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My Take: Where’s white church outrage over Trayvon Martin?
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People president Ben Jealous at a town hall meeting at Allen Chapel AME Church in Sanford, Florida about on Trayvon Martin’s killing.
March 22nd, 2012
12:44 PM ET

My Take: Where’s white church outrage over Trayvon Martin?

Editor’s Note: Mark I. Pinsky is a former religion reporter for the Orlando Sentinel and author of “Amazing Gifts: Stories of Faith, Disability, and Inclusion.”

By Mark I. Pinsky, Special to CNN

Orlando, Florida (CNN) - In the classic Sherlock Holmes story “The Silver Blaze,” the key clue turns out to be a watchdog that didn’t bark when it should have.

In the aftermath of the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, not far from here, the mystifying missing element so far has been white outrage, especially on the part of central Florida’s religious leaders.

Few if any white clergy have spoken up to demand that the killing be fully investigated. None can be seen standing by the African-American preachers calling for justice, or marching with Martin’s family members. Why?

As someone who covered this area’s faith community for 15 years, I don’t think the answer is racism as much as it is cultural callousness. Week in and week out, the violent deaths and disappearances of poor, black and brown people – especially immigrants – merit a one- or two-paragraph story in The Orlando Sentinel’s (my old newspaper’s) police blotter. So when a middle-class black teen is gunned down, the reaction tends to be a shrug of the shoulders.

In this part of the country gated communities are considered sacred ground, as much or more than houses of worship. The fear of these preserves being violated is enough to shift the presumption of innocence to the presumption of guilt, including among churchgoers. Couple this with a made-for-vigilantes “Stand Your Ground” gun law and, until recently, there is no reason to question the indifference of local law enforcement in investigating Trayvon Martin’s death.

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While central Florida’s modern image is Sun Belt suburban, a theme park mecca, the region has a dark and violent past when it comes to race:

- In 1920, an attempt by two black men to vote in the town of Ocoee led to a race riot that spread to Apopka, Orlando and Winter Springs. When the smoke cleared, Ocoee had been ethnically cleansed with more than 500 African residents driven off. The town remained essentially white for the next 40 years.

- In 1923, a white mob’s attack on the black community of Rosewood burned the hamlet to the ground and scattered its residents forever

- On Christmas Day, 1951, Florida NAACP Executive Director Harry T. Moore, an anti-lynching activist, and his wife were blown up in their wood frame home by Klansmen, including local law enforcement officers. Harry Moore died en route to a Sanford hospital, where his wife died nine days later.

No one was brought to justice for any of these crimes, and white churches had little to say on behalf of the victims.

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Race was the great moral issue in 20th-century America. And one of the burdens of Southern history is the silence – with a few conspicuous and heroic exceptions – of white religious leaders during the Civil Rights movement, especially white churches. There were times and places where silence bled into complicity. When Northern clergy came to the South to join protests, as often as not their local denominational counterparts were resentful.

To its credit, in 1995 the Southern Baptist Convention acknowledged and repented for nearly 150 years of support for slavery, segregation and racial discrimination, saying that “racial prejudice and discrimination are not compatible with the Gospel” and “a deplorable sin.” Since then, Southern Baptists – the nation’s largest Protestant denomination - have made enormous strides in obliterating the color line in its churches and its relations with other denominations.

But in the case of Trayvon Martin, the white religious community – including those affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, this area’s dominant affiliation - has so far been silent and invisible.

Some black Christians are beginning to question this silence. At a predominately African-American Seventh-day Adventist congregation last Saturday, during a previously scheduled discussion of “racial progress,” a man stood up and asked why his denomination had not yet spoken or acted on the Trayvon Martin controversy.

The Rev. James Coffin, a white Adventist minister and executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida, who was one of the speakers, admitted that the man was right. Coffin later wrote the man an impassioned e-mail saying his point was valid, and acknowledging his guilt for his inaction. So far, “it's the victim's affinity group that has to go to battle for him,” Coffin said.

“African-Americans shouldn't be waging this battle on their own,” Coffin told me. “While it certainly has racial overtones and undertones, it's a problem that's bigger than just racism. So for our own well-being and self-serving purposes, if for no other reason, non-African-Americans need to get involved.”

