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. palintwit

    "Absolutely. Yup, yup." –Sarah Palin after being asked by People magazine if she was ready to be a heartbeat away from the presidency

    June 25, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
  2. Marvin

    “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that" Martin Luther King Jr.

    June 25, 2013 at 10:22 am |
    • JohnQuest

      Okay, but how did that work out for him? (but I do agree, Love in far greater than hate)

      June 25, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • Joel

      You cannot be peaceful if you want revenge. Look to the author of Peace, God Alimighty, he is the only one that fill hearts with Peace.
      King Jr. Is right that with love you can conquer darkness. With God's help you can overcome bitterness.

      The pastors can focus on God's word for the assurance of 'peace'.

      June 25, 2013 at 10:30 am |
    • JohnQuest

      Joel, Maybe I missed something, but how do you figure that God is "peaceful"?

      June 25, 2013 at 10:37 am |
    • sam stone

      light drives out darkness in the same way that darkness drives out light

      June 25, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
    • sam stone

      What exactly is judgement if not revenge?

      June 25, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • William Demuth

      So Joel, why then eternal damnation?

      Why then Gods slaughter of Egyptian children?

      Why the imposition of original sin on the newly born?

      Your Imaginary God is a vengeful one, dreamt up by angry little men enraged at their own impotence and terrified by their own mortality.

      June 25, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
    • William Demuth


      Gravity beats light all the time, and Entropy guarantees eternal darkness.

      Entropy is the only true God.

      June 25, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
    • Wes

      What William D said. Right on.

      June 25, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      William Demuth,

      Such magnanimous tenderness. Keep on bleeping on. Free one's anguish and resentment in damnations accreditations!

      June 25, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
    • My Dog is a jealous Dog

      Lionlylamb reminds me of the "In Living Color" skit with Damon Wayans as the prisoner with a unique sense of language. Maybe someone can find a YouTube clip to post?

      June 25, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
    • GeRTHy


      June 25, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
    • lionlylamb


      June 25, 2013 at 1:20 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Ah Entropy – one of my favourite Bad Religion songs.

      It's entropy, it's not a human issue
      Entropy, it's matter of course
      Entropy, energy at all levels
      Entropy, from it you can not divorce
      And your pathetic moans of suffrage tend to lose all significance

      Extinction, degradation
      The natural outcome of our ordered lives
      Power, motivation, temporary fixtures for which we strive
      Something in our synopsis assures us we're okay
      But in our disequilibrium we simply can't stay

      June 25, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
    • My Dog is a jealous Dog

      Thank you!

      June 25, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
  3. She tasted like cigarettes Lieutenant Dan

    Exodus 12:12-13

    NIV: 12 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord."

    KJV: 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the Lord.

    Original Hebrew: יב וְעָבַרְתִּי בְאֶרֶץ-מִצְרַיִם, בַּלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה, וְהִכֵּיתִי כָל-בְּכוֹר בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, מֵאָדָם וְעַד-בְּהֵמָה; וּבְכָל-אֱלֹהֵי מִצְרַיִם אֶעֱשֶׂה שְׁפָטִים, אֲנִי יְהוָה.

    Translation from original Hebrew: 12 For I will go through the land of Egypt in that night, and will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.

    June 25, 2013 at 9:20 am |
    • William Demuth

      I thought it says "The Big Dog will excrete judgments on the lawn of the Pharaoh" but it's all Greek to me.

      June 25, 2013 at 10:17 am |
    • 111Dave111

      Bill that's Hebrew. Exodus is old-T,
      thus mostly translated repeatedly from the original Hebrew (Hebrew->Greek->Latin->French->English, I think),
      New-T is mostly translated repeatedly from the original Greek.
      Even though Jesus spoke Aramaic, probably.

      June 25, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Yup Dave, but then the whole "Greek to Me" parody wouldn't work now would it?

