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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. sp2011

    Many whites are indifferent to plight of blacks, now or in the past. I recall visiting museums where they showcased history of slavery in the USA and I saw so many whites just ignore those exhibits and move on. So many whites say " get over it and move on". But this is deeply ingrained in the history of black people and like for the Jews the holocaust is not easily forgotten.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  2. watash60

    from all the crime – flash mobs this was bound to happen.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  3. benjy

    Black or White, this is tragedy that only Trayvon's parents know how it feels. It should never happen to any family ever. Does it mean that if 4 houses were robbed previously, it is given that only black people would do it? Why sacrifise a promising young black boy – 'Trayvon?

    March 22, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  4. RonSr.

    While were all giving our opinions, lets not forget this young mans family and the pain there going thru , killing kids in florida has become normal for that area, Remember Casey ? This is so so sad , Where is the outrage in the Hispanic community , Zimmerman is mexican.. This time it's not a black & white situation like the writer of story is pushing, he's just trying to make a buck..

    March 22, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  5. Chandler

    yea i feel for these people. the white people will finally get it when a black man, for no reason, guns down a white man. Oh wait.....

    March 22, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • Marc

      Ummm, the shooter was Hispanic. Do you think all Hispanics should "get it" because of this incident?

      March 22, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
  6. Steve

    I don't see the black church stepping out and voicing outrage when the two young black man set fire to a young white male in Kansas City, while saying this is what you get white boy. Where is CNN on that story. I don't see any prime time TV shows talking about it. Seems like both incidents merit equal coverage, but I forgot, only white people can be racists.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  7. Willie C Fields Jr

    My heart goes out to the Martin family in light of the killing of their son. I too am outrage in the response of the Sanford FL. police dept. The man who GUNNED DOWN this young man should not be tried for a hate crime. He should be tried for MURDER. I guess if you are black and carrying a wallet and a bag of skittles, you are a target for murder. WWB(waliking while black) i guess is also a crime. I hope justice will come to zimmerman . Got to go get some skittles for my aunt. Bye

    March 22, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  8. Matt

    Pretty sure the author of this article is racist. It seems to me like the author is assuming that a white person shot a black person when it was actually an hispanic person that shot a black person. Is the author assuming that Hispanics cant live in nice gated communities and its only whites that do? Maybe racism will go away when we dont talk about race and treat everyone equally. Its pretty sad that people that call out against racism always play the race card.

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

      you are right i am agree 100%

      March 22, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  9. George

    When the DOJ-FBI Statistical Fact that over 60% of violent crime is caused by primarily the young males of a group which is 12% of the population gets outrage from liberals...get back to me on this

    March 22, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  10. Allen

    I cannot speak for any church, but most white folks I know are absolutely sickened by this tragedy. As a father, I cannot imagine the pain this young man's family feels. That said, perhaps the outrage of the "white church" (whatever that means), is stored in the same closet where the civil rights ringmasters like Rev. Sharpton, CNN and lots of other media outlets kept their outrage when the little white boy was set on fire by two young black boys in Kansas City last month. Since you won't find it on the CNN website search, just Google "you get what you deserve white boy" and you will find it. I do not know what combination of hate and stupidity brought about this shooting, and the perpetrator needs to be charged with murder, but the attack in Kansas City was fomented by teachers at the school where the kids went to school. Racism will be the death of our society if we do not get past it.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  11. ThoughtsOutLoud

    I just want to say that I think this has more to do with a guy losing his grip on manhood than anything else. Cowards should never be in positions of power (real or imaginary) because they are controlled by fear, which can lead people to think that a situation is life or death when it probably is not. The responsibility of a grown man or woman, a real man or woman, is to be able to recognize who you are dealing with and treat them accordingly. An adult should never let a child strike fear in their heart and move them to act on that fear. This was the result of a weak man caught up in a situation he did not belong in.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  12. NewAmerican0

    It's not a church issue. This is just another attempt to drag churches into a legal matter that the justice system needs to figure out. Black churches historically have been outspoken in communities and social/public dialoge. Sometimes for the better – sometimes it can be a crutch. Most churches that are not called 'black', are multi-cultural and acceptive of all. So this article itself is dumb. Then to quote problems in history that (at the most recent) were 60years or more ago and explaining the outrage as if it is current times is irresponsible. There is always going to be some people that have hate in their hearts and nothing done in society will change that. But enormous strides have been made and today we are way different than back in the 1920's or 50's. Let's put this in perspective – If a white person is gunned down by someone – I can't remember any church in recent memory stepping out and being vocal on their behalf. I am not talking about the justice system here – so save your comments for the peanut gallery in that regard. The way churches usually react is in a pacifist way and through prayer. Some others tend to be more community driven and very outspoken.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • Common Sense

      Finally – someone gets it! White outrage is all that's missing from this tragedy? Then it goes on to talk about "white" churches not responding. According to the Bible, a "churhces" job is to reflect Christ's Light so that men may see our good works and glorify our Father in Heaven. It sickens me to think that people think we can shine for Christ by asking, no – demanding, another man be charged with murder, when we don't even know ALL of the facts. The Bible teaches we are to love all men, and treat them fairly and equally, but we are not to be Judges of other men!

