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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. Keith

    Why must there be "outrage" for everything that happens? Is the shooter white? If he shot this kid for no reason, he should be fried. I hope we won't be watching LA burn again over this. Where was this author's outrage over the 3 kids, a rabbi, and 3 French soldiers who were murdered by some islamic turd? To read some of the comments on this blog, it was all the kids' own fault for being Jewish. People are just sick.

    March 22, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • The United Bigots of America

      Enough with the talk and marching. Most bigots like the fat worthless piece of white trash in Florida are cowards and only prey on the defenseless. Fight back and the cowardly bigots will crawl back under their rocks.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • The United Bigots of America

      If the same exact scenario happened except the kid was white and the shooter was black, I'll give you 2 to 1 odds that the shooter would have been locked up immediately. In America, it's ALL about race, and money, too.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  2. Brandon

    Pinsky is talking to Christians. If you have not acknowledged Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior then you should not be offended by this article. If you only go to church on Christmas and/or Easter or less. You don't need to be offended. He's not talking to you. If that is you, I encourage you to seek counsel with your local pastor. Have a heart change for Jesus! It is a beautiful thing...and you can then get offended by the article. 🙂

    March 22, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • Kelly

      I guess you are of the opinion that hypocracy is ok, as long as it is among fellow Christians..

      March 22, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Bob

      Problem is, Brandon, nasty Christian idiots like you vote and affect the rules we have to live by. That's reason enough to tromp on your silly religion-pushing at every opp.

      Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement. Be free of religion in 2012.
      http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

      March 22, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • Keith

      Watch the spelling error Kelly. There's someone on this site who will call you horrible names for such a crime.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • Kelly

      Keith, I'll just call them hypocrits also.. 🙂

      March 22, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • Keith

      Or not. Sorry to trouble you Kelly. Guess that individual is a hypocrite for not doing so. (Perhaps it's because she agreed with you and will overlook your sinful crime).

      March 22, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Kelly

      Keith, I have no idea what you are talking about..

      March 22, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • Keith

      I know. I'm talking about TTPS, she's the spelling/grammar nazi in these parts-but she must like you.

      March 22, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
  3. b4bigbang

    Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton were at the meeting and were overheard saying "Ben Jealous aint black enough to be president of the NAACP".

    March 22, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • momoya

      What would Jesus say in a moment like this one?

      March 22, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • Keith

      He already said it, Mar 13:8 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these [are] the beginnings of sorrows.
      The word nation is ethnos in Greek.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  4. Em

    OK. I'm white. I want justice for Trayvon. If Zimmerman is truly guilty and this isn't trial by the media, then he should be convicted by a jury of his peers and sentenced by a judge who's been voted in by the people. If every racial group had to respond to every murder in every state every 3 minutes~that's all all of us would be doing. Get the media out of there, get Sharpton the publicity hound out of there and let law enforcement do their job without input by every idiot with an opinion chiming in every minute.

    March 22, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  5. Kelly

    It has not yet been proven that this was a racially motivated incident, yet Mr. Pinsky is upsets that Whites are not outraged!! Why is he not upset that Hispanics Churches are not outraged? Why is he not outraged at the sensless, and much more numerous, killings of Black youth by other Black youth? Mr. Pinsky, you are a hypocrite of the first magnitude..

    March 22, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, The Piper's Son

      Exactly.
      How did a Hispanic shooting a black guy turn into a white issue?

      March 22, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  6. Brandon

    I'm thinking that if you are not a Christian you should not be offended by this article. Mr. Pinsky is not being critical of you at all. You are not responsible at all. And we, Christians, should not expect you to feel compassion, concern, or anything for Treyvon or his family. Biblical justice is not something you would understand or should be expected to live by. But if you are a Christian we should first feel frustrated that the Church is not united across races to the point where we can say that this article is not true. Secondly, we should feel compassion for the family who lost their son, and brother. Third, we should request and insist that the society we live in exact justice according to the laws of the land. Yet not expect a fallen world to know what justice truly looks like. Lastly, we need to rest assured that God knows exactly what happened! And HE IS ALWAYS JUST! I pray that Mr. Zimmerman finds himself on the correct side of the true judge. Or the lake of fire awaits.

    March 22, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, The Piper's Son

      Too bad ‘god’ didn’t protect that boy eh? Better to stay mysterious right?

      idiot

      March 22, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • Fallacy Spotting 101

      Post by Brandon contains instances of the Willed Ignorance fallacy and concludes with a form of the flawed argument known as Pascal's Wager.

      http://www.fallacyfiles.org/glossary.html

      March 22, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • ElmerGantry

      Website listing logical fallacies is good.
      There are some other sites as well. Google
      Carl Sagans baloney detection kit and 25 rules of disinformation.
      Unfortunately have those links handy, but a search with those words will get there.

