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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. mrjackson777

    If the race card was never pulled, George Zimmerman would be doing 20 years for Involuntary Manslaughter. But because Jesse and Al had to get involved it made it a race thing and it never needed to be. Zimmerman lied, and changed his story several times. He's a wanna tough guy, and his gun made him tough. The police botched the investigation. The orginal officer on scene suggested he be charged with manslaughter but he was overidden by the Captain who was later fired. When the media took over and made this about race, it was over with and no justice would be served.

    July 30, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      Justice, or the nearest equivelant that can be in this country was served. A jury acquitted him. Too bad for you that you could not be the judge jury and executioner. If you were not there that night , you do not know what happened. Since it did not have any effect on you, try focusing on your own life.

      July 30, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
  2. Armen Gevorkian

    Here is the white synangogue response to white israelis mobbing up and attacking African immigrants and Israel shooting brown kids: Wow ...so quiet! I would even call it a loud silence!

    July 30, 2013 at 11:27 am |
  3. atheist

    amazing that they always show Trayvon as a kid in the pictures. Lets just show him as a baby smiling. Good riddance to another piece of trash

    July 30, 2013 at 8:54 am |
  4. Jon

    Hmm. It seems CNN is still unaware that Zimmerman is Hispanic. This is like expecting ethnic Vietnamese people to be especially concerned about a crime involving an West African and an Austrian in the middle of Central America.

    July 29, 2013 at 9:14 pm |
  5. techie

    White churches are more politically diverse then Black churches so while Black churches can talk about this all day long and not offend anybody in the congregation White churches risk a divide in the church. White churches may be influenced by events de jour and while you may not get a "Tray Martin" sermon you might get a "do unto others..."sermon.

    July 29, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
  6. joeinalabama

    What I don't understand is that all the people who say GZ did the wrong thing, I also think that most people that get hit in the face , knocked down , with someone beating on them wouldn't do whatever they had to do to get them off them.

    July 28, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
    • Dave Seavy

      Because they don't want to hear about that. No matter what – they want to think Martin was sweet and innocent, and GZ was the bad guy all the way through. If the roles were entirely reversed, you wouldn't hear a peep out of anyone.

      July 28, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
      • CNNCommentReader

        If the roles were reversed, a man would be in jail for life.

        July 29, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
        • Fifth Eagle of the Discount Carpet Store

          I doubt it. OJ Simpson was guilty as Hades, and he got away with it. Then, when those monkeys assaulted white trucker Reginald Denny, giving him brain damage, the black community had the gall to get behind the attackers with "free the four" tee shirts and such. When the black community stops making martyrs out of criminals, I will get behind them.

          July 29, 2013 at 11:01 pm |
  7. Dave Seavy

    It seems to me that – no matter what a "white church" would say (if a white church could actually talk – it's the people being silent not the church) would be spun and labeled racist. I've come to believe that those who scream the loudest about racism really don't want it to end, if it's indeed as bad as they say – because they have so much time invested in thinking the entire white population is against them. Maybe – just maybe – if whites weren't blamed for everything bad in black people's lives, we'd be more willing to jump in there to help. I once handed a black family some food money, because I knew they were down and out, and hungry. I did it because I genuinely wanted to help fellow human-beings. Color didn't phase me; race had nothing to do with it. One of the family members immediately accused me of trying to relieve my supposed guilt over what whites have done to blacks. His father tried to get him to understand that I was simply trying to help put food on their table, but the son would hear nothing of it. The father thanked me over and over for showing kindness, but the son called me everything negative one could imagine. So, I ask you – what good does it do to show empathy and decency in the face of being told I'm racist while I was simply trying to help people in need? Racism will remain at the forefront for years to come, because those who scream the loudest would rather keep that mindset than to pull themselves out of their hole and get a life.

    July 28, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
  8. burtb

    Lets talk neighborhoods in the SF bay area. In SF any Neighborhood that is black is statistically crime high.
    Any neighborhood in Oakland that is white Statistically is lower than crime in the average Oakland neighborhood.

    July 28, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
  9. Patricia

    the lack of involvement of predominantly "white" churches with these types of cases has always bothered me because they provide such a "teachable moment" to instruct their members on the proper way to treat people and the evil that violent acts represent. I don't understand the silence at all, and it is one of the things that contributes to my discomfort with religious people and organizations. It makes religion seem like it is meaningless. These churches should get better leadership.

    July 27, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
    • c.

      How would you know a white church was silent if you haven't been in one? The assumptions are ridiculous.
      I attend a church that is mostly white. It was definitely discussed and prayers were offered for both families.
      I happen to agree with rule of law. There are civil ways to change things. Screaming hatred from bullhorns and accusing white Christians of being a problem isn't one of them.

