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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. erik

    Will never read this racist writers work again.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  2. 2much2handle

    My 19 year old son was shot and killed while in his car at a playground. My son was white and the persons responsible were black. I saw no public outcry for my son's death..Witnesses were killed so they could not testify. Their rap sheets were 12 pages long and no convictions as no one was willing to testify.

    Black on white crime doesnt seem to draw the attention. We dont have the NAACP protesting for these type crimes nor do we cry racism.

    In response to the White churches, It is my belief that the churches are there to minister to their congregation not preaching revenge and stir racial issues. If this is what the churches practice, they should lose their tax free status. As a Catholic, I cannot remember ever hearing my church discuss politics, race issues or anything involving such things. My church preached love and forgiveness. .

    I believe Trayvon was murdered and his killer should pay the price for his actions. Was it racial? I dont think so.

    My heart goes out to the Martin family. Its been almost 19 years since my son was killed and the pain is still as sharp as if it was yesterday. Do I believe ALL blacks are responsible? NO. I will pray for a resolution and peace to the families involved.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • DSBsky

      Who gives a S%$! what you "believe" your beliefs amount to absolutely NOTHING in the court of law. You people don't want justice. you want to teach white people a lesson "even though Zimmerman is Latino". Then do it. Bring the pain. Start a war.. It's what you want to do anyway..Pathetic.. You people wouldn't make a whisper if it was a black kid that did this to a white boy. F you all.. Hypocrites..

      March 22, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • sam

      DSBsky – you are just about the dumbest bitch ever.

      March 22, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
  3. blah9999

    Wow...Mr. Pinsky is really really racist. Of course there's white outrage. Try looking for it outside of the news. The news mostly shows black outrage because the murder seems to be a race issue

    March 22, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  4. Tim Ahlen

    I haven't talked to anyone who isn't outraged about this incident, and I am the pastor of a conservative Southern Baptist church in Dallas TX who has addressed the issue twice already from the pulpit.

    What angers me almost as much is this article. Does anyone else find it outrageous that this article, questioning the whereabouts of "white church"outrage is accompanied by a picture of the author sporting a huge grin? Why, just this morning, I was sitting sipping my coffee, wondering where Mark Pinsky's outrage was over this incident. After all, I hadn't heard a word from him on the subject before today. I guess he just doesn't care. Worse, judging by his photo, it looks to me like he thinks it's all a big joke.

    Pundits like these are to professional journalism what the WWF is to professional athletics.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  5. whereisit

    we are not allowed to have "all white" anything....where have you been....?? dont you know it will offend non whites????? big silly.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • skpfrmdc

      Doyou miss it that much? Having an all white anything is how we got to this ppoint in the first place. Ask any Native American. if you can find one.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  6. martin

    Mark I. Pinsky- YOU ARE A FOOL, and have to make this a race thing? The headlines alone says it all, you are a fool.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  7. Aubrey Campbell

    To the retired federal agent. you ought to be ashamed about your comments. Fact: one sided story; fact: skittles-no gun; fact: going home-not casing neighborhood to break in homes; fact: Young man fought for his life after being accosted by non-uniformed individual. We illiterate "couch" criminalist are not stupid. Let me chase you down with a gun in my hand. You would fear for your life as this young man did. There are no more facts in this case to uncover. I have a permit to carry an gun. If that man had chased me down the street that day, there would have been a violent gun battle in that community-fact. Oh by the way, I am also a retired federal agent.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
  8. whereisit

    i dont know,where is it??

    March 22, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
  9. Joe T.

    Call me crazy but I'd like to know all of the facts of the case before I jump to any conclusion. Yeah, must be crazy. Where's my Thorazine?

    March 22, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
  10. MNNorse

    Why is it every time injustice occurs between a black and a non-black it's race related and the black community is outraged. Where is the outrage for the more prevalent black on black violence? Is it OK for a black to shoot another black? This guy wasn't even white and this ridiculous article, intending to increase readership, attempts to turn this into a white vs. black issue. If blacks held their own people accountable, their image would improve and stereotypes of young black men in hoodies would cease to exist. Change the behavior, change the stereotype. Pointing fingers at everyone else won't change a thing. White people can't jump. Well as soon as a white Michael Jordon comes along, that stereotype is going to remain. As soon as blacks stand up and stop violence against themselves, the stereotype of "gangster black teens" will start to change. I'm not saying I agree with the shooting by any means, it was a terrible tragedy and the shooter should be held accountable. Anyone who is unarmed and shot to death did not deserve it regardless of their actions. But stop being outraged over a black vs. a non-black. Be outraged at the lack of action to change the stereotype and fix the underlying problem of youth violence in the black community. If those 4 other black teens hadn't been burglarizing the neighborhood this kids would not doubt still be alive.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • Lisa

