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White churches uncommonly quiet after Zimmerman verdict
The Rev. Anthony Evans of the National Black Church Initiative leads a demonstration outside the Department of Justice.
July 20th, 2013
08:27 AM ET

White churches uncommonly quiet after Zimmerman verdict

By Jeffrey Weiss, special to CNN

(CNN) Even before the jury read their verdict acquitting George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a number of black religious leaders had responses at the ready.

The voices of white pastors and predominantly white churches and religious groups? Much harder to find.

Nearly a week later, some denominations that often weigh in on matters of national policy have yet to go on the public record. It's particularly notable in the leadership of the Catholic Church, the country's largest religious body.

Admittedly, the flood of responses from black religious leaders was a partly a function of where the TV cameras were pointed.

Familiar figures such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson hit Twitter moments after the verdict was released.

Less familiar figures, such as Pastor Michael McBride, head of the PICO Lifelines to Healing Campaign, immediately issued a call for peaceful demonstrations. McBride had also prepared a tool kit for "Hoodie Sundays" in honor of Martin before Saturday night's verdict.

The Rev. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor at the famed Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, preached a sermon about Martin's death on Sunday. 

Others took longer to react.

National Council of Churches President Kathryn Lohre took a couple of days to release a statement about the “shocking impunity granted by a Florida jury to a man who stalked and killed a black child.”

Similarly, the two largest Protestant denominations in America took several days to figure out their responses.

By Tuesday, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the first African-American leader of that body, offered a bland quote to his denomination’s official news service.

"Some people are upset, angry and frustrated, while others are in full support of the verdict, so where does the church fit in? The church should be there to pray for both families, the city of Sanford, and our nation," said the Rev. Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans.

Russell Moore, head of the convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, took a stronger stand, saying that regardless of the verdict, Zimmerman was wrong to take “upon himself some sort of vigilante justice.”

Several bishops, white and black, from the United Methodist Church rapidly offered their thoughts on the denomination’s website. That included the white bishop for the area that includes Sanford, Florida, where Zimmerman shot Martin.

But other organizations where reactions might have been expected still haven’t posted anything.

Where’s the response from the Union of Reform Judaism? Where’s a comment from the leaders of the Episcopal Church?** What’s the position of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America?

Those, however, are religious groups that represent relatively few Americans. The largest claims fewer than 5 million members.

The most notable silence is from the American Catholic hierarchy, who head a church that claims to have nearly 70 million members.

It’s not necessarily surprising that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has not issued a  comment. The conference is large and sometimes moves slowly.

But it has committees that can be more nimble.

The day after Vermont legalized assisted suicide, for instance, Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, warned of a "slippery slope" and urged Catholics to fight the future passage of such laws.

But there’s been nothing I can find from any Catholic committees this week.

Nothing from Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, the conference president. Nothing from the bishops’ Subcommittee on African American Affairs. Nothing from Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, former president of the conference and the first black man to hold the office.

In fact, when I searched the web for “Catholic” and “Bishop” and “Trayvon” and “Zimmerman” and “verdict” over the past week, I found only one bishop on the record: Retired Bishop John H. Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida, now president of the National Black Catholic Congress. And that wasn't until Friday.

Ricard told Catholic News Service that it is proper for the church to encourage prayers for Martin and his family and Zimmerman and his family - "his life will never be the same either."

He also said that he didn't see a place in the church to foster interracial dialogues to deal with the vastly different understandings of the verdict by many whites and blacks.

It’s not as if there isn’t a logical opening for Catholic leaders to offer an opinion. Zimmerman, after all, is a former Catholic altar boy, according to news reports.

The official catechism of the church includes a section, 2263, on the right to self-defense. And individual bishops have not been reluctant in the past to speak out on questions of racial justice.

I did locate a parish priest who gingerly approached the topic: The Rev. Richard Voor serves at All Souls Catholic Church in Sanford, Florida, where the Trayvon Martin trial was held.

On Sunday, the day after the verdict, he focused his homily on the parable of the Good Samaritan.