      March 22, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
  7. The United Bigots of America

    America would be better off if Florida were hit by an asteroid. And Texas, too, while you're at it.

    March 22, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • b4bigbang

      Don't mess with Texas.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • The United Bigots of America

      Austin is OK. But Dallas definitely got to go!

      March 22, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • skpfrmdc

      M & M and Steve Erkel 2016!!!!!!! Role Reversal you can believe in!

      March 22, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
  8. Stunned

    @johnny – You're ignorant. Regardless of color this is still murder of a child. Color has no bearing on this fact. Why does being white mean you shouldn't be involved.... you should be involved because of the issue at hand. A MAN murdered a CHILD and those should be the only pieces we care about. The police did not do what they should and that MAN should pay the price for not following the dispatchers orders and instigating this confrontation, then try to hid behind some law that allows and encourages vigilanties?

    March 22, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, The Piper's Son

      @ Stunned- – You're ignorant. Regardless of due process and lack of evidence you are already judged this case solved.

      The dispatcher gave no orders. He said we don’t need you to do that. Well isn’t that nice, but its not an order. Perhaps you should get your facts straight before condemning other.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • Fearfighter1

      @stunned very logical post and I appreciate you for it...

      March 22, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • Fearfighter1

      Tom, Tom the pipers son it is you who truly are the ignorant one. you know damn well if that kid was white and a paranoid black man shot him his A$$ would be in jail preparing for a wall of books to be thrown at him.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
  9. Mike Elernann

    Why would the whites be outraged. I'm outraged the police chief had to step down. I'm tired of the crying and pictures. Get over it the kid was beating up the hispanic guy and got shot. I'm tired of this being in the news and seeing all the black crying.

    March 22, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • The United Bigots of America

      If that stupid fat bigot wasn't busy playing "Barney Fife" and followed the instructions he was told, none of this would have happened. Too bad you weren't in the middle of the two when he shot the defenseless kid. One less piece of garbage sucking up our valuable oxygen.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, The Piper's Son

      @Mike Elernann
      Agreed.

      @The United Bigots of America
      If that boys parent hadn’t allow him to walk to the store at night in the rain this would have never happened. Had that boy not been confrontational and just told the watchman he was walking to his father’s fiancés house this may have never happen. We can play hypothetical’s all day buddy.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • The United Bigots of America

      The real problem with bigots like you is that victims of cowardly bigots need to start complaining and start shooting back. A bigot's eye for victim's eye.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • Fearfighter1

      Oh oh,trolls from storm watch are dropping by...I can smell the putrid stank of ignorance

      March 22, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • skpfrmdc

      Oh since you were obviously there why haven't you come forward to clear this up? Lemme guess........

      March 22, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
  10. Don

    Whites are outraged. Many of us are. I don't think race has anything to do with the principle of the matter. It should not matter. What is upsetting is someone turning to confront their stalker and the stalker being allowed to use "self defense" as an excuse. It simply makes no sense.

    March 22, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, The Piper's Son

      So you are saying the kid can stand his ground but the neighborhood watch isn’t? Great logic there Sherlock.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
  11. Fearfighter1

    Ok it's time to educate the ignorant ones who keep spouting their ignorance by saying George Zimmerman is Hispanic...it's amazing you people have a computer and are to lazy to research before you post!

    "White Hispanic and Latino Americans are citizens and residents of the United States who are racially White and ethnically Hispanic or Latino."

    Now your argument has one less measure of defense!

    March 22, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • Fearfighter1

      Forgot the link so you can look at white people with pictures who are Hispanic

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Hispanic_and_Latino_Americans

      March 22, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • Kelly

      His family says he is Hispanic, he has Hispanic family members, he self identifies as Hispanice, his appearance is what most in America identify as Hispanic, he speaks Spanish. All combined he is Hispanic.. Your post is meaningless..

      March 22, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • Fearfighter1

      @Kelly did you even read the wiki? How is a fact meaningless ?

      March 22, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • Kelly

      FireFighter1: You need to read your own posts an links.. To quote you "Ok it's time to educate the ignorant ones who keep spouting their ignorance by saying George Zimmerman is Hispanic" Now here is your wiki link describing Hispanic: "The U.S. Census Bureau asks each resident to report the "race or races with which they most closely identify." He identifies as Hispanic, therefore he is Hispanic according to your own link..... And yes, it is a cultural group, not a race.. But the Census counts them as seperately..

      March 22, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  12. Gia

    what about Joe Bush who passed the stand your ground law? what does he have to say about this?

    March 22, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
  13. John

    Where's the outrage over 80% of gun crime originating in the black community?