      June 25, 2013 at 12:20 pm |

      It is not just from Greek, but hind, corrupted by hindu secular s, criminal self centered to justify hinduism, racism among humanity, in violation of Hebrew teachings, and reject of son of blessed Mary, promoted to justify hindu Mithra ism, pagan savior ism,

      June 25, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
  4. 111Dave111

    Knock, Knock
    – Who's There?
    George Zimmerman
    – George Zimmerman, who?
    George Zimmerman is Guilty.

    June 25, 2013 at 9:12 am |
    • 111Dave111

      I know it is not funny, either.

      June 25, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
  5. ronvan

    GIVE ME A BREAK! "THEY" are goint to report to the people? What did "THEY" pull to get their seats in this trial? 'THEY" are going to keep the peace? "THEY" need to find something else to do!

    June 25, 2013 at 7:53 am |
    • William Demuth

      Well, CNN has that chubby chick on HLN to explain it to the Klan, and that Vallez chick to update Latin gang bangers, so I guess these three talk to the brothers?

      I would LOVE to see these three stop by the Bloods HQ to update them on the not guilty. The dude in the middle would help them to lynch the two pasty faces just to save his own hide!

      June 25, 2013 at 8:09 am |
  6. William Demuth

    Perhaps the Westboro Baptists should sit in?

    I hear they believe that Jesus has Latinos kill African American children because he doesn't want Lesbians in the Marine Corp.

    Makes perfect sense if you think about it.

    June 25, 2013 at 7:52 am |
  7. William Demuth

    Riots generally move our society forward, Plus they are fun to watch on TV!

    A bad decision leads to a bad outcome. If these yahoos try to support a not guilty verdict, they will be torn to shreds, and rightfully so!

    June 25, 2013 at 7:39 am |
  8. tallulah13

    I have read other blogs about this case. Judging from the comments on them, America is a very divided nation indeed. Racism is alive and well and protected by internet anonymity.

    June 25, 2013 at 1:18 am |
    • William Demuth

      So don't be anonymous.

      June 25, 2013 at 7:40 am |
    • tallulah13

      I have never used my anonymity to claim that someone should die for the color of his skin.

      June 25, 2013 at 9:40 am |
    • William Demuth

      It is for each to use as he sees fit

      As for me, I voice my opinion. I have neither guilt nor shame, and stand by what I say.

      Perhaps being from a different era makes me more open than most, or perhaps it's my integrity.

      June 25, 2013 at 10:09 am |
    • Russell

      Firstly, you are not as anonymous as you think you are.
      Secondly, being anonymous is not a right.

      June 25, 2013 at 10:57 am |
    • William Demuth


      Hate to go all intellectual on you, but it is a fundamental right, probably one of the MOST fundamental

      Our whole system of governance is based upon a ballot in which one can not be compelled to disclose ones vote.

      Our only real power comes from voting, and voting is and shall always be anonymous. Our two party system has tried to pervert this for centuries, but has thus far failed.

      Lets hope they always do

      June 25, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Secondly Russ, I am somewhat familiar with communication and related technologies, so I might offer some advice

      Don't waste time trying to hide who you are, instead invest your nefarious energies (if you have any) into becoming someone else.

      June 25, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Anonymity is a right we hope to claim, derived from privacy, a right we hold, but only by our fingernails. Consider efforts to limit strong encryption, e.g. Louis Freeh's statements in 1997 to the Senate Judiciary Committee to the effect that at least two entities should always have access to any information you transmit, the Federal Governement and you. There are efforts to build truly anonymous and private networks using this key technology, and efforts by State Governments, the Federal Government, and of course governements around the world to make this impossible.

      June 25, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
  9. Looter Shooter

    Please, Oh god Thor, let there be a massive chimpout. This Floridian wants nothing more but to climb to the top of my roof and "Stand my Ground" with my AR15.

