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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. Allie

    "some denominations that often weigh in on matters of national policy have yet to go on the public record."

    Is it possible- despite the agenda that CNN and racial activists are determined to push- that this doesn't qualify as a "matter of national policy"? I honestly don't understand why you expect organizations like the Catholic church to even comment on this. It was a trial, and they know as little about it as anyone else who wasn't in the courtroom. IMO, we'd be better off with fewer armchair experts spouting off fervent opinions about something they don't fully understand.

    July 20, 2013 at 9:32 am |
  2. VEW2012

    I think it can be summed up as callousness, disregard, and interest in not cutting the income to their tax exempt collection plates.

    July 20, 2013 at 9:30 am |
  3. blackness

    The other day, Mr. West, a blackness spokeman, singer, rapper and overall male guy with did I say, blackness yet? when asked questions, attacked a white cameraman.

    He could have been Travon too.

    July 20, 2013 at 9:29 am |
    • blackness

      The obvious solution is for all blackness people to rally around Mr. West, riot, and the white camera person should be bloody, and jailed for years, and a lot of hispanics attacked "this is for Mr. West! and Travon too!", and then we can read articles all day long about blackness.

      It's only blackness, get over it.

      July 20, 2013 at 9:33 am |
    • blackness

      The difference with Mr. West is that there were multiple cameras going, lots of witnesses dumbfounded over what they saw, and police officers standing by to arrest him. If there had not, blackness dictates that execution is in order for the white cameraman, or long drawn out news about it, jail time for white bystanders, and anything else Jackson, Farakan, and Sharpton deem is in order to end the injustice once and for all (extermination camps for white people that ask questions).

      July 20, 2013 at 9:39 am |
    • blackness

      You owe it to yourself to go watch the video of Mr. West being asked questions from a white guy. That is Travon all over again. He had the hoody, he had the "I could have been Travon or the president!" look on his face, and he wants rioting in the streets and hispanics in the hospital all over the USA, as many as possible, just because.

      More trials! How many years can Mr. West live it up in the media? Will Obama say "I could have been Mr. West! Mr. West could have been my son!". Go ahead and riot over it, I'm not hispanic so I don't care.

      July 20, 2013 at 9:49 am |
  4. Boots

    Things aren't quiet in our white church. For the past five years they have shifted their focus from love of Christ to hatred of Obama. Every sunday, the same garbage: welfare, get a job, Obama Care. The cross has been displaced by an American flag displayed dominantly on the alter. Veterans Day and the 4th of July become special hate days for my Baptist Church. Clean it up Church. Your hateful heart is showing.

    July 20, 2013 at 9:29 am |
    • Prayerful

      Mine as well! I live in W TX so bashing the POTUS is a pretty active sport here but my 'church family' took it to a whole new level. After many years of being very active in the congregation, I found I could no longer abide by the ever increasing hatemongers there and left my church. The hypocrisy in the Lutheran church has grown beyond palpable. I now have church on my back porch, just me and GOD – I get more out of it than I ever did in a church building. I'm 46 and I think I'm done with organized religion altogether. I have learned that I don't need a middleman to be close to my Maker and I don't need parishioners trying to rub their ignorant hate off on me.

      July 20, 2013 at 10:07 am |
  5. yuhmad

    Racism exist everyday whether its black on black or black on white etc.

    July 20, 2013 at 9:29 am |
    • VEW2012

      ....and white on black.

      July 20, 2013 at 9:44 am |
      • Rob

        Not to mention East Asian on everyone who isn't East Asian.

        July 20, 2013 at 9:46 am |
      • rush

        I'm pretty sure that's where etc. falls into play.

        July 20, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
  6. susanna

    The White churches are doing the right thing, there staying out of this race mess.

    July 20, 2013 at 9:24 am |
    • Rob

      Maybe they can't bring themselves to lie, like all of Travon's fanbase has been doing.

      And why comment on a criminal case? A violent assault was ended by justifiable self-defense. Even a jury half of whose members originally wanted to convict George "of something" were forced by overwhelming evidence to acquit him.