      Very well said... and you're absolutely right. People should be outraged anytime an innocent person is injured/robbed/murdered, etc. People want us to be colorblind for everything until there's a crime between colors and then they want to paint them brighter. Leave the race out of it and deal with it for what it was... and arrest this man!

      March 22, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • brad

      Bravo! Well stated! Bill Cosby and Alvin Poussaint have a fabulous opinion regarding this and they're black.....

      March 22, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • metricpenny

      MNNorse

      The difference with the Trayvon Martin situation and a black-on-black crime is that with respect to the latter some black person does wind up being arrested, questioned and an investigation undertaken.

      Please just stop trying to justify the Sanford police force's criminal mishandling of the Trayvon Martin case with your silly generalizations.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • skpfrmdc

      You seem to be a bit too touchy on the subject of black on black crime. Where is YOUR outrage about that? All you apologists whine about "...nothing is said about black on white crime,,,but just let a white kill a black." When we all drop the labels and it's human on human crime maybe both racists groups (surprise!!! non-whites are predjudice too.) will silence their worn out justifications for the behaviour of thier peers. Blacks are criminals, Whites are prejudice, Hispanics are drug dealing pedophiles, Asians are seething under the surface, ect. sounds like HUMANS to me.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  11. MSDemocrat

    I'm a white women and I am thoroughly upset about this case. We have altered our fall vacation plans because of this event. I do not want to go to Florida; I believe that it is too dangerous for everyone. A teenage child was killed and his killer was not charged or taken into custody? 23 days later, valuable evidence is lost which would reveal the truth about this case. I cannot imagine the pain and loss felt by Trayvon Martin's family. I do not know if Zimmerman is a racist, but he did use racial profiling and he ignored the law and the police dispatcher by following Martin. He was arrogant and used poor judgement by leaving his truck to follow Martin in the back yards. Martin was trying to get away from Zimmerman and it appears that Zimmerman attacked Martin and then shot him. If Florida ever gets around to an investigation, we will know more about the real facts of the case. All we have now are the police dispatch calls made by Zimmerman, the 911 calls made by the neighbors and the testimony of Martin's girlfriend. In the recent past in Florida, two men argued about a boy skateboarding and one man shot and killed the second man. Horrible! It is awful to think that an argument can lead to murder. That is why I believe that Florida is more like Tombstone than a regular part of the United States. I blame the "Stand Your Ground" law in Florida.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • jimtanker

      Yes, an attack like this can only happen in Florida. I have never even heard of anyone being shot anywhere else in our country. I am going to stay away from this WHOLE STATE as well. It was a smart idea to change your vacation plans. Dummy.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • FloridaGirl27

      Your comment about how Florida is a dangerous place is ridiculous. It is no more dangerous than walking down a street in NYC or Detroit or Cincinnati. I am not defending the shooting. But really - change your fall vacation b/c of this incident then you better stay in your house all snuggled up b/c the WORLD IS A DANGEROUS PLACE.

      PS – Thanks for not coming to Florida in the fall b/c it gets crowded with the snow birds and tourists.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
  12. Tim of Colorado

    Mark I. Pinsky there are religious people outraged.... Your eyes must be shut tight. Did you contact any religious leaders? But in all honesty, many people are more mad at the police than the guy who shot the gun. Everyone knows that guy will be arrested eventually, but it is the police are making it worse for everyone.

    The big issue, is that the police have too much say in the law. The law should be clear cut. How many times do you hear about a 17 year old that was texting and drove into someone (killing them). She rarely even goes to jail for an hour. A police officer often says: She didn't mean to do it. But we are going to give her a big fat ticket for distracted driving. In the mean time, someone that honks their horn to say "hi' to a friend gets the same fine. The police should be enforcing the laws, not making them.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
  13. qwedie

    You Sir are a trouble maker. Just mix it up without letting the Fed's get there job done. I have heard every explanation as to how this happened, all from people who were not there. People like you will have more black's in jail because of your need for sensationalism.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  14. DSBsky

    Lol @ the racist "all black" church... Yea, that kind of place really wants us to unify.. I mean they have so many other colors there with them, because they make them feel so welcome.. Oh wait, no they don't. They shun people who aren't black and make them feel unwelcome. That's why there are ONLY blacks in that church..

