Pastors aim to keep peace at Zimmerman trial
Pastors such as the Rev. Robert K. Gregory Jr., the Rev. Lowman J. Oliver III and the Rev. Joel Hunter hope to play a peacekeeping role during the George Zimmerman trial.
June 24th, 2013
07:57 AM ET

Pastors aim to keep peace at Zimmerman trial

By Mark I. Pinsky, special to CNN

Sanford, Florida (CNN) – As opening arguments begin, courtroom seats are at a premium at the trial of George Zimmerman, charged with second degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager.

But in an unusual arrangement, four seats in the second row, just steps from the jury box, have been assigned to a group called “Sanford Pastors Connecting.”

The multi-racial ministerial association has pledged to bear witness to the high-profile proceedings during the trial and to keep the peace afterward.

All of the clergy in the courtroom project have agreed to support the jury’s verdict in the racially-charged case, which sparked large rallies and marches led by civil rights figures like the Rev. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.

As needed, the pastors will report courtroom events to crowds expected to gather outside the courthouse, as well as to their congregations, and have agreed to head off inflammatory rumors.

“Regardless of what the verdict is, we can avoid the violence," said the Rev. Robert K. Gregory Jr., of the Good News Jail & Prison Ministry in Sanford. "If we work together, trust can be built.”

Zimmerman, a member of the Neighborhood Watch in his gated community, is accused of stalking and fatally shooting Martin, who was staying with his father, on February 26, 2012.

The defense claims that Martin, returning from a convenience store, turned on Zimmerman, who then fired in self-defense.

The Zimmerman trial: What you need to know

Two dozen media spaces on the courtroom’s polished wooden seats have been assigned by lottery, with an equal amount set aside for the general public. Another twelve spots in the rectangular chamber are reserved for the Zimmerman and Martin families.

The pastoral rotation is the idea of the U.S. Department of Justice's Community Relations Service. A Seminole County Sheriff’s inspector, who is also an ordained minister, handles the scheduling. Among the Christian clergy who have signed up, there are evangelical and mainline congregations; tiny, urban parishes and suburban megachurches.

“We’re looking at providing leadership, to comfort people through the word of God and prayer,” said the Rev. Sharon Patterson, of Getting Your House in Order Ministries, a small African-American congregation.

“We want our presence to encourage them to understand that as long as God is in control, everything will work out all right,” the pastor said.

Patterson brings a particular past to her courtroom witnessing. She once aspired to be a lawyer herself, spending summers when she was first teaching public school, and had no air conditioning at home, going from trial to trial.

While most Sanford-area African-American congregations rallied around the Martin family and their call for justice immediately following the shooting, some predominately white churches and clergy were divided.

The Rev. Alan Brumback, pastor of Sanford’s Central Baptist Church, was one of the first – and few – local white clergy to join the predominately black marches and demonstrations in the wake of the Martin shooting.

However, Brumback, whose congregation is multi-racial, said he would not be a part of the courtroom program.

“I am calling my church to pray for our city and to share the only news that can bring reconciliation,” he said, “the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is my only agenda.”

Live blog: Zimmerman trial begins

Whatever it is, the verdict will be God’s will,  said the Rev. Lowman J. Oliver III of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Sanford.

“We pray that the outcome will be just and fair to all parties,” he said. “How will it look? I’m not able to answer that. Our roles are as peacemakers. It’s more important that we send a message that we sustain the peace.”

However, Oliver said, peaceful acceptance of a verdict does not mean people will have to agree with it. They can certainly have “a righteous response,” as long as it is nonviolent.

“There is a history of division in this community, and there is a history involving violence against black youth” that must be addressed, said the Rev. Joel Hunter, of Northland Church in Longwood, Florida. A prominent evangelical, Hunter is also a close confidant of President Obama's.

After a long, tedious day of sitting together during jury selection, Hunter, Oliver and Gregory were finishing each other’s sentences.

Laughing, they admitted that they were unused to sitting still and silent in unpadded pews for so long – while others did the talking.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Crime • Politics

soundoff (260 Responses)
  1. STFU

    cheap shots by so called people of God; they are trying to influence the jury, nothing more; I hope they have someone atheist on the jury and back fire their strategy on them.