At long last, some other white church leaders are speaking out.

In a letter issued Wednesday entitled “A Statement of Support for the Martin Family and Call for Just Prosecution,” the Florida Council of Churches, which represents mainline Protestant congregations, said that the state “should be a place where a person of any color can walk in a neighborhood without fear of violence or being presumed a suspicious threat. Florida should be a place where the use of deadly force is rare and uncommon.

“The Martin family and the community at large need protection from vigilantism and assurance that Florida's streets are open to all people without respect to the color of their skin,” the statement continued. The council does not speak for the state’s evangelical churches.

Tardy or tepid, it is never too late for religious leaders to demand justice. Which is what they still need to do. A rally calling for justice for Trayvon Martin is scheduled for Sanford's Shiloh Baptist Church, Thursday night would be a good place to start.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mark I. Pinsky.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Opinion

soundoff (832 Responses)
  1. JackStraw

    Not so sure of your premise as I am white, I got to church, and I am outraged!

    March 22, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  2. dudley0415

    Our church does not feel that criminal and political subjects belong in any pulpit but the bully one. The church is for worship and thanks to God, not legal or political activism.

    Murder is wrong in all cases and our courts make the determination on that.

    March 22, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • Earl

      This is crazy. If murder is discussed in the Bible why should it not be discussed in the pulpit. Jesus accused the Pharisees of being murderers. Remember the thou shalt not kill commandment. Following your train of logic I guess it's ok to talk about murder in the Bible just don't discuss it in God's church or pulpit. Doesn't compute.

      March 22, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • Mark, Denton, TX

      Really? Then you and your fellow church goers have surely missed the teachings of justice, equality and compassion in the gospel. Who is your pastor and what Bible does he teach from?

      March 22, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  3. whoulookn@

    NO JUSTICE-NO PEACE, NO JUSTICE-NO PEACE, NO JUSTICE- NO PEACE.

    March 22, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • Keith

      Just what is that supposed to mean? Do you want Reginald Denny to drive into your neighborhood?

      March 22, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • CrapSpot

      I won't but I would let everybody to buy some candies in my neighborhood.

      March 22, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  4. Phalluster

    As this author reminds us, the most important question surround Trayvon Martin's death is this: is it good for the Jews?

    March 22, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  5. cmac

    Absolutely – where are they? Will they be taking a stand next to Rev. Al Sharpton at the LA march? We will be watching to see where our church leaders are. Sadly, Christian communities have been hijacked by fundamentalist extremists who are also not out there supporting justice for this horrible murder of a young man. I am middle-aged, white, and Christian and I stand for justice; I stand for Trayvon.

    March 22, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • dudley0415

      Church pulpits are not the place for political activism. They are a place of worship.

      Political leaders who use God as the stick with which they herd believers into their political activism are those akin to extremism and to the violence they engender. Dr. MLK Jr. was the Reverend MLK Jr. but did not use Jesus to beat believers into confrontation with others. He lead them in the shadow of Jesus in non-violent social change, which is why it was successful.

      Making churches political is what leads to their decline. Keeping them sanctified is what keeps them God-centered.

      March 22, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
  6. J.W

    The outrage should not be about race. The outrage is that the police did not perform an adequate investigation to what could be murder. Maybe he is not guilty, but there should at least be a trial to find out.

    March 22, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • dudley0415

      Good post.

      March 22, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • Kel

      I could not agree more.

      March 22, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • ElmerGantry

      Agreed!

      March 22, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
  7. oldvet10

    I grew up in Florida and am proud to say that I marched and demonstrated for equal rights, but we need to realize that the legal system is not fast I'm sure Zimmerman will be punished as he deserves, let the process work, if it doesn't I'll join you in the streets. The hatred has got to stop, we are all americans and are better than this

    March 22, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  8. Mark

    At least to me this case goes beyond racism. Yes, perhaps it was a factor, but not the only ones or even the most significant facts either. An armed man went up to a unarmed kid and shot him dead – THAT is the issue.

    March 22, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • The United Bigots of America

      Exactly. It's basic self defense law. You're only allow to defend yourself with force equal to or less than that of the attacker's force or intent of force

      March 22, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  9. The United Bigots of America

    If the same exact scenario happened except the kid were white and the shooter were black, I'll give you 2 to 1 odds that the shooter would have been locked up immediately. In America, it's ALWAYS about race, and money, too.

