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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. jimtanker

    I dont think anyone really knows what happened at this point so it is way to early to point fingers at anyone.

    What happened to not judging you religious people?

    March 22, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • Jonathan

      Nooooo, no one knows at all what happened. Well, other than the eye-witness testimony, and several 911 calls including one made by the murderer himself.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
  2. Kevin

    So where are all of Mr. Pinksy's previous articles expressing outrage over the Trayvon Martin case? He clearly must have condoned the killing right up until he submitted this article. That is because he's condemning people who haven't spoken up yet. Wow, Mr. Pinksy was being such a racist. If he wasn't a racist and a person seeking to block justice, he would have made his voice heard sooner. Ugh...everywhere you turn it's racism.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • ScottyB

      Cry more.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
  3. Carla

    THE GUY IS NOT WHITE! HE IS HISPANIC!!!!!

    March 22, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      CARLA-SAY MEXICAN........HISPANICS ? THERE ARE MANY DIFFERENT TYPE OF HISPANICS.....ZIMMERMAN IS MEXICAN

      March 22, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
    • Sly

      Sad that many Americans are stupid and don't know that hispanic is the White race.

      Right up there with the Mississippi band and their knowledge of American Territories.

      We are one dumb nation.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • Real Mex

      Most Hispanics are from Hispania, or as it's called today Espana.

      Mexicans are from Latin America, NOT Spain.

      And there are a helleva lot more Latin Americans in FL that are NOT Mexican than are.

      What's being said in all these forums is about the equivallent of saying ..." ALL Whites are German"

      March 22, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • Marlin

      He def. of hispanic most people use is simply people from Central and South America who had both Native American ancestors and Spanish ancestors.

      March 23, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  4. Crazy World

    Zimmerman is guilty regardless if he is White, Black or Hispanic!! But Zimmerman does not look White to me.....I am sorry! Ben Jealous is lighter than he is.......by the way. Furthermore, the problem here is with the law in Florida that needs to be changed... We should be demonstrating in Tallahassee!!!

    March 22, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      ZIMMERMAN GUILTY ? BECAUSE YOU SAY SO ??? ARE YOU A JUDGE ?? THE COURT ???

      March 22, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • ScottyB

      Yeah, he's a dictator wanna be.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • Zimmerman Guilty

      So arrest him and let him have his day in court. That is all everyone is asking. Guilty or not. He hasn't even been properly questioned, drug tested or even had his gun taken away until this is cleared up.

      I guess you fools want to live in a society where everyone carries a gun. Great society for your children to be raised in.
      Scared white people, it never ends.

      March 26, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
  5. JOSE0311USMC

    THE SHOOTER IS MEXICAN--NOT WHITE.....WHITES ARE THE VICTIMS OF BLACKS BREAKING IN THEIR HOMES...BUT THEY DON'T WANT TO HEAR THAT......

    March 22, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • Sly

      Jose, since you are likely hispanic, I understand that where you came from there may not have been schools, so I'll let your ignorance of race slide.

      In America we are taught at an early age that the hispanic people are of the Caucausian race.

      Read a book, you can learn still ....

      March 22, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • Lisa C

      @jose...i hope the marines know you are racist...if you fight side by side with black marines...i would recommend the use Friendly fire on you!!!!

      March 22, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
  6. Jonita

    4 blacks may have robbed the homes but it wasn't the unarmed teen he killed in COLD BLOOD....

    March 22, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • ScottyB

      You're missing the facts like 99% of the people on here.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      THOSE 4 BLACKS THAT ROBBED THE HOUSES WERE ON ZIMMERMAN MIND WHEN HE STOPPED THAT KID I'M SURE..IT PLAY A PART.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • Susan

      Why is reporter pointing a racially charged finger at WHITE people? I'm white and just as outraged over the shooting of an unarmed teen who was only trying to take a short cut home! I want justice for Trayvon as much as the next person. A STINK is already being raised over the whole situation, why stir the pot...guess what floats to top when you do that? This IS a case vigilantism, this IS a case of racial profiling, but EXCUSE ME...why do the 'whites' have to weigh in on it when the victim in case is black and Zimmerman is HISPANIC. This is about JUSTICE for Trayvon...Sharpton can go home too, we got it handled, move on to another story if you can't report it for what it is.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • john smith

      how do you know it wasn't?

