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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. glyder

    no one white was involved.we are and will be seperated by race for i don't know how long.would the author feel better if white churches pretended to be outraged?i'm guessing so.symbolism matters a great deal unfortunately.and now that al sharpton has reared his ugly head,the protests are dirty.

    March 23, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  2. portland tony

    What's a "white" church? Does Jesus know about "white" churches?

    March 23, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
  3. Sylvio G

    Here's the white outrage. A child has been killed unnecessarily. His parents will never have him back. I admit to not have read all the facts -however the kid sure doesn't look dangerous in his picture. The shooter should be held in jail until the due process of law can be carried out. (Fellow white people: imagine if it were a young white child killed by a person of african descent, working in the capacity of a town watch leader.).

    We white people can't judge the merits of this case based on how we feel about outcomes of past cases (OJ, Rodney King). It stands by itself in the eyes of the law. "Stand your ground" is just a license to "Use your gun."

    Folks of African descent, we know we whites have a long way to go in terms of tolerance. Please do remember however that most of the killings in your communities are not done by whites.

    But that's not the subject at hand. Let's prevent all these tragic incidents, one at a time, through justice, vigilance, tolerance, caring, participation in the political process, and yes, even force when absolutely necessary.

    March 23, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • Sylvio G

      This is to amend my comments. I saw a current day picture of the 6'3" 180 lb,17 year old Trayvonn Martin. Using the picture of the smiling, younger boy, taken many years ago is misleading. We get the picture of a small innocent, harmless boy, when in reality he is larger and older.

      I listened to the CNN audio clip. In my view, the 911 call definitely does use the racial slur that people are talking about.

      March 24, 2012 at 8:09 am |
  4. Maurice

    The First Murder occurred in the Bible when Cain Killed Able the world has been cursed with Vilolence every since.unfortunate Colered people have been subject to this Teribble Act of Sin,Even with Black ON BLack Crime only GOD Knows And only GOD HIMSELF Can Stop such Horrfic Acts Aganist Human Kind as Children of the most High NOMATTER what COLOR we are we must pull together as a WHOLE Do not put your TRUST in MAN, But in GOD.JUSTICE WILL BE PREVAIL.(R.I.P) T.M""

    March 23, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
  5. J

    I think the issue of race comes into play not just because Zimmerman, but moreso the Sanford PD's whole reaction and lack of investigation. I'm sure Zimmerman realized (albeit too late) that he was wrong for shooting Trayvon, but the fact that the police department did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, is what angers many African Americans.

    March 23, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • Pete

      I'm white, and simply stunned that this could have happened to any child regardless of color. But once that clown Sharpton got involved I knew it would become a circus. I'll express my outrage at the voting booth, not under the Big Top.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
  6. cecelia

    There is plenty of "white outrage" i'm one of them i don't know why the clergy is being silent but for you to say there is "no white outrage" is just as racist as zimmerman is. quit the stereotyping.

    March 23, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  7. atroy

    Where is the Black Church outrage over the two Kansas City black teens who set a 13 boy on fire for "being white"? Hypocrisy is strong and racism is more prevalent among blacks than whites.

    March 23, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • BDSEA

      Thank you...It's time to start looking out for each other as people...Striving to do right by all people...Not just our own Racial, social, religious subset.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • Jose' Valiente

      What you fail to get is that the two black kids that burned the white kid are in jail. George Zimmerman is a free man. The body of his victim was checked for drugs and alchole. Zimmerman was not checked to drugs to alcholol. He was not taken to the police station for questioning. His gun was returned to him. No investigation was done. The police just assumed trayvon was just another black criminal. That is the outrage. If Trayvon was white, you bet there would be an investigation at the least. Wether Zimmerman acted correctly or not is not the issue. The issue is that the police assumed that Zimmerman was right and Trayvon was wrong wihout an investigation.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  8. Tee

    "None can be seen standing by the African-American preachers calling for justice, or marching with Martin’s family members. Why?"___________________________________________________ Because they're not vindictive freaks bent on revenge. They let the law handle it.

    March 23, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • CMat

      Who said anything about being vindictive or wanting revenge? We're talking about standing with the family and community. Law enforcement was prepared to back the criminal in this case, so letting law enforcement handle it isn't an option.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
  9. Think...