It’s a story that turns racial profiling on its head, of course. The hero of the tale, the Samaritan, belonged to a group that was a persecuted minority 2,000 years ago.

For several minutes, Voor circled rhetorically around the elephant in the room, talking about compassion and mercy and unpacking the historical understanding of the story.

“If somebody does something to us we kind of react and react badly sometimes and then we react back. You know how that goes? It’s called the circle of violence,” he said. “It happens between families, it happens between countries, it happens between groups of people.”

Finally, Voor addressed directly the subject his parishioners were surely thinking about:

“I would suggest to you, especially what we’ve all been through in Sanford in the past 17 months, that what we need is compassion," the priest said. "Because people are all invested in one way of looking at that whole situation or the other way…this has really affected everybody."

Jeffrey Weiss is an award-winning religion reporter in Dallas. 

** After this article was posted, an Episcopalian noted that the church's COO, Bishop Stacey Sauls, had a written a blog post about the verdict on July 15. You can read it here

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Black issues • Catholic Church • Christianity • Church • Crime • Discrimination • Leaders • Media • Politics • Prejudice • Race • Violence • Weapons

soundoff (770 Responses)
  1. Fisher

    The author asks "where are the white churches on the Zimmerman verdict?"

    ANSWER: The purpose of churches is to encourage faith and expand the community of believers in Christ. It is not to act as a platform for social causes. Churches that see themselves as vehicles for social causes tend to wither and die; over time they get more and more wrapped up in whatever their cause is and less and less about actually encouraging a relationship with God.

    Many on the Left see churches as a social club with a thin veneer of morality, a perfect platform from which to launch their crusade against whatever cause suits their fancy. (A few on the Right do this as well– such as that idiot in Gainesville who crashes military funerals with his congregation). The focus of those churches, therefore, is on "the world." Is it any surprise that they eventually wither and die? That isn't to say that Christians shouldn't support whatever causes they believe in– but the Church is not the platform for it.

    Churches in the 50's and 60's were the focus of the black community during segregation, and obviously acted as rallying points for the civil rights era. But has this political focus poisoned their gospel message? Has it contributed to the decline of faith in the community? In short, can you really picture the Reverend Jessie Jackson or the Reverend Al Sharpton giving a gospel sermon on love and serving others without once announcing how God hates white people, or how evil society is? Is this what Christ would have in mind?

    So you ask, where are the voices of the white churches? Perhaps they're busy saving souls and spreading the gospel. You know, building up God's Kingdom and all that old-fashioned stuff.

    July 22, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
    • rusty66

      Faith without works is dead. Christ has no hands but ours. If the Church(es) DON'T speak out against injustice, who WILL? Those who are silent would do well to remember Emmett Till, and a host of others who died because racism. Racism, BTW, IS a mortal sin.

      July 23, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
      • Fisher

        Rusty, although "faith without works is dead" we are justified by faith alone– not works. It is not the role of the Church to act as a platform for political or social causes, but rather to spread the gospel and expand the kingdom of God. If church leaders start trying to use the pulpit to advocate for whatever their personal social cause is, you're going to instigate a war in that church between those that agree with you and those that don't. I welcome spiritual guidance from church leaders. I do not, however, need church leaders to tell me who to vote for, what political positions to take, etc. Their opinions on political issues have no more weight than my own, and with respect to the Zimmerman case– I'm a criminal prosecutor in Florida– actually have a lot less. I actually know the law of self-defense, stand-your-ground (which had nothing to do with the case) and second-degree murder. The jury absolutely made the correct decision based upon the evidence presented, especially based upon the way that the State presented their argument– all emotion, no facts. If church leaders start advocating how the jury is racist, the police are racist, the defense counsel was racist, Zimmerman was racist, and the criminal justice system is racist, they and I are going to be having words in short order. To push a position on a purely secular issue is to throw away all moral authority on the thing that really matters– faith and the soul.

        Church leaders should stay out of it.

