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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. Eli Touger

    ----------–
    Pinsky Jew. 'nuff said.
    ----------–

    March 23, 2012 at 1:56 am |
  2. B652

    Incredible! What does the author want this to turn into, a full on race war? When there is a white on Latino crime, racially motivated or not, is there a call to all the black churches to take a stand either way? And when there isn't, are the leaders of those churched vilified for their silence?
    This is, in truth, a progressive’s worst nightmare. Which minority do you side with? Instead, try and put some of the outrage and blame on the traditional, and in this age, the easy target, whites. Instead of looking to the future where all Americans can be treated equally, does the author wants us to stay buried in the past, dredging up those old wrongs when it is convenient to make a point on how bad people are still being treated?
    The simple truth is that a man killed another man for a trivial reason. We should ALL stand up and condemn that behavior. But to condemn the action based on the ethnicity of the involved takes away from the tragedy that this really is and turns it into a political and name calling circus.

    March 23, 2012 at 1:35 am |
  3. Maire

    Hey CNN, either close down the comments if you can't moderate them all, or put them up automatically!

    March 23, 2012 at 1:10 am |
  4. Huitz'Sapi

    I don't know about white church outrage...churches white or black. You do have white outrage from me though. What happened was evil, unforgivable

    March 23, 2012 at 12:53 am |
  5. Wismen

    Why Is there Racism, When God Created all of us.. people who hate others actually hate God the Creator of all things. we are made in his Image.

    March 23, 2012 at 12:48 am |
  6. Blaqrhayne

    Great article, INCREDIBLE amount of stupid showing up on the board...why don't you all say what you really want to say: "It's Obama's fault for this reason or that", communism, socialism, blah, blah, blah...smh...

    March 23, 2012 at 12:06 am |
  7. JR Daniel

    These folks are ONCE AGAIN attempting to drive wedges deeper into society.

    The "white church" (our church is multiracial, unlike most black churches) – is interested in justice for ALL people – not just one case. BUT the church's primary mission isn't earthly justice – it's salvation of souls from eternal separation from God.

    These phony "church leaders" involved in social wrestling and political manipulation are misleading people and causing more harm than good. The TRUE church is about Jesus Christ – not "social justice".

    March 22, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
  8. Julie

    This article is ridiculous. yes, it is heart breaking that this man had to die and his family has all my sympathy. but black or white, it is not the church's place to protest, march or what have you. you want separation of church and state? well here you go, the white clergy are practicing just that by not getting involved in a situation that clearly must be handled by the authorities. also, this artice begs the question, if it were a white kid that died, and black pastors had been silent, would anyone have noticed? i daresay not.

    March 22, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
  9. Kumar

    I like cookies.

    March 22, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
    • dakota2000

      Oreos?

      March 23, 2012 at 12:22 am |
  10. phyllis gardner

    First of all, the white hegemony police sniffing killers who post on this page must be thrilled. Not only is an innocent young man murdered, you can now also trot out your racist reverend Sharpton comments. Good for you. Have you seen a picture of this kid? He looked 12. I use the past tense, because, well, that is what it is. My brothers in florida need to study the IRA and act appropriately. As for the people who continue to justify this murder, be aware, those who live by the sword shall die by the sword.

    March 22, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
  11. uno

    Here comes Al Sharpton–this guy can smell a camera hundreds of miles

    March 22, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
  12. Fritz Hohenheim

    I guess the white church's response is exactly where Al Sharpton's response would be had a white kid been shot by a black man

    March 22, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • JR Daniel

      Sharpton sees no social ills or crime unless it involves a black victim....in the PHONY Tawana Brawley case – he wrecked the lives of innocent police officers – one of which ended in suicide and a lawsuit that won $250,000 from Sharpton which I hear he's never paid....and he NEVER apologized....

      March 22, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
  13. Benito

    White American Christians make me almost want to disavow my faith...Sometimes, you wonder if they're worshiping a different Jesus

    March 22, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • Peter

      "Sometimes, you wonder if they're worshiping a different Jesus"

      It's called the American dollar – in "god we trust" – even the churches are part of the system.

      March 22, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
  14. Dan

    What a ridiculous article! Have black churches ever spoken out in the thousands of cases when whites have been senselessly shot and killed by blacks?? Black churches don't have to speak out for whites, yet whites have to speak out for blacks. Everyday, countless black youths are killed by black people, yet it's a big deal ONLY when the shooter is white. That's racism against whites, plain and simple.

    March 22, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
  15. uno

    This is a tragedy for the bereaved family, friends, and for America. Racially motivated opinions have no place here. Religion, media, and politics should play no role here. This must be about justice-period! A premature arrest could jeopardize that. The investigation will reveal the facts.