    As a firm believer of the "stand your ground laws" and a gun owner, I think this is getting blown way out of proportion as a black vs. white thing. Listen to the speech the mother of Trayvon gave in New York. This is a man taking the life of an unarmed teen. It's tragic; no parent should go through with it and if Zimmerman used racial language, he will be arrested and convicted federally and pay for his crime. There are bad seeds in every part of society and Zimmerman should have followed at a distance until the police arrived.

    March 23, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • Dan

      No. He should have not followed at all, as the 911 dispatcher instructed. This whole thing would have been avoided had he done what "the authorities" told him.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:43 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 23, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • Dan

      If you think racism started with Judaism or Christianity, you should go back to school and learn something, instead of posting uneducated gibberish on message boards.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • Greg

      If you hate Christians, that's your choice. But don't post your nonsense. If you haven't noticed lately, most of the Christians in the world aren't white.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • Reality

      For a good review of anti-sem-itism and Christianity, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity_and_anti-se-mitism.
      (note: Wikipedia's articles typically are very well researched and written. Check the references given in each article to ver-ify the ve-ra-city of the information.

      Added checking can be done by reviewing the same topic posted on on-line encyclopedias, with many of these being free to all those with library cards. Go to your local library's website and look for reference sites like the Power Library.

      And there is always Google, B-ing and Ya-hoo search engines to get up to date information on current events which are also reviewed in many Wikipedia articles. )

      For Christian issues with a person's skin color, let us start with those Christians who call themselves Mormons,

      "According to Mormon history and authoritative Mormon teachers, the Ne-gro, as they were referred to, are a cur-sed race because they were not faithful to God in their first estate (the pre-existent life with God). Hence, when they are born they are born in black ski-nned families.

      The early Mormon church was highly prej-udicial against black people. And though there has been a change in att-itude to blacks as of June 9, 1978 when they were finally allowed into the Mormon priesthood, it cannot be denied that Mormonism was, up until very recently, a seg-regated church."

      And you still have all-white Christian churches and all-black Christian churches throughout the USA where sk-in color and seg-regation still are important.

      March 23, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  11. Jeff

    Where was the black church's rage over Nicole Brown-Simpson's death?

    March 23, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • tetons

      Jeff, I think you might be missing the point. Her killer was arrested, charged and tried for murder. I am not sure that I agree with this article, but isn't its point that there should be outrage because Trayvon's killer hasn't been arrested or charged with anything?

      March 23, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Kelly

      tetons, you are not being accurate. OJ was arrested, but not convicted, even though all know that he did it. In this case there are calls for not only Zimmerman's arrest, but his conviction and imprisonment. Read CNN today if you doubt. Do you believe that there will be peace and all will ok if Zimmerman is arrested, tried and found not guilty???

      March 23, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Anchorite

      I agree with tetons. If Zimmerman was arrested, this would be out of the headlines by now. There was a middle aged black man killed by a white supremacist teen while back, I heard nothing about it until the kid was sentenced to life a couple days ago. The police weren't racist, they arrested the kid, the entire world waited for the jury's opinion.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • tybeegirl

      You are talking apples/oranges.
      Nicole Brown – Simpson was domestic violence. Zimmerman – Martin is pathetic abuse under the guise of presumed law power, which was/is not authorized.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  12. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes thing .

    March 23, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • Dan

      Studies have shown prayer has no significant effect.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:13 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 23, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Anchorite

      All human beings are born atheists, so your name is basically "God makes babies born unhealthy," and as for other living things, I'd like to see you convert the plants in your garden and see if they flourish. Let me know how it turms out.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • just sayin

      All children come direct from God and are loaned to this world with the intent of growing in wisdom and stature with God in a freely chosen relationship. A relationship made available by the Lord Jesus Christ. Then we are to return to God. Woe to those ill designed souls, either spiritual or human that interfere or prevent that from happening.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • LMAO

      "All children come direct from God and are loaned to this world with the intent of growing in wisdom and stature with God in a freely chosen relationship. A relationship made available by the Lord Jesus Christ. Then we are to return to God. Woe to those ill designed souls, either spiritual or human that interfere or prevent that from happening."