        July 23, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
  2. Cpt. Obvious

    Maybe they're using the "one drop" rule. Since Zimmerman had at least one drop of white blood, he was white and threrefore a bigot and a racist. (Just because the black people who know him well say he isn't a racist, that shouldn't matter should it? I mean, he's white, right? He's just got to be a racist!)

    July 22, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
    • Sangria

      Black and white "blood drops" what a strange concept.

      July 22, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Most modern and semintelligent folks thought the one drop rule was pretty stupid. Then Obama came along, and everybody thought the rule was pretty smart and Obama was considered "black" by the rule that blacks and whites used to make fun of. It appears to be rule of convenience that blacks will use just as readily as the whites will-whenever it suits the need. So maybe that's what's happening here. It's convenient to use the one drop rule, so why not?

      July 22, 2013 at 6:24 pm |
      • Sangria

        A few years back I got really anemic after surgery. I had about three transfusions. I wonder what nationality I am now?

        July 22, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
        • Akira

          While I am very sorry that you were ill, this comment was hilarious, and you made your point nicely. Well done!

          July 22, 2013 at 11:15 pm |
  3. Ronald Elrod

    What about little Caylee Anthony? She deserves justice just as much as Trayvon does. I am hoping, beyond all hope, that the USDOJ brings up charges against George Zimmerman for violating Trayvon's civil rights. At least he'd be put away for a few years!

    July 22, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
    • jazzguitarman

      Most legal experts predict the DOJ will NOT bring charges against GZ. The main reason being the FBI's report that clear him of racial profiling. GZ defense team would be able to use that report in court. So even if there was a trial, the odds that the DOJ would win their case are less than the state of Florida had.

      This is why I'm disappointed in the Martin family's statements after the verdict. Didn't they watch CNN? Most of the legal experts said that the jury would find GZ not guilty based on reasonable doupt. So the Martin family shouldn't of been surprised by the verdict unless they were mislead by the Corey.

      July 22, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
    • Dale

      That woman literally got away with murder. Churches all around didn't say squat.

      The DOJ isn't going to charge GZ. Smoke and mirrors. If TM's family gets him at all, it'll be in a wrongful death suit, the way the Brown and Silverman family did.

      OJ is reaping what he has sown, if you ask me.

      July 22, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
    • M.A.P.

      There's no evidence that Zimmerman violated Trayvon's huiman rights. I am really upset with this issue because im a lefty and I am fighting with all my friends and they call me a rac-ist! There's nothing that indicates Zimmerman was motivated by race! Everyone around him says he's no ra-cist! Why the witch hunt??

      July 23, 2013 at 5:32 am |
  4. Rynomite

    Not sure how religion is even relevant in a criminal trial where the killing that took place had nothing whatsoever to do with either of the primary principals' religions...

    July 22, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
    • jazzguitarman

      I agree that religion isn't related to the GZ trial but one can say it is relevant to laws like Stand Your Ground. Either way SYG isn't going to go away in all the red states that have already passed it.

      July 22, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
  5. Ron Henzel

    In the meantime, dozens of black-on-black murders take place each week in the city of Chicago alone, and nobody in the Race-Baiting Industrial Complex seems to care.

    July 22, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
    • jazzguitarman

      The fact that it is 13 times more likely for a black person to be killed by a black person than a white person should be an issue here. i.e. the focus of black leaders is really out of touch. Even if every Zimmerman was stopped, it wouldn't make a dent in the number of makes killed by a gun in the USA.

      So it is silly for black leaders to say they NOW have to have a talk with their sons to explain how to avoid being shot like Martin was. These leaders should of had a talk with their sons on how to avoid being shot by someone that looks like them.

      July 22, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
    • Bodoggle

      Sure people care, The President spoke about the young lady murdered weeks after the inauguration. The fact is 90% of black murders are committed by blacks. 85% of white murders are committed by whites. This happens within every race its no surprise. The issue is the two main factors that determine someone's judicial outcome are race and income. It's the frustration within the legal system. Blacks are more likely to be convicted when the victim is white, and whites are less likely to be convicted when their victim is black. The judicial system is racially biased and it isn't being addressed.

