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

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soundoff (770 Responses)
  1. TrustKnow1

    What else is there to say? We ALL were failed! We don't have a " justice" system, we have a " legal" system... period! Laws are written by such men as lawyers, politicians and persons with special interests. ALL men are, at best fallable and worst, corrupt. Lady Liberty may be blind, but she can descern which side of the scale contains the gold. This problem will never be addressed and corrected until We The People put aside our emotional biases and diligently work for change until either we receive true justice or die trying! Condolences to Trayvon's family, friends and to all Americans who will never know what kind of greatness this child might have achieved which may have uplifted us all!

    The truth is out there... Fight the future!

    July 21, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
    • CommonSensed

      Yes, by all means fight the future and continue to live in your ignorant past.

      July 22, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
  2. Jeff

    'White' churches are silent out of respect. Though we may agree with the verdict (as we had not stake in the verdict other than the facts of the case) we can't put ourselves in the shoes of a 'black' man so it is best we do something that we are not comfortable with- SHUT UP. I think we are getting it right.

    July 21, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
  3. Akira

    Based on my limited posts, you have come to the conclusion that I am somehow "phony?" Because I said the picture of Trayvon was taken at age 16, that wasn't jazzguitarman, send *who* back to Africa, and asking a question about the 144,000?


    July 21, 2013 at 5:22 pm |

    They don't have the ability to put there self's in other people's shoes.

    July 21, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
    • Dippy

      Selves, not self's.

      July 21, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
      • BIG SHIZ

        Thanks word police

        July 21, 2013 at 5:05 pm |
    • Dippy


      July 21, 2013 at 5:08 pm |
  5. jazzguitarman

    How did that racist comment appear with the same nickname I use? I'm going to have to use another one.

    July 21, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
    • jazzguitarman

      What is sad is that you're not even a funny racist.

      July 21, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
    • jazzguitarman

      Urban bigfoot needs to chill. Did mommy yell at you today and this is why you're so angry?

      July 21, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
  6. Akira

    That's not jazzguitarman. That's an imposter. We've had a rash of name-stealing lately.

    July 21, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
    • jazzguitarman

      Akira; Thanks for the support. Yea, I was very surprised to see that comment. But I also see that I could reply to the comment using the same nickname.

      July 21, 2013 at 4:39 pm |
      • Akira

        You're welcome, jazzguitarman. It happened to niknak yesterday, also.

        Really-O: yep.

        July 21, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
    • Really-O?

      Also a rash of capricious post deletions.

      July 21, 2013 at 4:43 pm |

    Black people created jazz. Mr ignoramus

    July 21, 2013 at 4:35 pm |
    • BIG SHIZ

      A racist troll, how original.

      July 21, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
  8. jazzguitarman

    Devin is an example of a white Christian.

    July 21, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
    • Akira

      Possessing Colin's "unlimited grace".

      July 21, 2013 at 4:41 pm |
  9. Don Lee

    What happened is a sad story for all. I will, however, not buy into the injustice collecting of Blacks which continue to stir the fire off seperation, anger and confusion in America. One must get his or her house in order, before telling someone else to.

    July 21, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
  10. Colin

    Trayvon got justice what Trayvon needed was unlimited grace.

    July 21, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • ineedaname

      This was stupid the last 50 times you posted it. Repetition hasn't made it any smarter. What YOU need is a different troll line.

      July 21, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • Colin

      Poor baby, jealous?

      July 21, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
      • ineedaname

        Do you think you have anything for me to be jealous of? I don't. Certainly not of your skill at posting the same inane nonsense on every new page, or of your lack of writing skills.

        July 22, 2013 at 10:57 am |

    • Think of yourself as an odor, Colin. One that makes people queasy.

      July 21, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
  11. wowzah

    and YOU would go where???? ireland! luckily you escaped potatoe famine

    July 21, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
  12. wowzah

    it is common for them to be quiet.

    July 21, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
  13. Akira

    Ship who back to Africa, devin, dear?

    July 21, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
    • devin

      But then I'm an asshole.

      July 21, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
    • Trucker

      You need to ship your ass back to Germany.

      July 21, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
  14. Rockboy106@yahoo.com

    Its interesting that the protestors used pictures of innocent little Trayvon in just a T shirt looking like a happy young teenage instead of him flipping the bird and blowing marijuana smoke out of his mouth with a gold grill in his teeth.

