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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. Techie

    "White" Churches don't see themselves as "White" churches, they see themselves as Catholic, Protestant, Mormon, etc... so when they talk about murder, they talk about it in general terms...I can't remember being at any sermon where a particular murder was brought up. Most "murders" that are spoken about in "white" churches are based on Biblical persons.

    March 23, 2012 at 10:58 am |
  2. Tina

    I can't speak for the "religious leaders" or anyone who you might consider "important" but I am white and I am terribly outraged. I have been following this story daily and if I could afford a plane ticket I would be at one of the protests taking place. This sickens me. There is no justice for this poor child. Black, white or green, there is NO justification for what happened and the lack of action on the part of law enforcement. I would be equally outraged if the victim were white, hispanic, black or asian. That murderer had no right to do what he did and he should be punished for it.

    March 23, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  3. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things
    Proven

    March 23, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • 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 23, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • Ben Gosden

      I'm a young, white pastor in Georgia and I've decided to speak about this tragedy: http://mastersdust.com/2012/03/23/what-the-trayvon-martin-tragedy-can-teach-us-all/. I welcome all comments!

      March 23, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  4. Meade21

    AMERICA – MAKE UP YOUR MIND!!!!! You say that religion doesn't matter – that religion has no place in the public circle – especially with policy and government. But yet you cry foul when religion stays silent on an issue like this? You can't have it both ways.....you can't play both sides of the fence – wanting religion to shut up – but then demand that it speaks out.

    This whole story is a tragedy for the community at large and should be investigated by the authorities....

    March 23, 2012 at 10:26 am |
  5. Ruppert

    @JOSE

    You have a more "Mexican" name than Mr. Zimmerman (that it could be a Germanic last name). Now the issue here is that we are still fighting "in the name of god" which is a XIIIth century statement. I do not under stand why Mr. Zimmerman saw this boy as a "threat" . Why he did not even warn martin from a safe distance, to leave or asked him what he was doing? It is obvious that Mr. Zimmerman wanted to confront this boy.

    March 23, 2012 at 10:18 am |
  6. syzito

    How about a novel idea.....Wait until the facts and evidence are in before condemning someone without knowing what you are talking about. A witness did state that Zimmerman was attacked and was in fact defending himself.When the police arrived Zimmerman was cut and bloody....Facts first;not left wing hype and spin.

    March 23, 2012 at 10:14 am |
  7. EJ in Metro Houston

    outrage is outrage it should not have any color at all. But what I do question and have always questioned is WHY do we have "black" and "white" churches STILL? To me that is an equal outrage right there. Does that mean in the afterlife it is going to be seperation as well?

    March 23, 2012 at 10:08 am |
  8. JOSE0311USMC

    WHERE WAS THE BLACK OUTRAGE AND CNN WHEN A BLACK MAN ON NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH IN FLORIDA SHOT A WHITE MAN , HIS NAME WAS RANDY KAYE ???????????????????WHERE WAS THE OUTRAGE ?

    March 23, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • Sadness

      Post a link. But you know, one murder doesn't justify another, "Jose".

      March 23, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • ED

      HIS NAME WAS DAVID JAMES SHOT BY TREVOR DULY ,, REPORTED BY KAYNE,,,, BOTH THIS CASE AND THE ZIMMERMAN CASE BORTH VIOLATE THE STAND YOUR GROUND LAW.. YOU CAN NOT,NOT,NOT PURSUE YOUR "ATTACKER"

      March 23, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • ED

      http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2012/03/21/father-shot-in-front-of-young-daughter/

      March 23, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  9. wow

    This is insane. I have read and listened to Zimmerman's 911 call and the other 911 calls. No one and I repeat "no one" knows what went on that night between Martin and Zimmerman. Yes, Martin lost his life and that is a tragedy no matter "WHAT" race he is. But that does not give any group the right to self impose judgment against anyone. Let the investigation continue, let it go before the Grand Jury and let a group of our peers determine IF there is enough evidence to prosecute and/or charge this man. We are not the judge and jury!!! That is why we have a judicial system! it is so sad that this is happening in this day and time. Zimmerman was a Hispanic Male! Are Hispanics now against all black people. NO that is absurd! People need to take a step back and let the justice system work! My fear is if the grand jury votes no there is not sufficient evidence that this mob will go after them! This is creating racism not bringing people together!!