      July 23, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
  6. Billy

    there was no prejudice in the verdict, Zimmerman is multiracial and there is a self defense law that the jury looked at,
    if there is reasonable doubt you cant lock someone for ten years for acting in a defensive manner

    July 22, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
  7. Billy

    First nobody likes the killing of another person
    secondly Zimmerman is not white, you can probably say multiracial
    thirdly its a very fine line between between self defense and manslaughter,
    if any there is any doubt you cannot lock someone up for 10 plus years

    July 22, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
    • Lady justice

      The truth is Zimmerman's race and nationality should not factor in to the trial he receives. No one's nationality or race should ever factor into the way they are treated under the law.

      July 22, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
      • Cpt. Obvious

        What about death threats. Can people use race then? I don't think Zim would be getting death threats if he were black.

        July 22, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
        • Sangria

          That's public behavior not the legal system. In an ideal world no one would ever get a death threat.

          July 22, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
        • Bodoggle

          Hey Cpt. Obvious, Trayvon's parents were receiving death threats. What did they do to deserve that

          July 23, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
    • Bodoggle

      Zimmerman is white. There is a difference between race and ethnicity. His ethnicity is Hispanic, as there are white and black Hispanics. Race refers to his physical color and appearance, whereas ethnicity refers to one's culture

      July 23, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
  8. Rundvelt

    I wonder what their response would be if I went with a "Justice for Nicole Simpson" poster.

    People remember when they're slighted, but often forget when things went the other way.

    By the way, where were the riots when OJ was let off?

    July 22, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
    • FD&C Yellow No. 5

      But I did riot...I refused to use my American Express Gold card for a whole week.

      July 22, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
  9. Pravda

    Probably because no Wh1te people were involved....

    July 22, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
  10. Pravda

    Probably because no white people were involved....

    July 22, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
  11. Rhaj - Haja Raza

    If I understand, almost every body, and the Catholics are no exception (as referred in the article), is for a "legitimate defense" that may end up in "a lethal blow".

    To my understanding, Trayvon should have seen Zimmerman as an "agressor" and, one scenario or my interpretation, he went on "legitimate defense". Unfortunately for him, Zimmerman, in turn, saw him as the "agressor" and went also on "legitimate defense".

    If think if "lethal blow" (for any reason) is "justified" by faith, or by faith leaders, I think that is very bad for our society, because now everyone feels right, without rationalizing, of doing (eventually) a "lethal blow".

    July 22, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
  12. Pravda

    The "White Churches" said nothing about it because they had nothing to do with it. It was a Hispanic shooting a black person looking for drug money...

    July 22, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
  13. CommonSensed

    And now this is some religious thing.

    Wow – make it into whatever you want to drive your agenda, I guess. From the President to Pastors – I'm surprised no one's blaming global warming on the verdict.

    July 22, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
  14. Lucifer's Evil Twin

    Hey! I can do that too! "Black churches characteristically bellicose after Zimmerman verdict." Can I work at CNN now?

    July 22, 2013 at 11:18 am |
  15. Christopher de Vidal

    I wish more white churches would sieze this wonderful opportunity to spread the gospel. Racism is 100% a gospel issue. "I'm better than you because of my ancestry" flies in the face of "At the foot of the cross we are all wicked sinners who need a Savior." Don't agree? See NeedGod dot com

    July 22, 2013 at 10:53 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      A boy was killed and a very controversial decision was put forward, and you think this is an opportunity to spread the God Spell. You should be ashamed.

      July 22, 2013 at 11:15 am |
      • jazzguitarman

        Only confused people feel a "very controversial decision was put forward". From a legal POV, the vast majority of legal experts said that based on the lack of evidence the jury had to find a verdict of not guilty.

        I have no opinon on what happened that night, but the law is the law. At least now the focus is moviing to changing the law instead of saying the jury's decision was flawed.

        July 22, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
      • Christopher de Vidal

        The only way to ultimately stop boys being killed IS the gospel. Don't miss the forest!

