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. Diraphe

    What a garbage article...the Catholic church is not a "white" church and neither is George Zimmerman "white" and it is not a "white" issue!

    July 24, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
  2. Name*jwg

    Is zimmerman racist of his mother because she of dark skin? She was very dark when she spoke out to the public on abc

    July 24, 2013 at 11:28 am |
    • Choir Loft

      At its heart, the rhetoric about the Zimmerman case is racist. There is not so much as an ounce of evidence, logic or real justice admitted in any of it. What is called for is racist vengance, a reckoning for a perceived affront against the public persona of hate mongers such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. These men drink Treyvon Martin's blood. Not literally, of course, but figuratively in order to advance their own agenda.
      Walking among their supporters these men (and many of the same flavor) steal whatever peace, respect and credibility the rest of us seek in this matter. They are the vampires of the modern age, the vultures of society who feed upon the roadkill carrion that George and Treyvon have become in media headlines. And their thirst for blood is not slackened by any judgment of a court of law that disagrees with them. It is not justice they seek, but more hate and sensationalism and blood.
      Jesus called his servants to forgiveness, yet black preachers from one end of the nation to the other call for more hate and less forgiveness. God help us, we love our racism too much.
      and that's just me, hollering from the choir loft...

      July 24, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
    • Just the Facts Ma'am...

      I fail to see what Zimmermans race or that of his mothers has to do with how racist he was in profiling, following and shooting a young black man. I wouldn't care if Zimmerman was black, it would make no difference on what he did that night that took the life of a teenager. If both had been black we likely would not be hearing about the case since over 80% of the violence blacks experience comes from other blacks but what most people don't know is that over 80% of the violence against whites comes from other whites. This was an issue of a little whiny cry baby with short mans complex and a racist chip on his shoulder who went to the gym each week so he wouldn't feel so small and weak and buys a gun to carry around to make up for what a scared sandy va g ina he is and on that night he was to worked up to keep it in his pants. Maybe if he had known that 80% of violence against whites is perpetrated by other whites he would not have been so ready to shoot a black teenager.

      July 24, 2013 at 1:43 pm |
      • Just the facts.....nope

        Pssst.....he wasnt white......... so your white on white crime stats don't matter. So much for your facts. Your "facts" are your own opinion and should be recognized as such. A teen lost his life this is true just as true as a man has had his life changed forever. What I do know is this. If Z had stayed in his car he could not have been attacked and if T had not attacked Z he would still be alive. BOTH persons could have avoided the whole thing. There is plenty of 'blame' to go around. But as a PROUD WHITE MAN im tired of hearing how a WHITE man killed T, no thats just NOT the truth. Z isn't white.........

        July 25, 2013 at 7:51 am |
  3. Name*jwg

    Z is a hero now! Why still all the negativity. Hesaved a families lifr from a turned over car that was smoke and breaking into flame! Ehile the rest just drove on by. Like that limo driver who just watched the poor girls burn. Whe. He his self could help get them oit that car. So i say go zim!

    July 24, 2013 at 10:13 am |
  4. Jugger

    "Zimmerman is half Hispanic, half white. Please keep your facts straight."
    Zimmerman identifies himself as hispanic. President Obama is half white, half black. Yet he identifies himself as black. Do we call him "white" also because he is half? What exactly was your point of your comment?

    July 24, 2013 at 9:41 am |
  5. laststonecarver

    I will be the first to admit that my vision is not what was, when i was younger, but..
    People that I see face to face, are extremely rarely White or Black or Red or Yellow – not impossible, but rare
    Most folks that I share life with are normally pink, or tan, or brown – darker living near the equator, lighter living nearer the poles –
    Some folks in rare occasions are jaundised, or albino, or sunburnt, and I have even known Brown folks, who after cobalt radiation therapy, had black patches of dead skin, from where the cancer was destroyed –
    The folks in the story picture above, what color are they?
    The main dude has a black and white sign, which makes color identification simpler, for those who are challenged –
    Add to the confusion, the premise of which side is a god on, and no wonder it can be enigmatic –
    Someone was afraid of Trayvon, someone is afraid of me, someone is afraid of you –
    Some believe that one is innocent until proven guilty –
    Are you guilty of seeing people as a color?, or as who they actually are?

    July 24, 2013 at 8:49 am |
  6. Frank

    The reporter is upset that some churches were not rabid racists?

    July 24, 2013 at 8:28 am |
  7. pothead

    I'll smoke to that!

    July 23, 2013 at 10:15 pm |
  8. niknak

    Just popped my third brew, a fine IPA from Two Brothers, got some great tunes bumpin' on the stereo, and have a few minutes to do some Christian bashing!!
    Because that is what us atheists just love to do, bash some Christians!