    June 25, 2013 at 12:07 am |
    • William Demuth

      Ever seen a man burn to death on the roof of his house while a crowd of Old Black Panthers sing a chorus of "Disco Inferno"?

      June 25, 2013 at 7:43 am |
  10. tony

    The NRA promotes the afterlife really strongly . They must be very Christian.

    June 24, 2013 at 10:31 pm |
    • saggyroy

      The bigger the gun, the closer to god.

      June 25, 2013 at 6:03 am |
    • William Demuth

      I wonder what Jesus will be toting when he gets back?

      Maybe a 20mm Vulcan Cannon and a belt fed 40mm grenade launcher as his side arm??

      June 25, 2013 at 7:45 am |
    • Think for a minute

      I don't advocate violence...but how many of your rights do you want government to take away from you? How much of your own power do you want to give to someone else?

      June 26, 2013 at 7:23 am |
  11. In Santa we trust

    hz, Read Genesis 9

    June 24, 2013 at 10:26 pm |
  12. hz

    The bible does not condone race based slavery. Or being. Cruel

    June 24, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
  13. HeavenSent

    Grinding, grinding bones on hard hot rock. This is the game of the devil, who is satan, "the one who grinds bones on hard hot rock!" My daughter told me twelve is the new fifteen. Deep in his kitchen of screams you will eat your breakfast through your eye.


    June 24, 2013 at 9:56 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Heaven is obsessed with hot grinding.

      Tells you a lot about her!

      June 25, 2013 at 7:57 am |
  14. Apple Bush

    There does not appear to be too much difference between a courtroom and a church. In a courtroom, they have chairs and lights and so forth as they do in a church. There are probably even more similarities than that. So what is the issue?

    June 24, 2013 at 9:48 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      For the record, I am in favor of the Hindu coffee at the courthouse/ It is hard to find at church.

      June 24, 2013 at 9:51 pm |
    • tony

      Not being allowed to pass the collection plates?

      June 24, 2013 at 10:29 pm |
    • William Demuth

      They both worship something unworthy of worship.They are both tools of the powerful designed to disenfranchise the weak, and they are both filled with people with an inflated sense of their own self importance.

      Oh, and they are both destined to be burnt to the ground and replaced by the Inter-dimensional Overlords of Zirth.

      OK, so I forgot my meds this morning, does that make me a bad person??

      June 25, 2013 at 8:01 am |
  15. STFU

    You talkin' to me?

    June 24, 2013 at 9:16 pm |

    No, no terrorist, hindu secularist here, hindu atheist ,criminal self centered have no place among human, but in jails.

    June 24, 2013 at 9:00 pm |
  17. STFU

    Churches protest at children's funerals
    Churches claim Jesus was the original "Man of Steel"
    Churches now show up at high profile trials

    what is next?

    June 24, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
    • Lycidas

      Perhaps you could stop generalizing and get your facts straight.

      June 24, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
    • Trix

      What fact did STFU get wrong?
      Westboro is a church, there was an article on the Superman/Jesus comparison here on CNN, and this article has 3 pastors showing up at a criminal trial. Sounds as if you're just complaining to complain, Lycidas.

      June 24, 2013 at 10:14 pm |
    • the AnViL™


      June 25, 2013 at 7:55 am |
  18. STFU

    get lost Mohammad A. Dar; you're terrorizing people with your posts. I sincerely hope NSA is watching your phones, emails, internet.

    June 24, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
  19. Age of Reason

    ...stop invoking this "jesus" character! He never existed and stop believing in him!

    June 24, 2013 at 7:52 pm |
  20. abby normal

    While there are plenty of verses which discuss slavery, its a stretch to say that it promotes slavery. Tolerates? O.K. Promotes? No so much. But then again, slavery during this time was something quite different than the civil-war era race/ethnic based slavery you are implicitly raising. Perhaps the most famous slave mentioned in the Bible, Joseph, was second in command of all of Egypt, by way of example.

    June 24, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
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.