    June 24, 2013 at 5:44 pm |

      They should be tried first, because no one preached hinduism, racism, before them as faith.

      June 24, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      Let's just hope they are impartial and not to give in to any athiest or religious ideals when listening to the trial. How about that?

      June 24, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
    • Ideals

      Atheist ideals would include basing the verdict on evidence. Religious people ignore evidence. So let's hope that only atheist ideals are used.

      June 24, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
    • Lycidas

      No..religious ppl do not ignore evidence.

      June 24, 2013 at 8:59 pm |

    Fox is trusted to watch hens, No one is responsible for hinduism, racism around the globe, but hindu Magi s, crook goons of hindu Mithra ism, racist savior ism, Christards, savior ist by hindu secular ism, self center ism of hindu dark ages. They preach from book of hinduism, racism and now hindu crook crocks claim to help stop mayhem, they initiated to divide humanity.

    June 24, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
    • STFU

      shut up you pos muslim ass, no one is asking your racist views.

      June 24, 2013 at 5:45 pm |

      Bear it hindu, crook or go to hind, hell with your hinduism, absurdity.

      June 24, 2013 at 5:54 pm |

      Fox is trusted to watch hens, No one is responsible for muslimism, racism around the globe, but muslim Magi s, crook goons of muslim Mithra ism, racist savior ism, Christards, savior ist by muslim secular ism, self center ism of muslim dark ages. They preach from book of muslimism, racism and now muslim crook crocks claim to help stop mayhem, they initiated to divide humanity. Absolute truth. Ismism.

      June 24, 2013 at 5:55 pm |

      Bear it muslim, crook or go to mus, hell with your muslimism, absurdity. Truth absolute. Ismism.

      June 24, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
    • TOMMY

      Get the "F" out of here your MUSLIM P.O.S.......I think you need a mouth full of pulled PORK......

      July 10, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
  3. Apple Bush

    3 Wise Men.

    June 24, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
    • julia brown

      upto I looked at the paycheck 4 $5019, I didn't believe ...that...my mother in law woz like trully erning money part-time from there computar.. there great aunt started doing this for only 6 months and by now paid the depts on there appartment and bought a new Cadillac. read more at............. Cat48. ℂom

      June 24, 2013 at 5:30 pm |

      of hinduism, ignorance.

      June 24, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
  4. Dhr.

    Nee Ginekolog

    June 24, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
  5. sbeth1

    Well, there will be no peace if Sharpton and Jackson show up.

    June 24, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
  6. Deb

    While I applaud the idea behind this pastoral process, I believe the people who would most benefit from their counseling will be the least likely to attend church or respond to the process.

    June 24, 2013 at 1:54 pm |

      Clergy have nothing to offer those who do not go to church.

      June 24, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
  7. Pastor Grecia

    The fact is that Zimmerman shot and kill a unarm teen, He was told not to go after the teen he still. That was murder

    June 24, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
    • The real Tom

      That is not necessarily murder. This is why we have a system of laws and don't use popular opinion to decide guilt or innocence.

      June 24, 2013 at 1:34 pm |

      Based on the photographic evidence, it would appear Zimmerman was attacked. Let us not jump to conclusions.

      un·arm (n-ärm)
      tr.v. un·armed, un·arm·ing, un·arms
      To divest of armor or arms; disarm.

      June 24, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
    • ME II

      @Tom and @Unicorn,
      Good points.

      I'm glad I'm not on that jury. They have a difficult job ahead of them.

      June 24, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      There is only on side of the story that can ever truly be spoken. Trayvon certainly can't tell his side. I'm very curious to see where the evidence leads.

      June 24, 2013 at 5:25 pm |
  8. Portland tony

    Someone needs to keep this trial from becoming a racial farce. Since the "press" is going to try to turn a rather complex 2nd degree murder trial into a showdown between the races, and these pastors have volunteered to bring some sense of sanity to this tragic event, so be it!

    June 24, 2013 at 12:52 pm |

      Too late.

      June 24, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
  9. RussuR

    This whole debacle reflects poorly on our education system and our citizens to act irrationally based upon mere fragments of evidence coupled with hatred for our fellow man.