    March 23, 2012 at 9:37 am |
  10. AtlantaMan

    Where was the outrage when 2 white british tourist were walking home from a bar last april in Florida, and were robbed and shot to death by black gang members!?? Kinda funny how thats the #1 story on Fox news right now, while it gets no mention at all on cnn.
    Face it, theres not a place in America where a black man can walk down the streets of America and fear for his life just because of the color of his skin. But if your White, Asain...etc.. and a decent human being.... theres ALOT of places in Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, New Orleans, New Jersey, Atlanta, etc... where your looked at as a "easy target" because your white. For every 1 Trevon Martin case (God bless his soul)... i can show you 1,000 black criminal/ white victim cases.

    March 23, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • Sadness

      Because the gang members didn't target the tourists because they suspected them of being threat due to being white. The gang members get no press time either when they kill blacks – which they do so more often than whites due to proximity. The gang members were criminals. And they are likely to be arrested, if they already haven't been. To trump out that story, and compare it to this – a killing that stems from racial profiling of a teen by the murderer, and then the POLICE believing the murderer's word, because the victim here was black (and maybe a criminal, because, you know, they're ALL criminals), is the reason the Martin death is getting so much airplay. No Police Chief is going on TV and defend those gang members, they way the Sanford Police Chief defended Zimmerman. If YOU can't see this – even after I just wrote it out for you – then YOU are part of the problem, and not much different than Zimmerman.

      March 23, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • EJ in Metro Houston

      you must not have heard about the case in Mississippi where a Black man was walking down the street and was run over repeatedly and killed by a white teen just because he was black. Or about a black man here in Texas a few years back that was dragged to death by 3 white men in a truck. The bottom line is your argument holds no weight and people see only what they want to see when they see it. It is sad we STILL have to see color though when wrong is wrong no matter who does it to whom.

      March 23, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  11. Jay

    Maybe it's not the church's place to be demanding anything? Irresponsible and misguided articles like these just add fuel to the fire of racial conflict in America. A white church that perhaps chose not to comment on the issue (and wisely chose not to because it's not their business), now has the stink of race and prejudice attached to them. This article and its implications are pathetic and Mark Pinsky should be ashamed for writing this piece.

    March 23, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      I AGREE...BLACKS ARE TRYING TO MAKE A WHITE –BLACK ISSUE...ZIMMERMAN IS MEXICAN.

      March 23, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • jack

      Church's certainly do get up and demand many things, when it's something important to them. Quite simply, an unjustly killed black kid is not something a white congregation cares about.

      March 23, 2012 at 9:39 am |
  12. Honey

    Race will cease to be an issue when the press stops using race to describe people. Why is it that a man needs to be identified as a "black" man...or a "white" man or a "hispanic" man. It's just a MAN!! The media is the thing that drives racism. My heart goes out to the family of Trayvon Martin, and I sincerely hope justice is served.

    March 23, 2012 at 8:55 am |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      AGREE....WHERE IS THE WHITE OUTRAGE ??? WHERE WAS THE BLACK OUTRAGE WHEN RANDI KAYE WAS KILLED IN FLORIDA UNDER THE SAME SITUATION ?? DON'T KNOW WHO RANDI KAYE IS ? LOOK IT UP....HE WAS KILLED BY A BLACK MAN ON A NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH..RANDY DID NOT HAVE A GUN....

      March 23, 2012 at 9:22 am |
  13. WASP

    to me this guy has no right to self defense stance. he was armed, tryvon was not. he is a fully grown adult, trayvon was 17. he is about 200+ lbs, trayvon looks to wiegh about 150lbs.....at most. no grown adult regardless of the adolecents size should have to shoot them in defense; a stout punch would have surficed or just use his wieght or strength to hold him down. shooting him was just an act of violence, not defense regardless of their complections.

    March 23, 2012 at 8:55 am |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      GUYS, WE SEE POLICE SHOOT UNARMED PEOPLE ALL THE TIMES AND THEY DON'T GO TO PRISON....WHY SHOULD ZIMMERMAN ? NO ONE KNOW WHAT HAPPEN...WHAT IF IN ZIMMERMAN MIND, MARTIN LOOK LIKE HE WAS GOING FOR A GUN ??? ZIMMERMAN AT THE TIME DID NOT KNOW THAT MARTIN WAS UNARMED..

      March 23, 2012 at 9:25 am |
  14. 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 23, 2012 at 8:41 am |
  15. aaa

    Where are the black leaders when a black man walks into a store and kills a harding working white guy for $20...

