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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. Elliott Carlin

    When these clowns lift a finger for all the children in Chicago and Detroit being gunned down weekly, then perhaps we JUST MIGHT be more inclined to assist. Until then, it's a bunch of race hustling political pandering.

    Sickos.

    July 25, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
  2. Mike

    Just curious what people would think if Travyon was a any race other than black. Or if the would have said Zimmerman was hispanic, instead of "white-hispanic." Would this trial been about race? or would it just have been about an over zealous neighborhood watch person who killed a young teenage.

    I am also curious about this....What if Zimmerman was an "african-american and hispanic"? Would this case still been about race or just another incident of race on race crime.

    July 25, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
    • Urafkntool

      If Trayvon had been a white child, nobody would even know it happened. The media would bury it so fast you'd think it was the JFK assassination again. The mass media absolutely point blank refuses to mention black or hispanic on white crime, and they certainly don't try to create racial issues about it. However, if a white man looks at a non-white is any way other than "yes, I'm a willing victim, please come murder me," the media shrieks racist and hate crime.

      July 26, 2013 at 9:52 pm |
  3. WOT

    White churches are buildings not people, there are white churches in the Black community!

    White People not White churches.

    You people edit the wrong things and let trash go through!
    When anyone calls wrong , Right – God Hear.

    July 25, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
  4. WOT

    White churches are buildings not people, there are white churches in the Black community!

    White People not White churches.

    When anyone calls wrong , Right – God Hear.

    July 25, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
  5. jamesmmannion2013

    I am Catholic. With that said, I would like to know why more and more media coverage centers on Catholic Church problems, WHICH I WILL NOT DENY, WE HAVE. We don't see coverage concerning problems within the Jewish faith or Methodist or Baptist, etc. Why?

    We have PROBLEMS in every portion of our world (whether POLITICAL, RELIGIOUS or BIG BUSINESS related).

    I realize it is the media's job to report.

    On another note, where was Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton when there were fires in Colorado and Tornado and Floods in other Midwestern States, preaching to the choir? I am sure it was not ALL WHITES that suffered the fires of Colorado as well as the tornado's and floods in the Midwest. Gentlemen (Jackson & Sharpton), I am not sure how you draw a paycheck (and don't care to know), but you 2 seem to pick and choose your fights (Katrina, Travon, just to name 2). Gentlemen, get a REAL Job!!

    July 25, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
    • jazzguitarman

      You're confused about the job of an activist. Their job is to push their specific cause. So it is silly for you to ask why an activist isn't promoting something that does NOT push their specific cause. NOW, you might hate activist (but my guess is that you love the ones that support the causes you support), but you need to learn what the job of an activist is.

      July 25, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
  6. Chris

    The author, Weiss, fails to realize that "white" churches don't get involved in politics...and that's what this Trayvon/Zimmerman tragedy has become. "Black" churches thrive on the politics of division. Predominantly white protestant churches preach the Gospel and don't get involved. The "bland quote", as stated by the author offered by the Southern Baptist Convention was spot on. We pray for those involved, and that's the extent of it.

    July 25, 2013 at 9:36 am |
  7. hey zues

    The church doesn't need to fan the flames of racism... it has both white, black and tan followers and it would not be in their best interest to polarize its own .

    July 25, 2013 at 8:44 am |
  8. Brad

    Why are the pictures on their signs of 12 year old Martin and not any of the 17 year old drugged up gold teeth martin?

    July 25, 2013 at 7:17 am |
    • Rina

      Because the picture of the drugged-up, gold-toothed Martin are a fake. Go to snopes.com.

      July 25, 2013 at 7:32 am |
      • I'm sorry Dave, I can't let you do that

        They're still deliberately distorting his image. From what was found on his phone, it's certain Martin smoked weed (I'm not judging him, most teens of all races do). It's also likely that Martin owned an illegally purchased firearm and may have been involved in gang activity.

        July 25, 2013 at 8:11 am |
  9. Jose--0311-usmc

    CHURCHES ARE SUPPOSE TO STAY OUT OF POLITICS. THE TRAYVON MARTIN IS PURE POLITICS THAT IS KEEPING IT GOING. DEMOCRATS KEEPING THE RACIAL HATE ALIVE UNTIL THE 2014 ELECTION TO GET BLACKS OUT TO VOTE FOR HILLARY...