    Where are all the fundies?
    All these atheists all up in your board, talking smack about your magic man, dissin' the boy, and you are nowhere to be found.
    At least come back with some babble quote, about how we will all burn in the fiery pit if we don't find jeebus.

    Hello McFly.

    Come on out fundies, and give us some of that old school religion.

    July 23, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
  9. ustateach09

    What do you want the "white" churches to say?

    July 23, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
  10. Yuck

    Once again the white society has a very bad habit in lying to people's faces.if I was KING of the world I would persecute each and everyone of them here in this planet and around the universe

    July 23, 2013 at 11:36 am |
    • mike

      If it wasnt for a white man you wouldnt even be on this computer, you wouldnt be using a light bulb, you wouldnt be driving a car, you wouldnt be using electricity and using air conditioning, you wouldnt have x-rays to detect diseases and these are just a tip of the iceberg of his contributions to the world. That wouldnt happen because the King of the Universe is light, beauty, and love and not darkness, ugliness and hate.

      July 23, 2013 at 10:05 pm |
  11. nclaw441

    What religious issue is implicated by the Zimmerman verdict? Religion was not part of the case. No church representative was involved. No religious claims were made by anyone. The closest anyone has come to anything related to religion is "Reverend" Sharpton and "Reverend" Jackson, neither of whom, as far as I know, have mentioned God, Jesus, the Bible or anything else associated with Christianity. Even the responses made by "black" churches are not religion-based.

    Why should "white" churches respond?

    July 23, 2013 at 9:57 am |
    • yep


      July 23, 2013 at 10:17 pm |
  12. allen yeager

    Why do we keep calling this a white/black thing? Zimmerman is Hispanic... Why is the Catholic church a white church?
    I know many people of color who are Catholic... Why do black people seem to want others to change, yet if you point of their problems you are called a racist.

    The civil right movements in the 1950s and 1960s was a fluke. Poor black men moved their families from the South to better paying Union protected jobs in the North mainly in manufacturing and building cars in Detroit. This, in turn, gave more black people are voice in how things were done. They had money and influence but now those jobs and their money and influence are now much weaker. Their race is being replace by the smart Asians and illegal Hispanics. Now we have a class of people that have no high paying jobs-Low education rates and image that says that you must grow up to be a rap singer or a sports player...

    Really is does this all really matter? I see things going back to where they once were...That is what the black race fear the most... It doesn't have to be this way... They must regroup and heal within.

    July 23, 2013 at 5:43 am |
    • M.A.P.

      If we are going to have a discussion about race issues in America, then I agree that the African American community DOES need to also be open to critisism. If whites are too quick to judge or they are scared, they should be able explain why without being labelled a bigot. The African American community needs to stand up and admit to some of its own problems and try to help the white community understand why they are feeling discriminated against.

      July 23, 2013 at 6:06 am |
    • diabhal

      Zimmerman is half Hispanic, half white. Please keep your facts straight.

      July 23, 2013 at 10:02 am |
  13. Joe

    White churches don't have Trayvon hoodie days because we are generally NOT racists. This movement to have Trayvon days in churches is an expression of Black racism against whites. If you are not a anti-White racist, you will conclude that the jury came to a reasonable decision based on the evidence presented to them rather than assume they did not condemn Zimmerman because he is( what is inaccurately called) "white." Sadly the most racist group in America today is now Blacks, not Whites. The movement "justice for Trayvon" looks strikingly like the lynch mobs of KKK types in the Old South. Many Blacks, sadly, are becoming the kind of racists they once rightly hated.

    July 22, 2013 at 11:48 pm |
  14. Mary Waterton

    Zimmerman is Hispanic, Martin was Black. How did white Christians suddenly become responsible for this???

    These flame-throwing liberal democrat activist news journalists have been trying to stir up a race war for the last week. For the sake of peace, I wish they would shut up for a while.

    July 22, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
    • Frank

      "...for the last week." Really? More like, for the past 40 years or so. And some of the comments from the so-called black church leaders are just mind-blowingly ignorant, talking about "vigilante justice" as if that had anything whatsoever to do with a self-defense case.

      July 23, 2013 at 1:18 am |
    • Akira

      Grab the torches and pitchforks! Let's storm the castle!

      July 22, 2013 at 11:11 pm |
    • diabhal

      Because Zimmy is half-white, half Hispanic, not just Hispanic.

      July 23, 2013 at 10:05 am |
      • Tim

        Obama is just as white...

        July 23, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
  15. 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 |
  16. 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 |
  17. 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 |
  18. 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 |
  19. 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 |
  20. 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 |
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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.