      LOL! Too funny since there is NO proof of your god.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • Greg

      Dan, you must not be a scientist; otherwise, you would realize that there is no way to study the effectiveness of prayer.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
  13. Jay Davis

    Why would you expect a church to act morally?

    March 23, 2012 at 11:54 am |
  14. Reax

    Its basic psychology why black people would feel more strongly about this tragedy. If the situation were opposite would black people be in outrage over a whit kid? Probably not. That being said I'm sure all good hearted people would care, but the levels of outrage are going to be directly related to how we identify with the victim. I'm white and my heart goes out to the parents, Zimmerman should pay. That it all.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • Anchorite

      Perhaps it is basic psychology, but we are not animals. We live in a civilization on top of that psychology that, unless the laws protect everyone equally, doesn't work.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
  15. Jared

    This white Christian hopes that if the shooter was acting outside the law (probably was) that he is brought to justice. I'm not going to hold a service about it though. Let the law do its job. If they don't think they have a case, they won't arrest him. When/If they think they do, they will. The gov is going to have the law evaluated. Honestly, there is much more I could ask them to do.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  16. Cheryl Llera

    Black Christians should ask themselves why they embraced the religion of the white slave owner, and how that has contributed to their being submissive to a white ruling class.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • HOMELANDEFENDER

      Why not embrace some moral values,dignity and repsect for education and maybe the criminal justice system won't have to profile.(what young group of males make up more than 50% of the system of justice administration?)

      March 23, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • Don Hughes

      Excellent point. I have wondered about this question all my life.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • chris

      So you are attempting to blame the victim, but your point is not even logical. Do you know if Trayvon Martin even was a Christian? Even if he was, that had nothing to do with him being shot.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • A. Mohr

      I have been asking myself and my black friends this question for years. Christianity was for almost two thousand years a religion that endorsed slavery. What was wrong with the religions of Africa? Why are they not embraced by African-Americans? They contain much power, spirituality and dynamic animism.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • JustAnotherVoice

      Re A.Mohr's comments: While scripture acknowledges slavery (specifically in the historical context of the time) and give guidance to slaves and slavemasters, please understand Christianity doesn't endorse it. In fact, in the New Testament book, Philemon, Paul aims to convince Philemon to release his slave.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • Anchorite

      Religion didn't make anyone submissive. It was also the religion of white abolitionists, and before that of ancient Jewish hippies. John Brown freed slaves in the name of God. MLK freed men from segregation in the name of God. Amazing Grace was written to free men from bondage in the name of God.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • Greg

      Are you a white liberal?

      March 23, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • Meathead (of the Word)

      Cacaphony!

      March 23, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
  17. Writer is a bum

    Pinsky wrote this to stir up anyone he can – and attempt to further his pathetic writing career.He doesn't give a flip about Trayvon or justice; only his check book. Pinsky if you read this – start writing meaningful transcripts that make a difference in the world, that help people, and that you can look back on with pride that there was some nobility to you life.

    The Trayvon tragedy is sooo sad – it makes me sick inside. Praying for the hurting family, and the community, and our justice system. God help us.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  18. dave

    Of course there's no "white church" or "black church" as far as who is allowed to come, but in practice, there are certainly churches and denominations that are overwhelmingly white or black. And it's true that only those predominantly black church figures are standing up about this, which is ridiculous. The Church, BIG "C," should ALL stand for justice in this and every case where a person is undervalued or trampled on based on something other than their own deeds.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:20 am |
  19. David M

    Hold on a second. On one hand, people are screaming about separation of church and state, but now all of a sudden, you want the church involved?

    Scripturally speaking, there is no such thing as a "black church" or "white church". The "church" is simply all believers, regardless of color. So rather than call out the 'white church', you need to call out the church as a whole.

    As a religion reporter, I assume you are at least a little bit familiar with the Bible. In Isaiah chapter 1, we are admonished to "stop doing wrong, learn to do right, seek justice, encourage the oppressed, defend the cause of the fatherless, and plead the case of the widow". That instruction does not apply to just the "white" church.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • Rich

      Religion is for losers !!!!!!!!

      March 23, 2012 at 11:49 am |
  20. Jake

    It's amazing how a black man can use skittles and ice tea to perpetrate a crime. Just think if he'd had twizzlers on him? Oh the horror.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:12 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.