    This doesn't showcase the best we have to offer, but the only thing we have in abundance that we'll give out freely: hatred and intolerance.

    June 24, 2013 at 12:39 pm |

    I have a dark feeling that this trial is going to be an agonizing display of how terrible the justice system is.

    June 24, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
  11. mickey

    so are they also going into white neighborhoods to appeal for peace if zimmerman is convicted?

    oh the irony.....

    June 24, 2013 at 10:42 am |

      Why? According to his voter registration, Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic (his mother is from Peru and his father is white). Odd that it isn't mentioned in this article. Yet Martin's race is stated immediately. Not that it matters. People of all walks of life take part in less than admirable activities on a regular basis around the globe.

      June 24, 2013 at 11:00 am |
    • lionlylamb

      Trash can be found within every color of the human rainbow.

      June 24, 2013 at 11:11 am |
    • ME II

      No, but then again there hasn't been a centuries long systemic persecution of whites in this country either.

      June 24, 2013 at 11:49 am |
    • LordHawHaw

      Black Americans have a disgusting, rowdy, pugnacious, violent culture. Why don't they go back to Africa if they hate it in the US so much? I'll tell you why–African countries would not want black Americans!

      June 24, 2013 at 1:17 pm |

      HawHaw, which republican seat do you currently hold? Just out of curiosity.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
    • ME II

      Actually, the Republican party was, I think, the supporter of abolition as opposed to the Dems.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:55 pm |

      Yes, Democrats were all for segregation decades ago. The tables have turned, and now the republicans hold the pitchfork.

      June 24, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
    • DonDillinger

      Your race is usually determined by the race of the father... Nobody says Obama is white???

      June 24, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
    • ME II

      Why even bring that up?

      Historically, it wasn't just the father, but any African blood at all would classify one as black, i.e. the "One-drop rule".

      June 24, 2013 at 4:39 pm |
    • ME II

      Perhaps it would be more accurate to that at times in history the 'one-drop' rule was used.

      June 24, 2013 at 4:42 pm |

      It's the choice of the offspring which race they choose to identify with. And there's nothing wrong with that.

      June 24, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
    • ME II

      Well said.

      June 24, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
  12. Dham

    So by having priests doing the reporting to crowds...
    You are having a group of people who require no proof of the biggest mystery/conspiracy in the world (god),
    to report on a case which requires massive amounts of proof.
    Ya this is gonna go fantastic....

    June 24, 2013 at 10:39 am |
  13. Naked Nun

    I will protect him for God, as soon as I get these white....stockings.......pulled all the way up to....my belly.......mmmmm.

    June 24, 2013 at 10:35 am |
  14. Hamlet

    Why does CNN keep showing this kid's 12 year old picture other than to entice anger?

    June 24, 2013 at 10:23 am |
    • Apple Bush

      The editor is a priest. The would explain the choice of age.

      June 24, 2013 at 10:29 am |
  15. kfawcette

    Unless the jurors also are Christians, saying the outcome - whatever it may be - is God's will, seems not quite right to me. I may be wrong, but with the free will we are given, and the jurors being swayed one way or another - unless they are fervently praying that they are in alignment with God's will, the outcome will simply be what it will be. My prayer is that the obvious be stated - if it were my white son, Billy Graham himself would not come. So to say it is not a 'racial' issue, I believe is wrong. Why else would Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton come to the defense? why would there by riots and crowd gatherings? Again, if it were my son... there would be silence... and nobody would care. My town would not rally because he was being profiled as anything... I do pray that God's will be done in the heart of the families involved... and then maybe they would step back. A loss is tragic no matter what the reason... mourn your child, love your family, bring peace in your neighborhoods.... stop the anger and the rage and the fighting....God help all of us to do this.

    June 24, 2013 at 10:17 am |
    • Apple Bush

      kfawcette, bacon grease and naked nuns. That is all you need to pray for.

      June 24, 2013 at 10:21 am |
    • sam stone

      free will is inconsistent with an omniscient god

      June 24, 2013 at 10:28 am |

      We are given free will by a being that knows every decision that every human will ever make in his or her lifetime. Yeah, that's a likely scenario. I trust you are able to sense my sarcasm here.