      July 20, 2013 at 9:29 am |
      • Truth Prevails :-)

        How do we know how violent it was??? It is a living mans word against a dead mans word! Zimmerman could have obeyed the 9-1-1 operator and not followed the kid and the kid could have just kept walking. No-one is innocent and no-one had the right to confront the other but they both had the right to stand their ground.

        July 20, 2013 at 9:37 am |
        • Rob

          No "standing ground" here. Pure self-defense on George's part.

          A sucker punch, a pounding of head against pavement, lawful use of weapon to end a life-threatening situation. Easy to understand. For some of us, that is.

          July 20, 2013 at 9:43 am |
        • VEW2012

          ...and the two voice experts who were not allowed to testify by the defense, stated that the voice on the tape screaming was not Zimmerman's.

          July 20, 2013 at 9:46 am |
        • rush

          Funny how Zimmerman's father originally told the police that it wasn't his son. He then changed his mind.

          And FBI audio expert said, "..the quality of the recording and the short duration of the screams, among other things, made it too difficult to isolate who it was."

          July 20, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
        • Flamespeak

          @VEW

          2 said it was Martin, 2 said it was Zimmerman, and the remaining 4 said that there was no way to tell. The court relied on the tesitmony of the parents of both Zimmerman and Martin to see if they could recognize the voice and no consenus was reached. This should never have been entered as evidence for a prosecution because it did nothing more than show even more reasonable doubt.

          July 21, 2013 at 4:47 am |
  7. What Goes Around

    The U.S. needs to be divided into ethnic Republics in a peaceful manner before the people decide to do it themselves. There would be less racist incidents if we were not forced to live with people that have nothing in common with us. The Federal government is at fault for depriving us of the right to freedom of association. It is time for the Federal government to go the way of the Dodo bird.

    July 20, 2013 at 9:19 am |
    • Rob

      The jews currently running herd over most of the "free" West would see whites killled off before allowing that.

      July 20, 2013 at 9:23 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      Forced??? The only difference between a white man and a black man is the color of their skin when it comes right down to it but some racist pigs would still segregate if they could...how sad.

      July 20, 2013 at 9:24 am |
      • Rob

        Even a Down's syndrome kid can see that race is far, far deeper than skin color.

        Yeah, wave a magic wand, give a black white skin, and he'd look just like a white, LOL.

        July 20, 2013 at 9:31 am |
        • Truth Prevails :-)

          Yes sadly it is but in the grand scheme of it, blacks are just as equal overall as whites are. There should not be a need for this type of thing to be happening in the 21st century.

          July 20, 2013 at 9:35 am |
        • Rob

          "Just as equal," LMWAO.

          These eekwals can't even maintain toilets, let alone create and maintain a civilization.

          July 20, 2013 at 9:46 am |
        • VEW2012

          @Rob.... May I remind you these "eekwals" as you so hatefully put it, created civilization with bathrooms and toilets centuries before your ancestors made it out of caves.

          July 20, 2013 at 9:54 am |
        • VEW2012

          Which group is it you are representing here...the KKK or the Aryan Brotherhood?

          July 20, 2013 at 10:23 am |
        • Mike

          We can say that you can't wave a magic wand and make someone white, but that's kinda what every news station did with Zimmerman lol When the incident first occurred every news station reported "White man shoots black boy" and even lightened his picture to make him look more white. Zimmerman is half Hispanic but entertainment media wants to create conflict for a good story. The more angry they make the public the more they will care and want to watch.

          July 20, 2013 at 7:30 pm |
  8. logicnothuff

    White churches should quickly proclaim support for George Zimmerman's exoneration, and also condemn the Obama administrations strongarming Florida into wrongly arresting and charging George Zimmerman.

    July 20, 2013 at 9:16 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      Yet had Zimmerman just obeyed the 9-1-1 operator and left the kid alone, the kid might still be alive. Not guilty does not mean innocent. Trayvon had just as much right to stand his ground as Zimmerman did, the difference is that Trayvon did not have a weapon. If he were your child, you'd see it differently.

