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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. children of Israel

    Whoever has the image of Christ as being blond and blue eyed is worshipping the Devil himself. The entire world is judging by the color of skin, calling us black. Black is not an nationality. The white man is red, from the caucas mountain.

    July 21, 2013 at 10:59 am |
  2. davey

    "White churches"? Oh! That must be where the white hispanics go!

    July 21, 2013 at 10:02 am |
  3. Elliott Carlin

    Perhaps some groups are more civil than others?

    July 21, 2013 at 9:53 am |
  4. Michael Poteet

    The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the nation's largest Presbyterian denomination, issued a statement on the verdict and Christian responses to it six days ago – http://www.pcusa.org/news/2013/7/15/church-leaders-issue-statement-george-zimmerman-tr/. Of course, in the end, it is deeds, not words, that matter most.

    July 21, 2013 at 9:25 am |
    • lol??

      Words corrupt a man. Watch out loudmouth mamas.

      July 21, 2013 at 9:39 am |
    • lol??

      Office of the General Assembly

      EMILY ENDERS ODOM

      Interim Communications Coordinator

      That's a funny name for a man.

      July 21, 2013 at 9:51 am |
  5. lol??

    I'd say Zimmy has a whole lotta pain and sufferin' to collect on. 'Specially for future pain by stalkers. 24/hr body guards ain't cheap. Psych care, too.

    July 21, 2013 at 9:10 am |
    • midwest rail

      If anyone would be familiar with the cost of psych care, it would be you.

      July 21, 2013 at 9:12 am |
    • Douglas

      If anyone lays a finger on him they will be spending the rest of their life in prison.

      July 21, 2013 at 9:14 am |
      • lol??

        Won't stop no stinkin' MOB.

        July 21, 2013 at 9:23 am |
      • Elliott Carlin

        Uh, our esteemed Attorney General will see to it that won't happen.
        We live in a banana republic

        July 21, 2013 at 9:55 am |
  6. lol??

    How are the medical bills bein' paid?? Free gubmint care??

    July 21, 2013 at 9:06 am |
  7. whitedragonjudo

    This headline belongs on some place like the Onion, not CNN. Good job.

    July 21, 2013 at 8:31 am |
    • JJ

      But that's what CNN has become now. I laugh every time I hear them play their motto: "the most trusted news source".

      July 21, 2013 at 8:40 am |
      • lol??

        They've morphed the meanin' of trust and turned it into sumpin' mean. Bullies are like that.

        July 21, 2013 at 9:03 am |
  8. children of Israel

    All these satanic people / churches do not want you to read the Bible, because it is the black man's history book. (Deuteronomy 28:68) Grace is a free gift of God and the entire world hates Christ truth (John 1:17) Blessed is he who reads (Revelation 1:3)

    July 21, 2013 at 8:27 am |
    • Marcy

      Church seems pointless to me. Who needs it when you have the Bible and a personal relationship with God? I think it's just for people who are bored on Sundays.

      July 21, 2013 at 9:00 am |
      • Elliott Carlin

        Thanks Marcy.
        Perhaps you should read the book to which you refer.
        You'll find it speaks about Church.

        July 21, 2013 at 9:57 am |
  9. Saraswati

    The premise that these churches are 'uncommonly quiet' assumes a comparison group of incidents on which comments are usually made. But what that group would be is not at all clear. Churches rarely comment on any of the thousands of legal cases that take place every day, and certainly not on cases where we don't know what happened. It is well for individual churches to remind their members of the dangers to jumping to conclusions about others, but almost any statement that assumes what we don't know could later me found to be mistaken, and the reality is that the fallout from making false assumptions about what took place could be high.

    July 21, 2013 at 8:25 am |
    • lol??

      A&A's tell em to shut up all the time. A&A's wanna rule. Nasty little 1%ers.

      July 21, 2013 at 9:00 am |
  10. Oh come on guys

    Can't we all just pretend race doesn't exist and get back to being rude to one another based on religious beliefs like we usually do?

    July 21, 2013 at 7:51 am |
    • Reality

      The rudeness/crime is not isolated to religious beliefs:

      from the FBI Hate Crimes Report – 2011

      "An analysis of data for victims of single-bias hate crime incidents showed that:

      ◾47.4 percent of the victims were targeted because of the offender’s bias against a race.
      ◾20.4 percent were targeted because of a bias against a particular s-exual orientation.
      ◾19.2 percent were victimized because of a bias against a religious belief.
      ◾12.2 percent were victimized because of a bias against an ethnicity/national origin.
      ◾0.8 percent were targeted because of a bias against a disability. (Based on Table 1.)

      Racial bias

      Among the single-bias hate crime incidents in 2011, there were 3,645 victims of racially motivated hate crime.

      ◾71.9 percent were victims of an offender’s anti-black bias.
      ◾16.3 percent were victims of an anti-white bias.
      ◾5.2 percent were victims of a bias against a group of individuals in which more than one race was represented (anti-multiple races, group).
      ◾4.8 percent were victims of an anti-Asian/Pacific Islander bias.
      ◾1.9 percent were victims of an anti-American Indian/Alaskan Native bias.(Based on Table 1.)