      How can a supposed "church" show God's love by pretending to be the judge of another? What is wrong with this country? It's not racism... it's lack of following the Golden Rule. Color should never even enter into our conversations – never! We are all God's children and He loves us all. We show our own bigotry and hatred when we start talking about 'black inequality', or 'white outrage missing', or whatever... any man should be upset this event occurred at all – regardless of who is right or wrong.

      As Christians,we should express sympathy for BOTH the shooter, and for this poor young man's family. The shooter, I forget his name, will now have to live with this the rest of his life – knowing he shot an unarmed teenager. Then the family will have to spend the rest of their lives minus their son, brother, uncle, etc. It's sad for all involved.

      The real source of anger ought to be against this stupid law and the bigotry inside all of us that would allow something like this to happen, and will continue to happen, until we all get past skin color and start looking at each other as fellow souls bound for a real Judgment Day in our future!

      May God bless America and forgive her for her sins!

      March 22, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
  13. WachetAuf

    Justice is demanded. I am not surprised, however, that white churches are reluctant to speak up. I was rasied in the South. I attended a Methodist church. Segregation was an ugly issue at our church in the early 1960's. At on emeeting where the issue came up, there was a verbal lynching of a young white man from the North who had very innocently quoted a Biblical passage in response to an angry question put to him by one of the racist church members. He was expelled from the church. The minister sat silently as it all happened. I was 17 yo and shaking so violently from the jeering and taunts directed at this young man that I could not speak up. Afterwards, the minister told me quietly that he could not speak up because the congregation was not ready for the truth. The minister obviously would have lost what is more important to him than the truth, his job.

    Most of them are still not ready for the truth because of the evil mix of politics and religion. What are their leaders to say about this issue and still keep their jobs? This is a group which sees this as an issue over gun control. They are in fear and imagine themselves being assaulted by hooded black men. It is now and forever shall be among these people.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  14. Rabbit One

    this pivot of journalism opens up additional wounds of racism – at a moment of profound outrage, sadness and sympathy – this website more than any other and particular line of opinion based journalism attempts to disable any formation of a natural union of human feel and grief and response (free from race-bias while also address racism) – and this line of journalism is a hateful divider of peoples. it is like some civil war stirring propaganda.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • Rabbit One

      dang – i make a ton of typos sometimes – but whatever you get the point – my point is we can either unify or divide during this moment of national grief – and it seems like this opinion journalist wants us divided

      March 22, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • WachetAuf

      You are correct. It does "open up wounds of racism". The key is that the wounds of racism do exist. They are real. As long as there are any of us around who suffered those wounds, and as long as there are any around who inflicted those wounds it is a proper subject to visit again and again. You do not get a free pass for having inflicted the most evil deeds ever suffered on the face of this earth! Even the children shall pay for the sins of their fathers. Exodus.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
  15. Sly

    All these white boys and girls on here seem to think that murder is ok if whites are not involved, or if they dispute the reports that Zimmerman, the German, was white.

    That's what's wrong with this country, and that's why we were attacked on 9/11.

    Because so many Americans, mainly white, deserve it, and ask for it every day. Racists, who do not care about America at all, they only care about White America.

    "he's not white so why should we be outraged?"

    Well, I guess the whole world should NOT have been outraged on 9/11, because it was just American dying, right?

    March 22, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • Will

      I'm white and I'm shocked. Not sure where you are getting that no one cares here. But let me give you a white man perspective...

      When someone is killed – regardless of race – I am genuinely unhappy. It's a disgusting thing whether it was an attack or self-defense. Just horrible.

      BUT – and here's where you need to examine your own head – whether it is a white person or otherwise – I wait until I have the facts and the evidence before condemning anyone. And that's what you are missing completely – you can condemn the crime without condemning the criminal until he is found guilty. YOU do NOT know all the facts, and neither do I, and we BOTH KNOW how the media and racial activists on both sides will blow things out of proportion.

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

      Americans should be outraged, period, even Republicans. Even white people.

      And you are right, we don't know all the facts. All we know is that 99% of Americans know this guy is guilty of murder, but the White Police will not arrest the boy.

      We will find out the facts. There will be an arrest. And trial. And Zimmerman will go to jail.

      BUt you are right, innocent until proven guilty, and in this case, that won't take long.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • KLo

      Sorry Sly, you sound like the racist. Plenty of hispanics have German as well as Spanish origins and have German surnames (Giselle Budchen for example). Also, most white people I know have sided with Trayvon's family and feel that Mr Zimmerman was a vigalante and needs to be brought to justice.
      That being said, as far as Mr. Pinsky's assertion about "where is the white outrage" in the white churches (most of which are multicultural now), there is definately outrage, but they haven't necessarily been invited as speakers to the marches. If you view the marches in both NY and Sanford, Florida, there are plenty of whites marching.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
  16. scriss

    iolence committed by blacks against whites are NEVER classified as Hate Crimes; so why should we care about this "future street thug"?