      March 24, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
  7. Spring Hill, Florida

    Why do white churches HAVE to be outraged? I'm white, athiest and outraged. That should be good enough for you. Churches are not public opinion forums for news of the day. It's a society issue. That's who has to be outraged.
    ^^^^^
    I would think that any Christian would be outraged because Christ called us to love, care, and redeem our fellow man. So if you are living the values in the Bible and not just going through the motions you should have some feeling of compassion or outrage toward this case.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  8. Trey

    And where's the black church outrage when a whiteboy is killed? Get over this black and white bull crap. First he was hispanic (get that right). Secondly, his one action does not represent the millions of white folk out there. I got plenty of good white friends who say they're not going to step in cause they don't think it is their place. A man done killed this boy. Was he racist? Probly, hell many hispanics are racist. It ain't the white folk anymore. Who we gone blame when white folk aint the cause of our problems no more? Get over yourself and stop tryin to raise up this racist bull crap!

    March 22, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
  9. Matt

    I am a white man and a gun owner. I am a responsible gun owner, and 100% beleive Zimmerman is not covered by a stand your ground law here. STANDING your ground. STANDING. Not moving. Not following. Not stalking a good young man minding his own business out in public, on a public street. Taking your gun into the street in this way creating the problem – committing a crime – devastating a family that will never know peace or happiness again with their loss (i can only imagine and hope to never know the actual feeling).

    I have seen many many posts by all races drawing the same conclusion on this story – as long as the the media reports are accurate and not driven and spun by anti gun people – this isnt a gray area. This a tragedgy that should not be hijacked by the anti gun people. The best thing, and what I wish would happen is the NRA coming out and saying based on the accounts of this story, this is is NO WAY someone standing their ground. Shame on the media for trying to make this a race issue. Bythe way, the shooter is of latino or hispanic decent, not white, correct? Buit the meda wants to make this a black white issue. How about we keep it a right and wrong issue, and make sure the righ=t and just thing happens here. It wil ldo nothing for this young man's family, we can only hope to prevent this kind of tragic and wrong sceanario from occuring elsewhere .

    March 22, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • cdperdue

      Thanks Matt. This was the best post i read here so far. I'm glad you see and understand the real issue here and are not falling for the whole race thing. (And hey I'm a black lady)

      March 22, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • uno

      Hey Matt,
      You shame the media for making this a racial issue, but then you raise the question of color and ethnicity yourself.
      WHO CARES if the shooter is White, Latino, or Hispanic, et al. An American has been killed and that should be every American's concern.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  10. GodPot

    Many are asking, what the heII does this have to do with whites, the shooter was hispanic, right? Thats right, however, the law that allowed this shooter to walk away after the crime as if nothing had happened was written by, voted on and passed into law by a majority of whites who did so out of some fear they might be held accountable if they ever feel threatened. The problem now is that they seem to feel threatened by the "black boogey man" on every corner, we'll probably hear this guy claim he thought the kid's black hand coming out of his pocket might be a gun. It's all about accountability, when your kid get's shot walking home from a 7-11 i'm sure you will be screaming up and down the street about the injustice, but as long as you are unable to relate to this story because your kid's don't have the same skin color then you harbor the same deep seated racism which was behind this evil act.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • ScottyB

      What to spew rhetoric, you should win an academy award.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • GodPot

      rhet·o·ric/ˈretərik/Noun:
      1.The art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing.
      2.Language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect on its audience, but often regarded as lacking in sincerity or meaning.

      I'll assume you meant the first definition since nothing I said was lacking in sincerity or meaning, though your comment could be seen that way.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
  11. christina

    maybe it's in missouri with the white teen who was set on FIRE by a group of blacks...maybe? Where is that story?

    March 22, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
  12. loovelyredd

    Lets get one thing clear racist will always exist in america it is in there dna

    March 22, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
  13. rec

    KRACKERS DON'T CARE ABOUT KILLING BLACK KIDS. MONDERN DAY LYNCHING FASILITATRED BY BOGUS LAWS AND CORRUPT POICE FORCES.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • solex

      You're not helping your cause when you YELL and also prove that you cannot spell.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • kracker

      you jus ignat.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
  14. John Roberts

    Churches? What do they have to do with anything?