    July 25, 2013 at 4:34 am |
    • Jose--0311-usmc

      LIBERAL MODERATORS STOP THE COMMENT PENDING, ALL YOU IDIOTS ARE DOING IS STOPPING FREEDOM OF SPEECH. POSTING ONLY THE COMMENTS THAT CNN LIKES USUALLY LIBERAL COMMENTS. CONSERVATIVES COMMENTS PENDING APPROVAL. LIBERALS SUCK.

      July 25, 2013 at 4:38 am |
      • Rina

        Well, if you don't like it, go on over to Faux news and comment there – oh, wait – they don't allow comments at all on their news websites – most conservatives sites don't because they don't want their lies exposed.

        July 25, 2013 at 7:36 am |
        • Chris

          Can you provide any specific examples of a "lie" presented on Fox News? I'm curious so I can catch the next one.

          July 25, 2013 at 9:42 am |
        • I'm sorry Dave, I can't let you do that

          Obviously, Rina is overstating and exaggerating her case but she's right about Fox. It's just far-right, extremist Christian BS. I don't think Sean Hannity or Bill O'Reilly have ever intentionally told the truth in their broadcasting careers.

          July 25, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • Rina

      The church is supposed to stay out of politics? Are you crazy? What about abortion, assisted suicide, euthanasia, death penalty – we hear from the bible thumpers when they want to be heard. Why the silence now? They should stay out of politics and they should be taxed like everyone else.

      July 25, 2013 at 7:35 am |
  10. lol??

    lol??
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    lol??
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    lol??
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    All that money wasted fightin' the cold war. They were teachin' socialism here at the same time!!

    July 21, 2013 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    lol??
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    lol??
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    Girlie judges, girlie juries, girlies in the SAO. Ghetto life is ruled by mama and her hubby da Beast...

    July 25, 2013 at 3:17 am |
  11. Midgick

    As a more than casual observer to race and religeon I must point out the obvious. There is a huge disparity between African American and Angle Saxon Churches in this country. I was always lead to believe that Christ was for all peoples no matter what color or race.
    So why is the white churches silent on this issue?? Gee whiz. Let's see. Oh, I know. It's strictly race.

    Wait a minute, I know! White Christians and Black Christians must have different Jesues.

    If this sounds insulting, yes you are correct. The sublime idiocy that Christians of different races cannot follow the simple direct tenents of Jesus Christ is unbelievable. You all should be ashamed of yourselves.

    July 24, 2013 at 10:06 pm |
    • lol??

      Our first white prez, the Big O, didn't have any pwoblems with Rev Wright for decades.

      July 25, 2013 at 3:21 am |
    • lol??

      BTW, your own assumption of race is faulty. The race walked off the ark.

      July 25, 2013 at 3:24 am |
  12. Daniel West

    Gee, I never realized my church was segregated. Those black people, Asian people, Hispanic people etc that I see attending services just must be illusions or maybe cardboard cut outs. Your article is just plain racist.

    July 24, 2013 at 9:14 pm |
  13. PDXSerric

    I don't like the concept of white vs black churches. When i was younger and searching for answers I visited many different denominations of christian churches. Baptist, Catholic, Protestant, whatever was available in my area. Growing up in Alaska, I even attended Russian Orthodox and Jewish Temple. As I had black religious friends I even attended a church with my friend and his family. I still remember when the preacher, announcing new guests at the beginning of the sermon, stopped and said "And we have a special guest with us to day. Can anyone guess who he is?"

    I have to admit, this church was the most fun. The people, the passion and the music. But in the end every church , especially Christian-based ones, taught the same thing. God is good. Jesus loves you. Go out and do good. So why was there so much anger and hatred towards others from members of each of these churches? It was then, after years of 'researching' religion by attending, from Sunday School to masses and holiday events, and reading the Bibles that I decided to become Agnostic. If there is a God in the Biblical sense, He is bipolar and indecisive. He opens with 'thou shalt not kill' and then orders a man to murder his own son, only to yell out SIKE! at the last moment. Then he orders the death of men, women and children. And then He sent down His only son who sent out even more mixed messages.... turn the other cheek, think before you act, question what you do not understand and do not follow blindly.... It was a Baptist minister that I asked my final questions to, why were there mixed messages. Who were we supposed to follow, etc. His answer? He strongly advised me that this wasn't the best religion for me and asked me to stop attending.

    I discovered long ago that all religions stem from basic stories told from fathers to their sons, mothers to their daughters, and tribe elders to their people to ensure a moral compass in an effort to maintain civility. Protect you ad yours, extend a hand in friendship and above all, do no evil.