    March 22, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • Sly

      You miss the point – Racists like YOU deserve to be shot ...

      March 22, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  17. pushkick

    i have no understanding of the facts because there have been no facts told. except that nice picture of a young boy and not the 17 year old that was shot. why does the media always show a good picture of the victim and a bad pic of the suspect? why is everyone in the media always trying to push everyones buttons. worst tv program ever TMZ!

    March 22, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • Mitchell Moore

      Uh, have you been hiding in a cave? The facts have been out about this case for weeks, with the release of the 911 calls, the phone call Trayvon made to his girlfriend and what Trayvon was doing outside as well as what Zimmerman was up to. And, there have been recent pictures released of Trayvon, not just ones when he was younger.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
  18. ParisSun

    Stop the straw man about waiting for facts. No one is asking for this man to be convicted without a trial. He should have at least been arrested, bonded and an investigation done. The police decided not to arrest or investigate this case. And good grief people, HIspanic is not a race. LOL, American education at it's worst.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • Will

      You can't arrest people without a good reason. You can make up a bad reason, and that will weaken a potential case against someone later on. The best way to handle this is to watch the suspect – and you can bet they know where he is right now – and then once you have the facts you can make a valid arrest.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  19. Will

    I'm outraged at this article, and the hypocrisy of the author. He demands justice and that the white church gets vocal about the wrongness of the crime. Well, last I checked, this guy was innocent until proven guilty. Therefore, until such a verdict is passed by a jury, there is no guilt here, and no reason to be talking about a hate crime. So why is the author screaming for justice when in fact that's what a court provides? Is he hoping to sway public opinion in advance? A verdict of public opinion?

    I am horrified that anyone got killed and could care less about race/creed/gender/orientation. But I only know what the media and a bunch of outraged "minority" rights activists have told me, and there's sure no objectivity there. So I will reserve my judgement – and therefore my social outrage – until someone is actually found guilty here. After all, Mr. Pinsky, if the guilt is that clear there should be no reasonable doubt, right?

    March 22, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • yuri pelham

      The problem is with the police conduct. You must puposely misunderstand. Amazing what's out there. Yow!!

      March 22, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • White Denial

      I'm amazed that you can see how to type looking through that white hood or yours.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • Will

      Not really – I understand the police misconduct that people are referencing. But I also know – from generations of police in my family – that the police are trying to do things "by the book" that will lead to the highest outcome for conviction. Unless you are a cop or have lots of exposure like I do, you are not aware of the pains they take to make sure all evidence is valid and all warrants legit. It's a big headache, but if done wrong people walk when they shouldn't.

      And again, until you hear of some type of internal discipline happening, you don't know if there was misconduct. Again, you don't know the facts, so why form a strong enough opinion that you may have to support without them?

      March 22, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • Will

      My "white hood"?

      Try calling it my "American Hood". You know that place where people are INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY? It's amazing that you can try to claim some type of moral high ground when you are basically acting un-American in the process. Why don't you just get out of the country if you don't like the whole "equality under law" thing?

      I want justice to be done, quickly and efficiently and regardless of race. If you disagree with that statement, please take the next plane to anywhere outside of the US, and don't come back.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • streetlawyer

      Will I am outraged by your wilfull ignorance. Conviction can only come with arrest and trial, and the point is this man deserved to be arrested based on the already known facts. Just take an honest review of what is known so far and you will see why the police did not do their job.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  20. Chet

    The man, Mr Z, has not been convicted nor has he been arrested and until he has everyone should S T F U and keep race out of it. Every time a B lack has been shot and by no matter the other r ace it always seems to be the big R word! If people are so obsessed with equality then treat it as such!

    March 22, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • frank

      i am agree 100%

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

      Crying for justice is not a presumption of guilt. Mr Z must have his day in court to prove his innocence. "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man" (Genesis 9:6)

      March 22, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • streetlawyer

      The reason that the man has not been arrested is because of the race of the victim. A self appointed neighborhood watchman shot an unarmed teenager on his way home. Police drug tested his dead body and did a background check on him. The shooter was sent home with his gun and no test or check performed on him. There is something very wrong here.....can't you see why some people can suspect a racial double standard...

      March 22, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • anonymous

      A person can't be convicted until there is a trial, and there can't be a trial unless a person is arrested. This is the issue here–the 9-1-1 recording alone, where the dispatcher tells Zimmerman not to follow Martin and he does anyway, should have been enough cause for the police to make an arrest and conduct a thorough investigation. As it happens, they didn't follow normal police procedure–sent a narcotics officer to the scene instead of a homicide detective, didn't test Zimmerman for drugs, didn't question Martin's girlfriend, despite seeing her number in call logs only moments before the shooting.

      Your comment just sounds willfully ignorant, focusing selectively on the elements of the story that support (however tenuously) your own point of view. What are you so eager to defend?
      And if you think the police would have taken the same approach if the victim and perpetrators races were reversed, again–willfully ignorant.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:15 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.