    March 22, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • skpfrmdc

      How stupid are you. I notice there is no mention of how YOUR church is soooooo welcoming to non-whites. This is how we arrive at George Zimmerman. Look in the mirror.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  15. erik

    Why would you add racial bull to the equation? How about where are the people that need to change the law? Where are the people helping this family? What is the community doing to prevent this from happening again? People that want action are taking action. A lot of the country is upset about this incident. Your dragging "white church" is as racist as the media has made this whole event to get people to react in the first place. Are you everywhere counting white people v. other whatevers?

    March 22, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
  16. RayinHawaii

    How do you expect the church to be outraged when for decades, Blacks have put up with Black on Black crime and nothing's changed in our own community? When we as Blacks won't put an end to our own genocide at the hands of our sons, what do you expect other races to do about it? When we stop glorifying the gang culture, celebrating the lowest comon denominator in our music, the "don't snitch" mentality, the absentee fathers, and all the other negatives in our own community, then and only then will things change. As for the Martin killing, that was straight up wrong no matter what race you are. The kid begged for his life and was just plain murdered and his killer should've been arrested on the spot. Regardless of who has / who has not come forward publicly to denounce this murder, we all should be outraged at the so called justice system in Sanford,FL......

    March 22, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • DSBsky

      Everything you said is spot on, and I support the rebuilding of black culture, 100%. I'm just sick of you all, pointing the finger at white people, for everything.. I mean I have never done S#@! and some Latino guy, kills a black kid. Now all of a sudden here we go with the white devil, BS again. And people think this helps? Whats it help? It helps you come up with an excuse to riot.. Or form some vigilante group.. It's the worst kind of racism your bringing out. And it's not the whites fault, it's everyone who is feeding into this craps fault..

      March 22, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
  17. stephen L

    bottom line the african american culture does no wrong even if they were caught red handedit was the white boy over there that told me to do it or how bout the young 18 year old black kid that robbed a cabby who was a VET got out of the cab jumped on his back a struggle assumed the kid shot himself and died and now outrage from blacks and his mama saying he was only doing it because his mama needed heart medication so that made it ok its called ignorant BS

    March 22, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • What?

      Learn to write proper English. What you are saying doesn't make any sense!

      March 22, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  18. blaqmajik

    I see alot of people defending Zimmerman, ask yourself this. If that was your son, brother, nephew, or boyfriend who was shot death while holding a bag of skittles how would you feel. If Zimmerman want to see what a real thug looks like go down to Zoe Pound turf in FL. Them Hatians will take you for a boat ride!

    March 22, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
  19. William Demuth

    To me the thing thats seems most obvious is:

    If ANYONE kills ANYONE with a gun, I believe they should be detained until AFTER a formal investigation has occured.

    I don't care if the shooter is green, if we have even a WHIFF of vigilante behavior it is even twice as important.

    It seems logical.

    For example, what happens if the shooter shoots someone else? The liability would destroy the towns finances forever.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
  20. Kim

    Mr. Pinsky,
    Here is your outrage. I'm a Caucasian living in Arizona. I was so upset when I heard about this incident that I contacted the NAACP to ask what ACTION I could take from here. There is no doubt in my mind that if the dead victim had been white and the killer black, the shooter's a– would be behind bars instantly. The shooter should be in jail while investigations are going on. Self-defense? If Zimmerman was afraid, why did he leave the safety of his truck?! He could have just driven away. Zimmerman clearly was intent on shooting a young black man. I hope Zimmerman is content now.
    This handsome yound man

    March 22, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • William Demuth

      You single? I like your style

      March 22, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • Unbeliever

      I don't disagree with any particular point you have made, I am also baffled by this case. However, we have made it a habit in this country to rush to judgement too often. Remember the Duke LaCross case? Also, having been a cop for many years, I would be interested to see what the cop's side of the story is. So far, we are only getting one side of the story and that is the side of the victim's. It does look really bad right now, but before we get a lynch mob out for this Zimmerman guy, let's find out what happened.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:54 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.