    My point to all of this (and I could go on for quite some time, but I'll spare you) is that there should be no division of the church based upon the color of the follower's skin. If one worships Jesus Christ (which, unless you believe in the Holy Trinity is a sin in itself, but I digress) then nothing else should matter. In my mind ALL religious leaders should have stepped forward – not to lay blame but to offer their sympathies and support for both families in this time of turmoil. This, based upon the very principles of Christianity, is what should have happened. Instead, the situation was taken advantage of by a select few for no other purpose than to further their own agendas. Sadly, this is the truth of religion today.

    July 24, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
    • Observer

      PDXSerric,

      I haven't seen you comment in a long time on the Belief Blog. Good to see you again.

      July 24, 2013 at 8:37 pm |
  14. thebrand

    Here you go again CNN, you've got the white and black churches covered, but what about the HISPANIC churches?

    July 24, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
    • Margaret

      Good point

      July 24, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
    • Susan

      My church has all colors in it.

      July 24, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
    • jazzguitarman

      It does appear that certain authors CNN uses go out of their way to create a racial divide. I have never heard the term which churches and I hope I never hear it again!

      July 24, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
  15. Richard Right

    This may seem incorrect but maybe leaders of primarily white churches know it was an unfortunate tragedy but are pretty sure that their members should be able to use deadly force against any attacker of any race.

    July 24, 2013 at 3:57 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      If there were a "National White Church Organization" it would be considered racist by everyone, but of course, none of those same people consider it racist for there to be a "National Black Church Organization." It's the double standard and hypocrisy of today. Pretty similar to how we tell whites that they can't use some words that blacks use because of their skin color is the determining factor–racist.

      Churches with predominantly white members wouldn't dare call themselves a "White church." And no, that sort of church won't say anything about race because no matter what they said, it would be judged as "racist" by people who don't share their same skin tone.

      July 24, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
      • Saraswati

        Do you really not understand why people who are underrepresented and minorities would organize? It must baffle you that this occurs in all cultures around the world. I can't imagine living with such mystery.

        July 24, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
        • jazzguitarman

          Yes, it should be obvious why minorities organize into groups, but one would hope the need or motivation to do so would be temporary. Isn’t it folly for anyone to assume that just because someone looks like we do that they have the same values as we do. Of course I’m a half-breed (two very different races and cultures), so I admit I have a hard time understanding how single race \ culture people view things using their race \ cultural filters.

          July 24, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
        • Saraswati

          Yes, temporary until they have achieved equality. That can hardly be said to have occured here in economic, educational or political terms.

          July 24, 2013 at 8:52 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          I wonder if anyone can achieve equality. It seems to be more a matter of convincing the people we put in charge of ourselves that equal status is what ought to prevail. Then, perhaps, it's granted.

          July 24, 2013 at 8:57 pm |
        • jazzguitarman

          Tom Tom: If someone defines themselves as being a member of a group, than yea, they will never be equal. I just don't understand why anyone would wish to be a member of a group, but like I said I'm a half-breed. Both my parerts are upset I don't say I'm part of their group. I just have no need to define myself as being part of a group. But than I don't view myself as a minority either (but is that because I don't belong to a group?).

          July 24, 2013 at 9:05 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          Very true, jazzguitarman. When people start gathering into groups, I run the other way.

          July 24, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
        • Saraswati

          Almost all humans gain their happiness from the relative assessments they have of themselves compared to others. If the prevailing group looks doen on them or their group they will find a new point of reference that values whay they have...a new and limited group. This isn't always race. People may identify themselves by ideology, religion, politics, hobbies, se.xuality, career...whatever. Most people identify with one or more groups thay help sustain the necessary ego reqirements to function, and they do not have to meet weekly in groups to have these identi.ties. There are exceptions, of course, including some with autism, but you do see this even in Aspergers support groups. It's just how humans function.

          July 24, 2013 at 9:31 pm |
  16. Blacks Grow Up

    Now blacks are crying racism for silence in the wake of the trial.. Grow Up.

    July 24, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
  17. SoundFuture

    I think my white pastor said it best, "there is nothing about this that wasn't terrible". Life can be very cruel. It wasn't fair for Trayvon, and it won't ever be fair again to Zimmerman again (going to prison for manslaughter might honestly have been kinder to him that what's going to happen to him and his family over the next several years). There won't be justice for Trayvon, not really, but the state of Florida can revise its statute so that it won't happen again, which will honor his memory. To say this was entirely about race would be completely ignorant and foolish, but to say that race wasn't a critical factor would be just as ignorant and recklessly obtuse.

