On July 14, a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter in the killing of unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. The outrage and range of emotions from our country appeared to catch so many by surprise.
I needed to quickly make sense of this tragedy, because I needed to address the anger, frustration and bewilderment of many of my congregants at Saint Mark United Methodist Church.
That’s what pastors do. We search Scripture to give reason to the problems and contradictions that the world produces for our faith.
On that Saturday, my reflection went directly to my children, especially my son, Wesley.
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Wesley is 17 years old, just as Trayvon was. Wesley is tall for his age, standing more than 6 feet, just as Trayvon was. Wesley likes to wear hoodies, which is what Trayvon was wearing on the last day of his life.
As a picture of Martin came up on the television screen, I thought to myself, “That could be Wesley lying dead on the ground.”
This gave me yet another opportunity to talk to my son about how young African-American men must navigate the society in which we live. It’s not fair, but my hope is to keep him alive while we continue to advocate and struggle for a more just community.
Yes, that was a teachable moment for me to my son. But there’s another lesson to be learned for all of us. A lesson that came from Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s dad. He told the world after hearing the jury’s decision: “Even though I am brokenhearted, my faith is unshattered.”
What resolve from a man whose son was gunned down in the dark of night after being confronted by an overzealous, disobedient neighborhood watchman. Tracy Martin sets the tone and tenor for the conversation that we must have as a community.
Faith does matter in times like these. Unfortunately, none of us has the luxury of knowing when tragedy may strike our address. But how we choose to respond is totally within our control, and as believers, our faith and trust are solely in God.
As a nation, our faith has played a crucial role in our healing on national tragedies such as Sept. 11, 2001, and our faith matters today when our country is hurting and deeply divided.
I have the privilege of pastoring white people, black people, Hispanic/Latino people, old and young people. And what I say to the Wichita community is exactly what I say to the people of Saint Mark. Our mandate as believers is simple. We must stand and seek justice for all people. I am praying for Zimmerman and his family just as fervently as I am for Martin’s family.
However, I am convinced that this case is a wake-up call to those who have fallen asleep and believe we now live in a post-racial world. We must wake up and return to service, mentoring and being actively engaged in the community. Only by our consistent presence in the community and constant dialogue with people who don’t look like us can we have any chance of creating a safe future for our young people.
The church has to speak and stay vigilant, and our country must not run from justice, but become lovers of justice. Let’s stand together, Wichita. Let’s heal together.