Black pastors react after acquittal in racially-charged US case

(Photo: REUTERS / Jonathan Alcorn)Demonstrators march during a protest against the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin trial, in Los Angeles, California July 14, 2013. U.S. President Barack Obama called for calm on Sunday after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, as thousands of civil rights demonstrators turned out at rallies to condemn racial profiling. Zimmerman, cleared late on Saturday by a Florida jury of six women, still faces public outrage, a possible civil suit and demands for a federal investigation.

The acquittal of George Zimmerman, a mixed-race Hispanic who was accused of murdering African-American teenager Trayvon Martin last year, has triggered deep soul-searching among black Christian leaders over the issue of racial justice in the United States.

The 29-year-old Zimmerman claimed self-defense in the shooting of the 17-year-old Martin as they scuffled in a housing area.

Zimmerman had been patrolling on a neighborhood watch the night of February 26, 2012 when he encountered the teenager.

Martin was walking home, carrying a soft drink and candy.

American media riveted on the case due to the racial component that has accompanied it.

Critics of Zimmerman believe he racially profiled Martin and confronted him unnecessarily.

Supporters of the neighborhood watchman believe Martin was the aggressor and that Zimmerman's fear for his life led to a justifiable homicide.


Even the racial makeup of the six-person jury was highlighted during the trial.

Five of the six jurors were white women, while the sixth was a Hispanic female.

Most of the media coverage of the verdict has focused on the reaction of Americans who disagree with it.

There have been reports of street protests in New York and Los Angeles after the Florida jury's decision late Saturday night. More protests are expected.

In addition, the media has centered on the announcement by the U.S. Department of Justice that it is reviewing the death of Martin to see if Zimmerman violated his civil rights.

Much of the reporting concerning the Christian response to the case has paralleled the coverage of the public reaction.

Most of the leaders whose responses have been prominent in the media thus far are African American and say they believe Zimmerman's acquittal was an injustice.

One of the most prominent pastors who disagreed with the decision is T.D. Jakes, pastor of the Potter's House in Dallas Texas whose messages are broadcast every day on American television.


He interrupted his prepared remarks on Sunday to express his views on the verdict, the Christian Post reported.

Jakes, an African-American with a large following of people of all races, prefaced his comments that that he rarely discussed politics or legal cases

"But I cannot ignore the obligation that I have to you … it would be disingenuous of me to not tell you quite honestly and quite succinctly that I was stunned, shocked, [and] speechless about the outcome of this trial," he said.

He also criticized the media for focusing on race.

"I think it is an oversimplification of the truth to say this is totally about racism," he said. "I think that all people should be concerned. All people of all colors should be concerned."

Other African-American pastors agreed with Jakes' views on the verdict.

Throughout the United States, black pastors dressed in hoodies, the attire worn by Martin when he was killed, as they delivered their Sunday sermons protesting the decision.

"We have a black man in the White House, but Trayvon Martin can't walk without suspicion through the streets of his own gated community," said Atlanta pastor Raphael Warnock, quoted in The Blaze. "Here we are, again staring in the face of old logic that black life is not as valuable as white life."

President Barack Obama created controversy when he seemed by some to take sides in the case, saying that if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin.


On Sunday, Obama said in a statement on the White House website, "We are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken."

He called for "calm reflection."

Christianity Today posted the reaction of three contributors who did just that after the jury decision.

One of them, Dr. Christena Cleveland, an African-American Minnesota church leader and social psychologist, noted the different reactions of blacks and whites to racially charged cases such as the one in Florida.

"Based on my conversations with both blacks and whites, I've noticed a stark contrast in how the different groups tend to perceive these incidents," she said. "Blacks often perceive them as outrageously unjust, oppressive, critically important, and indicative of deep-rooted racial injustices in American society.

"On the other hand whites often perceive these incidents as relatively less important, as isolated events that aren't necessarily related to larger societal issues, and/or the result of blacks engaging in 'race-baiting' or 'playing the race card'."

Cleveland said that the racial issue in America needs to be viewed through the lens of privilege.

She exemplified the "privileged" as those whom are "white, male, middle-class or higher, educated, able-bodied, heterosexual, and/or physically attractive, etc."

Cleveland suggested that "the privileged Christian's response to different viewpoints from members of oppressed groups should be marked with an eagerness to learn, a desire to stand in solidarity, and great humility."


An hour before the verdict, black pastor John Guns of Jacksonville, Florida told Mike Huckabee on Fox News that he would tell his congregation to "trust the system, as difficult as that might be for African Americans."

"If we are going to be persons of faith, we must operate from a spirit of forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration because in the end lives are going to be affected," he said to Huckabee, who is also a church minister and the former governor of Arkansas.

"My desire is that we have a national conversation as, first of all, men - black men, white men, Latinos, Korean, it doesn't matter -men of all lifestyles," said Guns. "We need to put men in a room and start having a conversation about what it means to be a man in America in the 21st century.

"We have to deal with why we have this anger, why we are even dealing with race in the 21st century."

Jakes said, "We sit there and watch it (injustices) and we don't say anything. I want to get rid of this lynching mentality where we come out and watch people burn up and don't say anything about it, and [instead] bring power to the Church, where the Church begins to speak up and speak its conviction."

Even if we don't all agree as Christians, that's okay. What's important is that we be heard, that we be considered, that we be reflected upon."

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