    March 23, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • Jim

      Tell it like it is brother!

      March 23, 2012 at 8:59 am |
    • Karlov

      lol@ 'hard working white guy'.
      White people always complain about black people stealing, shooting, and raping. Sounds a lot like.. I don't know.. white colonialists maybe? Get over yourself. White people are the cause of all problems in the world.

      March 23, 2012 at 9:04 am |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      BINGO..GOOD POINT...WHERE WAS THE BLACK OUTRAGE WHEN RANDY KAYE WAS KILLED BY A BLACK MAN ON NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH..THE SAME SITUATION AS THE ZIMMERMAN..

      March 23, 2012 at 9:28 am |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      MY MESSAGE TO BLACKS??STOP STEALING-STOP THE DRUG DEALING-STOP HIJACKING CARS AND GET A JOB.....ANY KIND OF JOB...HONEST MONEY IS BETTER THAN DRUG MONEY.

      March 23, 2012 at 9:30 am |
  16. Lynn

    Really??? In this day and age to pull a race card! I think most PEOPLE are shocked and outraged about the death of this young man. PEOPLE of all color and nationalities make up this world sir....and it is PEOPLE that are caring and hurting over the fact this this young man died a senseless death! The person responsible should be help accountable! He should be charged with murder, end of story.

    March 23, 2012 at 8:25 am |
    • Reality

      Amen to that !!!!

      March 23, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      BLACKS ARE THE ONES USING THE RACE CARD.....ASKING WHERE IS THE WHITE OUTRAGE ? WHITES ARE SICK ARE TIRED OF HAVING THEIR HOMES ROBB BY BLACKS.. 4 HOMES IN ZIMMERMAN NEIGHBORHOOD WERE ROBBED.

      March 23, 2012 at 9:32 am |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      WHERE WAS THE BLACK OUTRAGE WHEN RANDI KAYE WAS SHOT DEAD BY A BLACK MAN ON NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH IN FLORIDA ...RANDY WAS WHITE.....LOOK IT UP., IT WAS ON THE CNN WEB.????????????

      March 23, 2012 at 9:35 am |
  17. Jorge

    Mr. Pinsky, there is indeed a lot of outrage and concern over this issue out there, and it is Latino, White, Asian, Jewish and any other color/ethnicity that a son's mother or father can be, because a stupidly redacted law that condones unwarranted aggression and murder has proven it's folly in the streets, and our ministers of law choose to uphold it. The fact that we may not be avid churchgoers does not make us children of a lesser God.

    March 23, 2012 at 7:32 am |
  18. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    March 23, 2012 at 5:18 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      You delusional freak!! Keep your damn prayer garbage out of this!! An innocent young man died a tragic death and you believe it is okay to spread your delusions on a story about him, especially when you think there is a god but yet if there was a god this young man would not be dead or in the very his as.sailant would be exactly where he belongs. Prayer did nothing to save this kid and it is certainly not helping the family get justice and closure!!

      March 23, 2012 at 6:45 am |
    • captain america

      And which part of canada did this young man die in ? Let US handle US our own way . We are one nation under God, prayer is our comfort and strength. Go screw up your own country. There's your sign.

      March 23, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • 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 23, 2012 at 10:26 am |
  19. house

    ask the 911 callers, which the calls probably will be used to help convict zimmerman.

    March 23, 2012 at 5:00 am |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      ACCORDING TO LAWYERS , ZIMMERMAN DIDN'T HAVE TO STOP THE CHASE BECAUSE 911 TOLD HIM TO STOP THE CHASE...THEY CAN'T CONVICT HIM ON THAT.

      March 23, 2012 at 9:36 am |
  20. Daniel

    This is getting absolutly absurb. White religious leaders WHAT? seriously? please get off the high religious horse. This si a civil issue about the way a law passed through by elected officials was interpreted and caried out.

    you want my personal opinion... he should be arrested for murder...

    However get your damn religion out of this context. MAJOR issues in this world are cause by religion and over zelots who feel they have the right to tell others how to think or act.

    from this entire story I am learnign than 1/2 of floridas problem is its churches.

    March 23, 2012 at 4:16 am |
    • Mirosal

      I've lived in Orlando, Pensacola, and Tallahassee. You say 1/2?? That's a very conservative estimate lol

      March 23, 2012 at 6:52 am |
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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.