church pastors as well as Church of North India pastors and leaders. Dan
Hey Brian, thanks for reposting the blog on Trayvon. You must have a devoted following because the hits, likes and comments took a big jump within minutes of you doing that. What high school do you coach with? Did that for 10 years in Pittsburgh and for 10 here in Oviedo. Also, I would love to have you write a guest post on the blog sometime. What do you think? Dan
If we all could realize that…. but that’s part of the problem with fallen man (and woman!)
Sure. My hsuband blogs at Episcoblog. We get to India once a year, or every other year. Be glad to connect! Thanks for visiting my blog! North India is really mission territory.
You’re welcome, it was a very good article! I teach and coach at Mosley high school in Lynn Haven, FL. I’d be interested in doing a guest post, but it’d have to be towards the end of school. I’m swamped with coaching track and spring football until then. Just remind me around that time (end of may). Peace and grace!
Particularly striking is your comment that, as Christians, we can’t grant ourselves the right to opt out of weeping for both the Martins and the Zimmermans. Very powerful, indeed. Thanks for this thought.
God can get glory out of death, right! Even using T-shirts. 😉
I love your friend’s quote — can’t wait to share that with my pastor. And I look forward to reading more of what you have to say (hoping for time to browse what you’ve already written!). 🙂
Reblogged this on Glenford's Daily Word, Food, & The Vine and commented:
Jesus would say, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31) When Jesus first said this, people tried to manage the expectations by limiting who qualified as “neighbor”. Jesus made it clear that your neighbor is whoever happens to be around you at any given moment. For those who wondered what it meant to actually love your neighbor Jesus made it clear that sacrificing for them and serving them in their need is loving your neighbor.
Great post on this issue. People by now also ought to realize that the reporting done on something like this will be selective. What is not said is often more important than what is. One can’t take at face value what the media says. There are to be sure two hurting families here, and no one has all the facts to make a sound judgement. If there needs to be a judgement, it needs to be in court, not by the people through the media.
This is a TREMENDOUS post. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom; you put into words what apparently I’ve not been alone in thinking. Peace be with you, sir, and I hope you won’t mind that I shared this.
Irish, please feel free to pass it on. Thanks so much for the encouraging words. I am glad this has ministered to you. Dan
I enjoy reading your site because we think a lot alike. One thing I have noticed however, you do not have all of your facts correct. You said in one section ” As followers of Christ” we don’t have the “freedom” to opt out of weeping with Trayvon’s family. As followers of Christ “free will” is either one of the greatest gifts, or one of the worst punishments that God has given us. Think about it, if we didn’t have the freedom to choose to do the wrong thing we all would be guaranteed a spot in Heaven. I don’t know if we should like or loathe free will. While it’s obvious that we as Christians should weep for the families of both Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, we as Christians have the God given freedom to decide if we want to. Also, you referred to George Zimmerman as “white”. He is of Mexican descent.
If I have in any way insulted you, that was not my intention and for that I am sorry. As I said enjoy reading your page, and I thank you for taking the time to write this stuff.
Thanks for the comments and you have to try way harder than that to insult me. 🙂 Not that you were trying to but you know what I mean. In terms of free will on the theological level, yes we all have the ability to make choices and we decide to sin or not to sin. My comment is not on that level, rather what I am saying is that clearly we are commanded by scripture to mourn with those who mourn and weep. If you are really trying to follow Christ, is there any other “choice”? In deciding to chose not to weep and mourn we are making a decision to disobey Christ. Sure we have the “freedom” to do so, but does anyone really want to argue that they will not weep with the Martin and Zimmerman families because they want to outright defy Jesus? It’s is not as if Jesus is saying, “it really doesn’t matter if you weep or not, you decide”. He is saying that it does matter and we should weep with them. In that sense, I have no reasonable choice but to obey and weep. It is not an option in which either action on my part is equally acceptable.
As far as George being white or hispanic, you are correct that he has been described by family as being of hispanic speaking descent on his mothers side and I can respect that. I am always fascinated by how we determine ethnicity and race these days. In Zimmerman’s case his father is white, yet he is being called hispanic and I should have done so. Yet in President Obama’s case his mother was white, but his identity is that of his father who was African. When people people ask my background I saw that I am Irish on my mothers side and Croatian and Native American on my fathers side. It takes a moment more but it is more accurate. Of course to look at me, there is not a hint of Native American. Bottom line, you point on race is well taken. I long for the day when it is not much of a factor in how we identify people. Dan
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