    March 22, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • AverageJoe76

      Funny part is JOHN, that when anyone tries to reduce gun violence by getting tougher on gun laws, guess who steps in; the NRA. When they say, "oh, you can curb violence by investing in education"..... guess what; There's no more funding for education... but we can rebuild someone else's country. And if you ask me, if you're not the "Apple of America's Eye", they could give 2-craps about you. Trust me.... black on black crime is not America's top priority.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • The United Bigots of America

      How many of your relatives have web toes or a tail, inbred hillbilly?

      March 22, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • skpfrmdc

      the same place the outrage is for guess who supplies those guns? He got one after assaulting a police officer. If your peers in Fla. (and look where I'm talkin' about) are as illogical in their arguments as you no wonder you guys keep having these "sensational" crimes in your state. You need to go strapped with the kind of citizens you're breeding down there I don't care what color they are. They all bleed red don't they 'cause y'all sure aint no Vulcans.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  14. AverageJoe76

    This will probably come down to whatever evidence was left by the scuffle they had. I wonder if there are any new clues. I can't determine if Zimmerman said a racial slur, it's still up in the air for me. I can't say the motive was racial. But the reaction to the incident is. I don't believe for one moment a black guy could've gotten off with Zimmerman's excuse if the kid was white (or any other race, for that matter). And I'm not calling the police racists, because I don't know much about them.... but I STRONGLY doubt a black, neighborhood watch person could slide away so easily. They would at least hold him for questioning. C'mon....... that at least needs to be agreed upon.

    March 22, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  15. Wes

    Ahhhh there's the CNN we all know and love. Printing the op-ed piece fanning the racial flames of tension.. Excellent job CNN... Way to cover up the real story, an innocent young man's death and a bungled police investigation, with the shock value racial implications.

    Awful job..

    March 22, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
    • Leo

      Agree 100%

      March 22, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  16. colorblind

    Zimmerman aint even white, his father said he was hispanic...why should "white" people be outraged? Is any other race outraged when white people are unjustly killed by another race? Oh wait that doesn't happen right? How long will white people be blamed for actions of others...as long as it's not black on black crime, it's white people's fault. If this whole thing went down as it was portrayed, then everybody should be outraged, not just specific races. I honestly don't think this is racism as much as it is a wannabe cop taking his passion too far and doing something that can't be taken back. He made a mistake and should pay for it, and i believe he eventually will. I just hate how automatically it's a race issue, simply because it was a black victim and a non black shooter. The dude was on 911 claiming there's been a bunch of recent break ins...the wannabe cop kicked in and decided enough was enough, he went about it the wrong way, a confrontation ensued and he ended up shooting an innocent kid. But people are content to believe the guy saw a black kid and said, "I'm gonna shoot that n****r"

    March 22, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • AverageJoe76

      I agree. I don't think Zimmerman is caucasian. He does look latino to me. But then again, in this melting pot, who can claim anything anymore?

      March 22, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
  17. information

    .
    As the lost young man's father eloquently stated, "This is not a black/white issue this is a right/wrong issue."

    March 22, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • information

      Here is your white upset.

      http://voice-pac.org/Florida.html

      March 22, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
  18. William Demuth

    The Sherriff just stepped aside.

    New sherriff will probably arrest the shooter.

    Progress!

    March 22, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • information

      get it right
      chief of police

      March 22, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Dude.

      My comment was PARODY.

      Get it right, it shall aid you in life

      March 22, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  19. areyoujoking

    maybe you can site the case, you know the one where the Black man that killed the white boy and is still walking around with the GUB because the police let him go, Please just Give me one case, Just one

    March 22, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • GodPot

      You with the Anti-Gub lobby?

      March 22, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
  20. johnny

    Uh, the case had nothing to do with white people, so while we are outraged, we aren't jumping around about it. It was a Hispanic guy shooting a Black guy. We're not actually part of the crime, though we all know the Hispanic guy should be going to jail for murder, even though he's trying to hid behind a very good FL "stand your ground" law.

    The Hispanic guy pursued, so he's the aggressor and murderer. But... neither party was white, so ... what do you want us to do?

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

      Spoken like a REAL WHITE BOY....
      Why WOULD YOU help....

      That's WHY Prejudice SHOULD be against the LAW...NO ONE is better than Anybody else....PERIOD!!!

      When INJUSTICE is REELING her head...WE ALL should SAY, DO, VOICE, CALL...DO SOMETHING to
      STOP IT..!!!

      WOW..what a concept??

      March 22, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • Leah

      Just because the murderer wasn't white, doesn't mean that white people can't be outraged by the incident.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • skpfrmdc

      ...stop labeling me and yourself. Join the HUMAN race and we can end reactions like this.

      March 22, 2012 at 5:02 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.