      June 24, 2013 at 11:04 am |
    • Akira

      Apple, the only nuns I've ever seen would likely blind you if they took their clothes off...unless you're into geriatric lovin'. You must have better looking nuns where you live. 😉

      June 24, 2013 at 11:04 am |
    • DonDillinger

      The thing is you must learn black history.. Blacks are stolen people and had no rights not too long ago... and had no justice.. Everytime something was wrong to be heard they marched... For a white child it is not necessary to march and picket.. Police are on the job... It's not racial it's fact..

      Now if you think that the only way blacks as a whole can be heard was to march.. what do you think they will do in present day?? "MARCH"... Otherwise nothing would have been done..

      Now you may say well< Blacks are violent and kill each other everyday.. There are no marches.. To be honest... That is something that blacks do not like.. Black Mothers and Fathers are not thugs... They are not sitting home doing drugs and collecting aid, a stereotype you may believe but it's untrue... There cannot be more blacks on financial aid than whites and the population numbers don't allow it... For every 1 black person there is atleast 5 whites...

      I say that with blacks killing eacho other day to day.. When the whites decided the great racial war.. There won't be enough blacks to defend... LOL...

      Although People are bad and evil regardless of the race..

      The thing about it is if you and all others continue to believe racial stereotypes are what people are then these things will continue to happen, until you destroy each other...

      When was the last time you saw a missing child on television on a day by day basis? What was the race of the child? Black kids do go missing as well as black adults, but the media gives it much less attention..

      It seems that whites want blacks to be the underdog and then whites are made because blacks are the underdogs and they are not..

      June 24, 2013 at 4:34 pm |
  16. HotAirAce

    So, for believers, the jury's decision, by itself is not good enough. A bunch of mentally ill delusional liars have to consult the entrails of a dead chicken and wave some bones and feathers around before declaring the verdict is ok. I thought the US was supposed to be a nation of laws, but maybe astrology is on a comeback. . .

    June 24, 2013 at 10:12 am |
    • Apple Bush

      If I had a million dollars? Three chicks at one time man. I guy with a million dollars could definitely hook that up man.

      June 24, 2013 at 10:15 am |
  17. Apple Bush

    There is only one way to keep the peace man......Naked Nuns with Big Guns.

    June 24, 2013 at 10:04 am |
  18. ME II

    I find it very irritating that the clergy are given special treatment in such a situation. However, if they can actually reduce violence to any degree, that would be beneficial.

    Actually, I think it might have been better to setup a Community Relations panel to do the same thing and invite the clergy to participate along with councilors, community leaders, social workers, etc.

    June 24, 2013 at 9:43 am |
  19. Athiest Hunter

    If he were white, no one would care.

    June 24, 2013 at 8:11 am |

    • No one cares about white people anymore. It's sad.

      June 24, 2013 at 9:20 am |
    • Apple Bush

      Athiest / Atheist (?) Hunter, what do you do with the dead atheists? I am building a castle to the heavens out of mine.

      June 24, 2013 at 10:24 am |
    • Atheist Hunter

      Now let's get it right is it Atheist Hunter or Atheist Killer. Pay attention.

      June 24, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
    • DonDillinger

      If he was white he'd still be alive and there would be no issue...

      Blacks are considered, violent, aggressive animals who need to be tamed...

      But if you needed serious medical attention and the doctor was black would you refuse care? If you needed a organ and the only one was from a black man would you refuse it and die? I

      June 24, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
  20. Colin

    Atheists adn secular humanists never have to be restrained from ripping into believers. Just saying....

    June 24, 2013 at 8:06 am |
    • sam stone

      And believers have never been shy about bloviating how they know the mind of god. Just sayin'

      June 24, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • Apple Bush

      I was gonna say because the believers are idiots, but then I decided I was not read to leave the naked nuns theme yet.

      June 24, 2013 at 10:31 am |
    • niloC

      Believers never have to be restrained from torturing, mutilating and murdering people that don't bow to their deities.

      So..... we taking a tally or what? Which is worse, using words to state evidence contrary to magic, or hurting and murdering those that don't believe in magic? Classicly, theists throughout history have been bent on exterminating fellow humans in the name of their foolish beliefs.

      June 24, 2013 at 11:11 am |
1 2 3 4
About this blog

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.