      July 20, 2013 at 9:21 am |
      • Jac

        Someone didn't watch the trial.

        First, stand your ground was never raised by the defense.

        Second, Rachel Jantell's twice testified that NoLimitN1gga was right by his house. Zimmerman had lost sight of him and NoLimitN1gga had 4 minutes to enter his house or call 9-11. Note where Zimmerman ended up being attacked was 150 yards away from his house.

        Yes, that means NoLimitN1gga was safe, but instead doubled back to attack someone he thought was gay. His death was his own fault. Zimmerman isn't a murderer, but a survivor of a violent attack by a worthless thug.

        July 20, 2013 at 9:35 am |
      • Randall

        He is neither of our children, and I see it just like you. Not guilty by the law but not innocent morally.

        July 20, 2013 at 9:39 am |
        • Rob

          George is most certainly morally Innocent.

          July 20, 2013 at 9:51 am |
      • VEW2012

        If he had identified himself as the Neighborhood Watch volunteer that he claimed he was (a Neighborhood Watch "Captain" that followed not one of the guidelines), and had he stated: "Hi, I am George Zimmerman, I am one of the Neighborhood Watch Volunteers. May I help you?" That would have deescalated the situation. And older male following a teen in the dark,for that young male teen could easily have be perceived as a pervert or child molester.

        July 20, 2013 at 10:13 am |
      • rush

        What ground would Trayvon be standing? Zimmerman hadn't done anything to him to make him stand ground. Trayvon circled back around to Zimmerman.

        July 20, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
    • yuhmad

      President Obama said exactly what was on his mind and if these same things that he mentioned happened to him, he spoke truthfully.

      July 20, 2013 at 9:24 am |
  9. logicnothuff

    Black churches should quickly proclaim that George Zimmerman used justified force to stop Trayvon Martin's use of deadly force on him.

    July 20, 2013 at 9:15 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      Deadly force??? No weapon was used or found on Trayvon.

      July 20, 2013 at 9:22 am |
      • Truth Prevails :-)

        was used by

        July 20, 2013 at 9:22 am |
      • Rob

        Just the pavement he was using against George's head.

        July 20, 2013 at 9:24 am |
        • Truth Prevails :-)

          Okay but the pavement was not a gun that could instantly kill...huge difference. While Zimmerman may have received injuries, he probably would have lived. Against Zimmerman's gun Trayvon stood next to no chance of survival. Trayvon had the right to stand his ground also but he did so using his hands and not a deadly weapon.

          July 20, 2013 at 9:33 am |
        • Jac

          Zimmerman was screaming for 40 seconds. When was NoLimitN1gga expected to stop smashing his head against the concrete?

          I guess 'TruthPrevails" there expects that Zimmerman was supposed to endure the violence until NoLimitN1gga turned 18?

          July 20, 2013 at 9:38 am |
        • Damocles

          @Truth

          Wait, wait. Let's take this in the context of two people fighting. Are you saying that one person is only able to defend his or her self with only the same weapons as their attacker? Dead is dead, it matters little how it was achieved.

          July 20, 2013 at 9:41 am |
        • Flamespeak

          @ Truth

          This is why I am 100% for gun ownership in the USA. It allowed someone who was being beat down and possibly to death the ability to stop themselves from being murdered by a stronger opponent in a position as to not allow them to escape.

          July 21, 2013 at 4:41 am |
  10. SLK 63

    Let me just say that i feel for the martin family and for the loss of thier son. But , lets be honest the only reason this case has become this big is because the news media pushes it . And because of people like Rev. Al and Jessie Jackson two of the biggest racist in the country that have stirred up anger in the community. Since the verdict was read, there have been several case now where innocent whites have been attacked by blacks as so called '"justice for trayvon" Where is Al and Jesse speaking out over that...?

    July 20, 2013 at 9:13 am |
  11. Richard

    If CNN says its racial and now religious enough times then it must be true.