    March 22, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  10. Reality

    Where is the rage brought about because of the 2000 years of Christian racist mumbo jumbo (from hatred of the followers of Judaism to those of opposite skin colors) that put us in this scenario to begin with??

    March 22, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
  11. The United Bigots of America

    If the same exact scenario happened except the kid was white and the shooter was black, I'll give you 2 to 1 odds that the shooter would have been locked up immediately. In America, it's ALWAYS and FOREVER about race, and money, too.

    March 22, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • areyoujoking

      The FBI website is 11 to 1

      March 22, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • Mike D

      Right on my brother..I don't care if you are white or black.

      March 22, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  12. areyoujoking

    DSBski
    Funny Little Man, Verry Small

    March 22, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  13. Color Codes

    There is no White or Black only shades of Brown in the human race.So, stop calling people Black/White.

    March 22, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • areyoujoking

      Do you know you are in America ? Are You joking LOL

      March 22, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • Time for the change, it is the 21st century!

      Here is a bet, go to a Saks store and buy a make-up foundation that is Black as in color Black or White as in White.

      All human beings are different shades of Brown at the most Beige. It is time to start calling people Brown/Beige

      March 22, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  14. DSBsky

    A racist "all black" church asking where's the White rage.. Yea.. The definition of hypocracy..

    March 22, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • areyoujoking

      It Was A White Man That Asked That Question, Not The Black Church
      Can You Read, or Are You Joking

      March 22, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • sam

      Could someone buy this troll a clue?

      March 22, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
  15. Mike D

    Mike D
    Hey JOSE COULD YOU DEFINE A WHITE NEIGHBOURHOOD FOR ME. I was under the impression that this is America and we can all walk where we want. Should we wonder when a Hispanic walk through a black NEIGHBOURHOOD? Actually I am black, I grew up among many Hispanics and count many as my friend. Thank goodness the vast majority were not like yourself. The problem is that some of the whiter ones try so hard to prove they are whiter than the whitest white. Sound like you and Zimmermann are of the latter group.

    March 22, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  16. Jim

    CNN- What has the church got to do with this heinous crime? Nothing, stop the spin.

    March 22, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  17. Maranda

    WHOAAAAA NOW IM WHITE AND KNOW A TON OF WHITE FOLKS....AND WE ARE ALL OUTRAGED...IM GOING OUTSIDE TO THE BUSY STREET WITH MY 2 MIXED BOYS TO PUT UP SIGNS AND PROTEST FOR TRAYVON....THIS ISNT ABOUT RACE AS A NATION OK....ITS ABOUT RIGHT OR WRONG...AND THIS IS VERY VERY WRONG....ZIMMERMAN IS THE RACIST HE DOESNT SPEAK FOR MY RACE!!!!!!

    March 22, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  18. uralldumb

    Its so refreshing to see the usual dumbsh%% comments about race and which one we should all be pointing a finger at. Meanwhile behind the bigot contest, a kid lays dead for the crime of buying skittles...

    March 22, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
  19. Jim

    Maybe you should read more widely. I've been lamenting the dreadful situation since the beginning. And I'm white too....

    March 22, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
  20. b4bigbang

    Seeing as how this guy Zimmerman is Jewish, therefore under Mosaic Law, why then doesn't Trayvon's father, brother, cousin or best friend invoke their right of 'avenger of blood'?
    Here's a little info from a Torah website:

    Avenger of Blood:
    A person who is authorized by law, or who is duty-bound, to kill a murderer is called go'el ha-dam – usually translated as an avenger of blood, but more accurately to be rendered as a redeemer of blood (cf. Lev. 25:25; Ruth 3:12; I Kings 16:11). By putting the murderer to death (Num. 35:19, 21), the avenger expiates the blood shed on the polluted land (Num. 35:33).
    So, it seems to me that this is a family thing at this point.
    Disclaimer: the above posting is not intended to be an inducement or suggestion for anyone to break any laws.

    March 22, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • nancy

      there you go, some more violence. religion, race who cares, people are people. who guns down a boy in cold blood in broad daylight? God save us all!!!

      March 22, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.