    July 21, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
    • Akira

      The photo of him wearing the Hollister shirt was taken a few months shy of TM's 17th birthday.

      July 21, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
    • jazzguitarman

      So there is a death sentence for flipping the bird and smoking some weed?

      July 21, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
  15. wayten

    Who should be shipped back to Africa? Are you American by the way? SMH...I just hate when you people speak so very unintelligent. Please go and study your history before uttering another word.

    July 21, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
    • Trucker is a


      July 21, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
    • Ducker is a

      Seriously? Lmfao. Idiot. Duckhead. Your comments are bigoted, and so are you.

      July 21, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
    • BIG SHIZ

      I fuked truckers wife. She takes it in all three of her holes.

      July 21, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
  16. jonbme

    I've never even heard of a "white church." The only 2 types of churches I know are "Black churches" and regular churches that accept all races. So if CNN really means they only hearing racist crap from "Black churches" all I have to say is... what a shocker!

    July 21, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
    • John the unBaptist

      You're obviously "White" as your perspective of "Regular" attests; it's similar to "Why don't blacks just get over it?". As to "Black churches": I'm white and I've never felt anything but love and acceptance (maybe a well shrouded puzzlement on rare occasion) anytime I've entered a "black" church.
      Maybe time for you "white like me" experience.

      July 21, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
      • Greg

        I live in the lower 9th, I'm white, and I'm fine. Shove it, racist POS. You come around here, I'll TELL the bros to whup your racist ass.

        July 21, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
    • John the unBaptist

      You're obviously "White" as your perspective of "Regular" attests; it's similar to "Why don't blacks just get over it?". As to "Black churches": I'm white and I've never felt anything but love and acceptance (maybe a well shrouded puzzlement on rare occasion) anytime I've entered a "black" church.
      Maybe time for you to have a "white like me" experience.

      July 21, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
    • Jabari

      What you gonna do Greggy? Blast your eminem and get all Bad now from behind your little keyboard cuz you think your little toughguy neighborhood gives you some right? Relax. Think it out.

      July 22, 2013 at 10:49 am |
      • Greg

        Don't listen to eminem, and just pointing out that I am white, live in a very poor neighborhood, and putting to rest th obvious lies that a white dude gets jumped in a black neighborhood, Jibby. You're racist. Admit it. Relax. Think it out.

        July 22, 2013 at 11:05 am |
        • Jabari

          "I'm white poor-blah blah" No one cares but you. I can live with a cyber toughguy calling me racist. Your issues however are your problem. You should deal with them so your loved ones(including your "black friends" that beat people up for apparently no good reason -and you call me racist? Stereotype much Greggy).

          July 22, 2013 at 11:33 am |
  17. Robert

    Here is a little nugget of info that CNN seemed to ignore; white churches rarely consider themselves white churches. More importantly, they are not as politically active as black churches. I could drone on about culture and what not but in a nutshell it just comes down to the differences on how various communities view church.

    July 21, 2013 at 11:53 am |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      We live in a society where it is natural and expected for there to be people proud of attending their "black church."
      We live in a society where it is completely unnatural and unexpected (and would be offensive) if there were people proud of attending their "white church."

      We also live in a society that says skin color determines which words you can say. If your skin is darker in tone, then you can use words that lighter-skinned people can't use.

      July 21, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
    • CommonSensed

      Call it what it is.


      July 22, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
  18. children of Israel

    Stay away from religion, only 144,000 are the teachers of the Bible. The Word of God is the Father & the word of the Lord is Christ *Luke 21:16* (John 13:18)

    July 21, 2013 at 11:43 am |
    • Akira

      I have heard this posited before: that only 144,000 will be able to enter Heaven. Does God have a Heavenly lottery?
      Or are you positing that only 144,000 are qualified to teacj the Bible?
      I'm confused.

      July 21, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
      • SDCinNS

        The 144K thing is a distorted view based on the book of Revelation – usually spouted by Jehovah's Witnesses – a cult.

        July 21, 2013 at 9:39 pm |
  19. children of Israel

    Stay away from religion, only 144,000 are the teachers of the Bible. The Word of God is the Father & word of the Lord is Christ *Luke 21:16* (John 13:18)

    July 21, 2013 at 11:40 am |
  20. children of Israel

    The truth sets you free from all the Devil lies, The so called black man is an Hebrew Israelite like Jesus Christ *Hebrew 7:14* (Deuteronomy 7:6 & 14:2)

    July 21, 2013 at 11:11 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.