      Religious bias

      Of the 1,480 victims of an anti-religious hate crime:

      ◾63.2 percent were victims of an offender’s anti-Jewish bias.
      ◾12.5 percent were victims of an anti-Islamic bias.
      ◾5.7 percent were victims of an anti-Catholic bias.
      ◾4.4 percent were victims of a bias against groups of individuals of varying religions (anti-multiple religions, group).
      ◾3.4 percent were victims of an anti-Protestant bias.
      ◾0.3 percent were victims of an anti-Atheist/Agnostic bias.
      ◾10.5 percent were victims of a bias against other religions (anti-other religion). (Based on Table 1.)"

      July 21, 2013 at 8:02 am |
      • Oh come on guys

        Makes you wonder what the hell is wrong with people doesn't it? Seriously. There is a global economic crisis right now. Who's got time to worry about someone's religion/race/orientation/ism/nationality/age/gender and so on. People should just be happy to find another person who might be able to help them just a little farther down this long painful road called life.

        July 21, 2013 at 8:10 am |
  11. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    July 21, 2013 at 6:44 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!

      July 22, 2013 at 11:06 am |
    • Really?

      "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things"

      That's why the data, has shown that atheists have happier and healthier lives than conservative Christians. Your post is built on a lie!

      July 22, 2013 at 11:13 am |
  12. Colin

    Trayvon Martin received justice what Trayvon really could have used was grace

    July 21, 2013 at 6:43 am |
    • Whaaa??

      In what universe is a civilian being shot by a fellow civilian considered justice?

      July 21, 2013 at 6:48 am |
      • JJ

        When one civilian is pounding your head into the concrete.

        July 21, 2013 at 8:31 am |
    • Colin

      Justice is the application of getting what we all deserve. The wages of sin is death. Grace is a gift from God that gives the recipient a pass on the sentence.

      July 21, 2013 at 9:22 am |
  13. Going to church

    I've never been to a black church or a white church. I went into a silver one once, and another one that was a nice shade of ecru.

    July 21, 2013 at 6:35 am |
    • Elliott Carlin

      must have been a gay church then.

      July 21, 2013 at 9:58 am |
    • Athy

      The one and only church I ever went into was brown. It was my sister's wedding.

      July 21, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
  14. Sally J

    Self defense is not "vigilante justice."

    July 21, 2013 at 5:21 am |
    • skytag

      I have a problem with killing someone in "self-defense" because you stalked him and provoked him into attacking you.

      July 21, 2013 at 8:07 am |
      • lol??

        Stalkin's a way of life. Camera's, radar speed traps, NSA. Where's yer rage, skintag??

        July 21, 2013 at 8:57 am |
        • Elliott Carlin

          Its that bandwagon righteous indignation that causes people to get behind a 4 year old picture of a 17 year old, when hundreds like him get gunned down in Chicago every year. and no one cares because the perpetrator was the same color.

          People need to turn off their TV

          July 21, 2013 at 9:59 am |
  15. Flamespeak

    I fail to see why any church would make an uproar over this verdict. The only reason why black churches are making an uproar is because the way it was promoted by the media for such a long time as a white man killing a kid in the street like a dog for simply walking around with candy in his pocket. This was obviously not the case, but running a half-truth to get ratings to sell more air time for commercials and web space for ads is nothing new.

    The law examined the case, there was nothing to really point out that Zimmerman did anything illegal in his actions with any kind of certainty, and so he was found not guilty.

    Let it drop and focus on something else.

    July 21, 2013 at 4:34 am |
    • skytag

      Not everything that's wrong is illegal. Zimmerman stalked Martin when he could have stayed in his truck. More than likely he did so because Martin was black. Had he stayed in his truck he would have avoided the confrontation that gave him a legal right to kill Martin. I'd be appalled people can't see what's wrong with that, but I think they can. I think they're just making excuses to justify killing a troubled black kid.

      July 21, 2013 at 8:11 am |
      • JJ

        You need to stop listening to Rev. Al, CNN and MSNBC who suckered you and many others with their race baiting. You probably saw the pictures of the mean "white-Hispanic" man next to an 11 year old black boy in his football uniform and that was drilled into you day and night.

        July 21, 2013 at 8:37 am |
  16. Pike

    Well those "white" churches would be smart not giving their money to a race baiter "reverend" . My "black" church ISN'T buying this stink either.

    July 21, 2013 at 1:05 am |
  17. Lysdexic

    I'm saddened to see a white man in the above image. He is a traitor to his race.

    July 21, 2013 at 12:54 am |
    • Oops

      First of all dyslexia is just one of the many ways the brain (an organ) is capable of malfunctioning. Another way a brain can malfunction is when the brain is tricked into thinking that the melanin content of the epidermis is significant in any way other than appearance of the skin itself.

      July 21, 2013 at 6:39 am |
  18. Kris

    Justice was served. Those people waving the signs must not have got the message, or they want mob justice or something.

    July 21, 2013 at 12:08 am |
  19. Sarah

    For a better understanding of Jesus the man, and His life experiences that are not found in the Bible, read "Rabbi Jesus" by Bruce Chilton.

    July 21, 2013 at 12:08 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.