      July 27, 2013 at 8:28 pm |
      • tax payer

        WHITE CHURCHS are LETTING BLACK CHURCHES LOOK BAD and which ever way the majority view is swung... why becasue they are silent...becasue the refuse to stand with those the say are their brothers and sisters under the Lord. if you disagree get off your ass and help the black churchs with thier plight....we are united when its white churchs angry about some crap but when blacks do it you ack like you dont SUPPOT THE HELP? blacks were not CHRITIAN when they came to this country and yet they pledged their entirty to the lord before white people allowed them to be equal....to pick and choose because it wasnt your child or neighbor hood....or are you admitting YOUR SCARED OF BLACK PEOPLE TO??? Time to get up and help your Family or stop preaching the bs no one said to go out and be violent or curse... but you can help those who can't with hold their rage from

        July 28, 2013 at 12:52 am |
  10. billy

    The black community has become one of the most racist groups in this country and you can blame it on Jackson, Sharpton, Holder and Obama. Four of the biggest racists that exist today – bring back the Klan.

    July 27, 2013 at 8:32 am |
    • jazzguitarman

      So one fights racist with more racist? I see that you're not much of a thinker.

      July 27, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
    • Ass Wipe

      Back to your trailor-TRASH !!!

      July 28, 2013 at 1:51 am |
    • hello

      I do agree that black people are more racists thanks to some of the persons you named....but I disagree about bringing back more racism.

      Black leaders should talk about black violence against others blacks..... it seems it has become so common than nothing more is being done to stop that.

      July 29, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
  11. josh

    Black Racism is revealed with the Martin Zimmerman verdict.. If Black churches believe in bible principles they should not be following a political agenda of race baiting and racism against a individual they profiled as a white Hispanic. This case also shows the lack of education and thinking among the black population to follow the rule of law instead follow a tribal behavior of skin color ethics.

    July 27, 2013 at 7:08 am |
  12. Armen Gevorkian

    Why are white synangogues so silent about mobs of white israelis attacking black immigrants? The silence is deafening. Why so silent. Tell me "GAWDS CHOSEN"...why so silent? *hears a pin drop*

    July 27, 2013 at 1:52 am |
    • asariah

      Very propaganda oriented post Ms Gevorkian, I would imagine that the lack of coverage of Ethiopian Jews being aided by Israel, to flee from Islamic terror is ignored as well as the Ethiopian girl who was Miss Israel. I would note that the USA trails Israel in human rights but some propagandists try to say otherwise in de-legitimization efforts most often sponsored by overt racists. Sadly, instead of using this article as a platform for resolution of problems you and your ilk use it to promote half-truths and antisemitic tropes.

      July 27, 2013 at 10:33 am |
      • Armen Gevorkian

        LOL USA trails israel in human rights? Israel tortures KIDS FFS. Hey all you neocon israel lovers? Look what jew boy has to say about your precious red white and blue! Yeah theres been a black miss america too I guess that means theres no racism in the usa right? Funny you should turn this on America. See how long your beer guzzling neocon butt kissers will appreciate that. You did not address the facts I posed. If mobs of whites were attacking African immigrants in the USA the $%^& would be hitting the fan but the media cover up what Israel does.

        July 30, 2013 at 11:25 am |
  13. Uradork

    Why does it matter...he wasn't white. I wonder what Sesame Street had to say about it...oh yeah he wasn't a muppet either! I wonder what the Asian news media had to report, how about Al Jazerra!....quit making this a race issue, freaking bloodthirsty media!

    July 27, 2013 at 1:13 am |
    • Aphriclese

      Amen!

      July 28, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
  14. AndyM

    What are white churches supposed to say??? (Since I have no clue what a "white church" is) Simple fact, Martin was killed by Zimmerman. However, the facts and evidence don't support a conviction of murder or manslaughter. This occurs in jurisdictions all across this country and it doesn't get front page news. This country needs to move on and focus in on more important issues, such as our economy before it falls flat on its face.

    July 26, 2013 at 8:42 pm |
  15. pbsat

    Such a pathetically biased media engineering of society is becoming all too common. If you want unbiased news, look elsewhere.

    July 26, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
    • jazzguitarman

      What you posted makes no sense. All sources of news are from the media so there is no other place to 'look elsewhere'.

      Note that lovers of Fox News often complain about the main-stream media. Fox has higher ratings than any other media outlet. That is the definition of main-stream.

      But I do agree one needs to choose what media outlets they watch \ read very carefully. But all are biased to some degree.

      July 26, 2013 at 7:31 pm |
  16. Armen Gevorkian

    gee Jeffery WEISS. Waiting for your article on why the synagogues of white people pretending to be hebrew are sooooo silent. Why do you have such a vested interest in dividing christians, Jeffrey Weiss? Why are white jews so silent about Israel ending the right of return for black jews but if you are white american or european you get the red carpet rolled out and a bulldozer waiting to crush an Arab's home, Jeffrey Weiss? Why are white synagogues so silent about that Jeffrey Weiss? The silence is deafening.

    July 26, 2013 at 10:40 am |
    • SAWOLF

      The," Black Jews", from Ethiopia were flown to Israel. The "Black Jews", from America were shown to be free loading,welfare leeching, phonies, in other words typical American blacks looking for something, for nothing.