    July 20, 2013 at 9:11 am |
  12. Jerry

    Get a life, he was found not guilty, stop fanning the flames of racism. There is no need or requirement for everyone in the world to express an opinion. The evidence was that Trayvon Martin attacked Zimmerman, the jury decided that Zimmerman felt his life was threatened and vote correctly according to the law. Maybe there needs to be an intelligent discussion as to how to shut down the reverse racism that is being pushed by the democratic party.

    July 20, 2013 at 9:10 am |
    • Chris

      Well said.

      July 20, 2013 at 9:19 am |
  13. Jason

    "Loud silence from white churches"?

    Maybe because they can see this issue from both sides, from Martin's and Zimmerman's point of view, and don't want to be seen blatantly taking sides in such a sad affair.

    Admit it, what Jesse Jackson and co. really want is vengeance. They wanted an arrest, even after a police investigation found there wasn't enough to arrest. Then they wanted a prosecution, even after the DA office didn't want to charge. Now that there's a not guilty verdict, they want a federal show trial, protests, and a civil lawsuit 3 ring circus.

    Does that sound like someone who has approached this with an open mind, or does that sound like someone who's sticking to entrenched preconceived notions?

    The Martin/Zimmerman incident was a double tragedy, and Martin lost his life in it. Stupid mistakes were made by both parties in what could have been completely avoidable. But the Bible and Christianity is supposed to be about forgiveness and love – not forming up a lynch mob.

    July 20, 2013 at 9:09 am |
    • Chris

      We cannot continue to absorb all of the black communities racist actions and thoughts without overloading and demanding changes in their communities.

      July 20, 2013 at 9:20 am |
      • Truth Prevails :-)

        Maybe if people stopped judging based on skin color there would be no need for this discussion but racism is alive and it needs to be discussed and stopped.

        July 20, 2013 at 9:26 am |
    • VEW2012

      Without discussion nothing changes....it is NOT better to be silence and sweep things under the rug forever...change will only happen when voices speak up, and actions are taken.

      July 20, 2013 at 10:03 am |
  14. DaveinIL

    What's the point of this article but increased racial division. Churches are not supposed to take sides in criminal cases. What would the reaction be to muslim clerics denouncing a guilty verdict in the Boston bomber case; "Oh, why aren't the white churches also denouncing it?"
    It's hard to show tolerance and empathy to liberal fools like this piece's author.

    July 20, 2013 at 9:08 am |
  15. Brybro

    What a stupid article. What exactly is a "white church?" And since this involved a Hispanic and a black, why would the "white churches" assuming they exist – have anything to say? And if you know anything about the Catholic Church, it doesn't have "random" sermons during its masses as other religious organizations do. The liturgy drives the week's biblical readings and these readings are what the sermon aims to detail and discuss, not some hot item in the news...

    July 20, 2013 at 9:06 am |
  16. Bobby

    maybe because they understand the jury process and they can comprehend the evidence that was presented is why they are quiet. The nonsense that is in the media "stalked", "murdered" are grossly inaccurate. Why comment on this trial when tens of children (black) were killed in Chicago since the trial. What do Chicago parents tell their kids? To look out for "white" Hispanic men. This is fodder for the race pimps and nothing more. It was a case that never should have been brought to trial. It was, now people still want blood. This is a soundbite nation and we are stupider for it.

    July 20, 2013 at 9:06 am |
  17. Timothy Sullivan

    Obviously CNN has its own agenda and wants to frame the debate as a religious issue, which it is not. Ask the USCCB to comment on something having to do with the faith and not to second guess the jurors in this case.

    July 20, 2013 at 9:05 am |
  18. Joe

    probably because no white man was involved.

    July 20, 2013 at 9:03 am |
  19. devin

    Perhaps they are waiting for the black churches to first denounce the other 99.9 % of murders committed. You know, the black on black.

    July 20, 2013 at 8:59 am |
  20. Sean MacNair

    Does there have to be an "official" response from every group and their brother on every news story? I would just as soon have some groups shut their mouths.

    July 20, 2013 at 8:58 am |
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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.