    People of all colors are outraged by this situation. We don't need churches, temples, or mosques to inform us that cold-blooded murder of a teenager is very wrong, thanks much.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • Karl

      Check your history and acknowledge the intrical part the church played in civil rights. Then, and only then, you may be able to answer your own question.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
  15. Mark

    I'm so happy that Mr. pinsky could bring those recent attacks (1920's) to the surface. What a racist!

    March 22, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • Karl

      I believe he was outlining a narrative. Doesn't make him a racist.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
  16. JOSE0311USMC

    STOP CONVICTING ZIMMERMAN ON PUBLIC OPINION..WE HAVE COURT HOUSES TO DO THAT...LET THE LAW AND THE COURTS DEAL WITH THAT..STOP NOW....IF IT WAS A WHITE KID KILLED BY A BLACK GUY ?? NO BIG DEAL......WHY IS NO ONE TALKING ABOUT THE FACT THAT 4 BLACK GUYS ROBBED 4 HOUSES IN THAT SAME NEIGHBORHOOD 4 WEEKS PRIOR TO THAT SHOOTING ??? THEY ARE PART TO BLAME FOR WHAT HAPPENED.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • mmad5camp

      Since Zimmerman is the self appointed neighborhood watch. Should'nt he have know who his neighbors are and the people who visits them. After all this is a "gated community". So being, this should have limited the amount of visitors in that community. Now you are saying four black guy robbed the neighborhood prior to the shooting. Why were they not stopped for not being a part of the neighborhood?

      March 22, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • paganguy

      Stop shouting (capital letters) or you can't find the CapsLock key on your computer keyboard?
      Stop using the USMC name. They would never accept a racist like you

      March 22, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • Karl

      You're definitely a shame to the USMC. Semper Fi does not refer to you. With that said, any crime is deplorable. The violent act of Zimmerman needlessly took an innocent person's life. Hmmm! I wonder how you would feel if your son, daughter, or love met a fate similar to Trayvon. I guess by your book, it's okay.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  17. Rate Lambo

    Typical race-baiting Leftist CNN tripe!

    March 22, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • Lulu

      The killer is a mexican. How about Latino outrage. Leave us whites out of it!

      March 22, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • cw

      READ: "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. "

      Honestly, how do you get through your day?

      March 22, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      LULU, TRUE..THE SHOOTER IS MEXICAN...BUT SOME WANT TO MAKE HIM WHITE....WHITES ARE THE VICTIMS OF CRIME BY BLACKS...4 HOUSE WERE BROKEN IN 4 WEEKS PRIOR TO THE MEXICAN SHOOTING THAT BLACK KID.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • Real Mex

      Zimmerman is NOT Mexican!!

      Get your FACTS straight!

      March 22, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
  18. Mel

    Though I no longer live in Central Florida I was born and raised there, staying for nearly 40 years. Twenty of those years I was proud to have served as an officer for both Local and State Law enforcement and frankly I find your article offensive. Seriously, it is being investigated to the fullest extent, what is missing here is a rush to judgement. Clearly there must have been some evidence to warrant restraint. Furthermore, if the tables had been turned do you think that the African American Preachers would have been standing on the corners with their white brothers. The answer is NO they would not. Also its 2012 you had to go a ways back to dick up Harry T and Harriett Moore's murder, which has been investigated 3 times, most recently just a few years ago and remains an open case to this day. It was a blight on Brevard County but one that is 60 years in the past! Stop sensationalizing everything and let the justice system do its job!

    March 22, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
  19. citizenUSA

    Why do white churches HAVE to be outraged? I'm white, athiest and outraged. That should be good enough for you. Churches are not public opinion forums for news of the day. It's a society issue. That's who has to be outraged.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      BLACKS WANT THE ENTIRE COUNTRY MARCHING IN FLORIDA...

      March 22, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • Lulu

      The guy is a mexican christian. Get the facts striaght.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      THE SHOOTING TOOK PLACE IN AN ALL WHITE NEIGHBORHOOD...4 HOUSES WERE ROBBED BY 4 BLACKS PRIOR TO THAT SHOOTING...NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT THAT..CRIME ON WHITES.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • citizenUSA

      Lulu,
      What are you typing about? My facts are straight. "where's white church outrage" is the heading of the article.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
  20. Rick Banet

    White church outrage in Florida?? Anyone who thinks Mississippi is racist needs to visit Florida so they'll feel better about Mississippi.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:12 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.