      July 26, 2013 at 7:26 pm |
      • Armen Gevorkian

        Oh look another jewish troll spreading lies and trying to divide Americans. BLACK JEWS ARE NO LONGER ALLOWED RIGHT OF RETURN...WHITE EUROPEAN AND AMERICAN JEWS GET THE RED CARPET. MOBS OF WHITE ISRAELIS ARE ATTACKING BLACK IMMIGRANTS...WHY ARE SYNAGOGUES SO SILENT ABOUT THAT?

        July 27, 2013 at 1:50 am |
    • Urafkntool

      there's no such thing as a 'white jew." Jews are not white.

      July 26, 2013 at 9:47 pm |
      • Armen Gevorkian

        Oh stick it up your @ss with your zionist propaganda. True real jews are not white but most people who claim to be jews are white europeans and you can kick and scream all you want and call Palestinians subhumans and call for their extermination but nothing will change.

        July 27, 2013 at 1:48 am |
  17. Julie

    If President Obama is the first african-american President then George Zimmerman is a hispanic – he also is half white like obama – so quit caling zimmerman white – can't have it both ways so the race baiting needs to stop – George Zimmerman seems to be a good guy and no once could convince me otherwise – he didn't want to kill trayvon – facts speak the truth – not wishing it was the way you put it – maybe all the protesters need to go to chicago where there is crime –

    July 26, 2013 at 1:45 am |
    • Uradork

      Yep

      July 27, 2013 at 1:25 am |
  18. Julie

    I am standing up for George Zimmerman – people who are using race are being foolish and the facts do not support it at all – just a way to TRY to make it something it is NOT – IT IS NOT A RACIAL ISSUE – no one brings up the fact Trayvon Martin assaulted Zimmerman – if Trayvon was afraid why didn't HE go on home – he was right there according to his friend on the phone – makes no sense then for Trayvon to harm zimmerman – I believe Zimmerman and don't care who it makes mad – I do feel very bad for the parents but the law is the law – I would tell my son and I do have one to never assault anyone – walk away – in this day and time with so much crime going on, I don't blame anyone for carrying a concealed weapon – would all these people hating on zimmerman feel for zimmerman had trayvon killed him???? We wouldn't even know who trayvon was –

    July 26, 2013 at 1:39 am |
    • Aphriclese

      Thank you! I brought up this fact to members of my community and everyone seems to have their blinders on. Fact is ppl... he was doing his job. The neiborhood watch was attacked for watching and defended himself. It is tragic, but people need to realise that Martin made decisions too.

      July 28, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
      • Hebrewlite

        no true winners here,both families lives have been torn apart and somehow we loose sight that God is the true judge, he truly knows what went on that night, and ultimately, venegence is his!

        July 29, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
    • Ms Dimples

      Zimmerman chasedd Travon down. When he realize he couldn't beat the boy down he shot him. Thats why people are angry. Call it what you want, he is a murderer. This murderer didn't have a job, he was a volunteer.

      July 30, 2013 at 3:01 am |
  19. joe

    jiffy Weiss is a racist commentator who doesn't care for treyvon martin or anyone else.His boring long winded article is testamony to that.. Who cares about this anymore rally? Zimmerman is a Mexican with a jewish german name. Hes not white and the world knows it. Since when is the white race brown with black hair and dark brown eyes. Shut the door and move on

    July 25, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
    • jazzguitarman

      Pushing racial issues sells! That is what is sad here. White Church? What an insane term.

      July 25, 2013 at 5:25 pm |
    • Urafkntool

      Jiffy Weiss is a jewish shill who is doing his master's orders by trying to create racial hatred and violence against whites.

      July 26, 2013 at 9:48 pm |
  20. I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

    Well now the jurors are weighing in on this topic:

    "George Zimmerman got away with murder, but you can't get away from God. And at the end of the day, he's going to have a lot of questions and answers he has to deal with," Juror B29 told ABC, according to an article posted on the network's website Thursday. "(But) the law couldn't prove it."

    http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/25/justice/zimmerman-juror-b29-interview/index.html

    OK, if the state didn't prove their case, you can't convict someone. I applaud that behaviour, but don't do so because you trust God to clean up after you.

    July 25, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
    • jazzguitarman

      If you read all her comments she didn't with the not guilty verdit because there wasn't enough evidence. So far there is 1 that believes GZ wasn't guilty and one that feels he was, but each gave the correct verdict since there wasn't evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.

      July 25, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
      • jazzguitarman

        Sorry I believe in state's rights so I wouldn't support a federal law. States rights allows things like SSM and medical pot, which wouldn't be legal if up to the Feds. I can see the merit in a law that would make it illegal to follow someone while carrying a weapon.

        July 25, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
      • Saraswati

        Would you be looking to ban all concealed weapons or just following someone if you had one? Or ban all guns? If only following, what if someone who happened to be carrying a gun (to protect from a threatening spouse) witnessed a robbery and was trying to follow to get the license plate? I'm not disagreeing that there might be some legislation that could help avoid these situations, but legislating against stupidity isn't always easy.

        July 25, 2013 at 9:30 pm |
      • Kerry

        Pi's? Why PI's? Why should they get to carry concealed? I know a PI who is shadier than most of the people he's investigating.

        July 26, 2013 at 5:48 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.