        July 22, 2013 at 8:17 pm |
  16. Jabari

    Congratulations to everyone who used their "colombo" like skills to solve the case and the OJ case too. Reverend at my Church didn't talk about this because the only thing left is hate driven nonsnense. Hate sells a lot advertising space on websites like this and newspapers. Go figure.

    July 22, 2013 at 10:39 am |
    • Jabari

      My community has BIGGER problems than trials in Florida.

      July 22, 2013 at 11:35 am |
      • Jabari

        And more greiving mothers than you can shake a stick at.

        July 22, 2013 at 11:39 am |
      • Jabari

        Your words ring true. No judgements.

        July 22, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
      • Alias

        I'm really getting tired of the arguement that we can't understand the criminals, so we shouldn't judge them.

        July 22, 2013 at 8:08 pm |
  17. Henryo

    I do NOT belong to any religion, because I DO think.

    However, for all the atheists on these opinion/belief boards that troll, day and night, telling people that they are trying to make the world a better place by knocking down anything that resembles a belief...they are doing NOTHING.

    If you're an atheist and you THINK you want to make a difference consider this: You have this life, and this life ONLY. Live it. get out there and get off your computer and make your ONE life all that it can be, but stop being hypocrites doing nothing but trolling and attacking people. You are making the world a worse place to live; a place that you have to eventually go out into and be greeted by people as nasty as you've made them.

    Good luck with that..

    July 22, 2013 at 10:21 am |
    • myweightinwords

      1) How do you know that the atheists on this board aren't also out in the world doing things to make it better?
      2) Just because a person chooses to spend some time on a board discussing things (I use the term "discussing" loosely) does not mean they are incapable of having a job and a family and friends, etc.

      My posting on this board can be at any hour of the day or night, depending on when I find the time to poke my head in. Sometimes I do it from my phone while I'm enroute to the next great adventure. Of course, I'm also not an atheist, so I'm probably not the target of your jab.

      July 22, 2013 at 10:27 am |
  18. Felix Sinclair

    Zimmerman isn't white.

    July 22, 2013 at 12:35 am |
  19. Reality

    The rudeness/crime is not isolated to religious beliefs:

    from the FBI Hate Crimes Report – 2011

    "An analysis of data for victims of single-bias hate crime incidents showed that:

    ◾47.4 percent of the victims were targeted because of the offender’s bias against a race.
    ◾20.4 percent were targeted because of a bias against a particular s-exual orientation.
    ◾19.2 percent were victimized because of a bias against a religious belief.
    ◾12.2 percent were victimized because of a bias against an ethnicity/national origin.
    ◾0.8 percent were targeted because of a bias against a disability. (Based on Table 1.)

    Racial bias

    Among the single-bias hate crime incidents in 2011, there were 3,645 victims of racially motivated hate crime.

    ◾71.9 percent were victims of an offender’s anti-black bias.
    ◾16.3 percent were victims of an anti-white bias.
    ◾5.2 percent were victims of a bias against a group of individuals in which more than one race was represented (anti-multiple races, group).
    ◾4.8 percent were victims of an anti-Asian/Pacific Islander bias.
    ◾1.9 percent were victims of an anti-American Indian/Alaskan Native bias.(Based on Table 1.)

    Religious bias

    Of the 1,480 victims of an anti-religious hate crime:

    ◾63.2 percent were victims of an offender’s anti-Jewish bias.
    ◾12.5 percent were victims of an anti-Islamic bias.
    ◾5.7 percent were victims of an anti-Catholic bias.
    ◾4.4 percent were victims of a bias against groups of individuals of varying religions (anti-multiple religions, group).
    ◾3.4 percent were victims of an anti-Protestant bias.
    ◾0.3 percent were victims of an anti-Atheist/Agnostic bias.
    ◾10.5 percent were victims of a bias against other religions (anti-other religion). (Based on Table 1.)"

    Zimmerman was found innocent by a jury of his peers so his case will not be listed in the FBI data base.

    July 21, 2013 at 11:42 pm |
  20. alchemon

    Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Zimmerman is not white.... No it couldn't be that.

    July 21, 2013 at 10:13 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.