    July 24, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
    • dan tanner

      Think again,this case wasn't about race...the race baiters would like to make you believe it was as do the white liberals! Justice? what about justice for baby Antonio West who was shot dead in his crib by two black thugs as result of his white mother not having any money to give them when they tried robbing her in Brunswick, GA....Travon Martin was a young thug who, unfortunately for him, confronted someone who was armed, legally!

      July 24, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
      • Susan

        I have to agree with Dan. Since this has happened I have not heard Obama or any other so called black leader step forward and condemn this horrible crime. Two blacks execute a white baby by shooting him in the face, on purpose, with malice and not a peep is heard from the black community. SHAME

        July 24, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
        • Jeremy

          Are you kidding me?? Obama has condemned it several times, but people like you accuse him of being racist for DOING so! What the hell do you want him to say, exactly?? What you want is a condemnation of black people, not this particular crime. Well, for SHAME ON YOU!

          July 24, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
        • Susan

          Really Jeremy can you point me to a link which shows the president condemning the crime? Also did he make it personal like he did the TM case?

          July 24, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
        • Margaret

          In cases like the baby stroller or even that old guy that shot the 13 year old recently;the left wing never comments. Why, because in cases like these white, black, brown and whatever species Justin Beiber is all agree of the heinousness of the act. If all agree-what then do the race-baiters have to manipulate?

          July 24, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
        • mason

          you havnt heard it cuz he dont really give a fuk about white people he spent 20 years in a black power church.i dont understand how america can put a black racist in the white house but bash any white man that even has the slightest pride in his race.and for the blk churches out and not the white becouse white churches dont act like animales like the blk ones do.everything is racist even the millions of white men that freed the slaves are racist lol anyway.i really dont care if im labled racist. to all my beautiful women and comrades.white pride world wide.

          July 25, 2013 at 8:17 am |
        • mason

          has he condemd any of theas hundred or so hate crimes on whites?http://whitegirlbleedalot.com/

          July 25, 2013 at 8:20 am |
      • RestonJeff

        There is some doubt that those two boys shot that poor baby. Both the mother and the father of Antonio has tested positive for GSR. Although the mother was there, the father wasn't. He is now in jail for different violations stemming from an assault and abuse on the mother$ we may be seeing a variation of the Susan Smith tragedy, where she named an unidentified black man as the assailant. Nothing is set in stone yet with this case, so actually you are fanning the flames yourself.

        July 24, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
      • Cpt. Obvious

        I want to be a millionaire, but I'm not one. Trayvon may have WANTED to be a thug, but he wasn't one, and that's all that matters. Dressing in the garb of a "thug" isn't a crime.

        Is it a crime to disobey a police officer? I don't know, but Zim disobeyed a police officer.
        Is it a crime to shoot an unarmed person? I don't know, but Zim shot an unarmed person.
        Is it a crime to talk to your girlfriend instead of calling the police when you are afraid for your life and defending yourself? I don't know, but it might get you killed.

        July 24, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
      • Sonya

        And I'm sure they will pay for their crime. This wasn't about race– all white jury? Are you for real? Every black boy that dies, you all call a thug. How about all the blacks that have been killed during Jim Crow; were they thugs too....preachers, civil rights leaders.....You white people have forgotten your history...How about Emmett Till, Rev George Lee...???? I know my black history but you all have forgotten yours. Your hatred makes you stupid.

        July 24, 2013 at 6:33 pm |
        • Susan

          No Sonya it is not a forgotten history, but it is not the history of most of the families in the U.S. now. At the time of the war, there were roughly 27 million whites living in the entire U.S. with about 1.4% owning slaves. The total population of the U.S. is now over 300 million. Most people living here did not own slaves and families like mine were not here during that time. A whole lot of our ancestors, mine included came here as indentured servants. Not only that but not every black in this country is a descendant of a slave. Lots came here after slavery was ended and even after the 60's. Emmett Till, beyond sickening, and made even more so by Lil Wayne using him is his sorry excuse for a song. What about Medgar Evers, you didn't mention him? You also failed to mention that there were a lot of whites marching in the civil rights movement, some of who were killed for it. Percentage wise, very few people caused a lot damage and grief.

          July 24, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
        • Margaret

          It was not an all white jury. Two hispanics...a jury of HIS peers since Zimmerman is Hispanic

          July 24, 2013 at 7:38 pm |
        • Margaret

          Jim Crow? Those laws were invented by democrats Sonya....please know facts before you post. And at this point, Jim Crow never did anything like food stamps and rap music have to keep blacks poor

          July 24, 2013 at 7:39 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.