    March 22, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
    • Benito

      Unfortunately, the history of this country makes it impossible to separate all the variables when Christianity or religion has been and is being used as a sacrosanct justification for racism...Pathetic country!!!

      March 22, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • uno

      The true worth of a country is determined by the number of people trying to get in, versus the number of people trying to get out.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  16. NOTWHITE

    ZIMMERMAN IS HISPANIC NOT WHITE....... We have come a long way in race relations but racisim still comes from all sides and all races.

    I am white and was raised in a poor black and hispanic community of Texas (South & South East Dallas). My brother and I were the only white kids in our school and we had to deal with racisim and violence on a daily basis. The only thing was 95% of it came from blacks and 5% from hispanics.

    No one in my family history had ever owned a slave or even been in this country when there were slaves. As Irish and Russian immigrants who traveled to the USA in the late 1800's and early 1900's as indentured servents my ancestores had plenty of their own discrimination issues to deal with.

    When will people realize its not a race issue but a wealth issue. If your poor and black, hispanic, white, asian, etc. there are a tons of derogatory words to describe your race. If you are wealth black, white, hispanic, asian, etc. You will only be called Sir, Mr. MS, Mrs.

    All that being said the death of this young man was not necessary. Zimmerman is an idiot and the people who appointed/approved him as captian of the neighborhood watch should have their heads examined.

    March 22, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      A few things. The neighborhood watch in that area was not registered with the organization, so it was an unaffiliated group with the same name. Also, Zimmerman appointed himself as captain.

      March 22, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
  17. Still Divided

    I don't see anything to be outraged about. A neighborhood watch captain followed a stranger in his neighborhood; an altercation ensued; the watch captain shot the stranger. He was not under any obligation not to follow-he had as much right to walk down that street as Trayvon had. Talk about racism-the assumption is this guy was guilty of murder just because he's NOT black and Trayvon was.

    March 22, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      1st off, Zimmerman was a self appointed neighborhood watch captain. The official neighborhood watch associations 2 biggest rules are:
      1) Never carry a gun.
      2) Never accost a subject, leave that to the police.
      He broke the 2 major tennets of the organization while falsely passing himself off as part of it.
      Secondly, he was told, flat out, not to follow or accost Trayvon by the police dispatch! He chose to ignore the directions of a police officer and take matters into his own hands.

      March 22, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
      • Still Divided

        He was under no obligation to "obey," because he had as much right to walk down that street as Martin did. Now that we know that Martin attacked him from left rear, broke his nose, and slammed his head into the ground repeatedly, I'd say it's plain why Zimmerman hasn't been charged.

        As for his right to carry, he was legal. And that's all there is to this.

        March 26, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • Jazzy021

      You are an idiot the guy killed him because he was african american! He said "they always get away". The kid was just walking home and they guy noticed him because he was black. You sound so stupid how would you like it if your child was walking down the street and some creep was following him and then shot him? The poor kid was probably running because he was being followed by this freak who has been arrested before.

      March 22, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • Diane

      Still Divided, where have you been? There is way more to this than what you say. I don't think the church should be involved. I do think people in the church should be, and are, concerned. The investigation needs to be completed and justice be served.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:52 am |
      • Still Divided

        What "more to this" do you actually know? What the hatemongers are telling you? I don't get this. Zimmerman, upon seeing astranger in his neighborhood, following him, being attacked, had no right to "assume" Martin was anything other than a sweet harmless kid. But you have every right to condemn Zimmerman based on what-media reports? HE HASN'T BEEN CHARGED BECAUSE HIS STORY IS CORROBORATED AND HE BROKE NO LAW.

        March 26, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • FC

      You are f0ing kidding right?

      March 23, 2012 at 4:13 am |
  18. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    March 22, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • Jesus

      ~~– You've been proven a liar over and over again on this blog. A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested Friday morning...

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      Plus don't forget. The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!!

      March 22, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • ElmerGantry

      It's obvious prayer changes things. Example, all those people in the bible belt must be praying for violent weather. Why else would tornado alley have painted a bulls eye target in the buckle of the bible belt?

      /sarcasm off:

      March 22, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
    • ElmerGantry

      It's not productive to try to have a logical discussion with a willingly blind TROLL like this person. Trying to have a discussion with it only feeds it. Try parody and sarcasm.

      If all else fails simply starve it from attention by simply ignoring it.

      March 22, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
  19. D W

    I cannot believe you can say you are defending yourself when you are in your truck following someone down the sidewalk. Dispatch even tells Zimmerman not to follow him. I would sooner call this a wanabe cop than someone being racist. Yes, I am white and I too am outraged.

    March 22, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  20. Christian

    This young kid is not jewish, so why bother?

    March 22, 2012 at 6:57 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.