As I write this, it is not yet 24 hours since a jury of six women in Sanford Florida pronounced George Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder. Zimmerman is, of course, the (now 29-year-old) man who fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February 2012. Martin was African-American; George Zimmerman self-describes as Hispanic (white father, Peruvian mother).
For the last year and a half, the case has served as a focal point of racial tension in the United States. It has been an ongoing topic of discussion and even had the President of the United States commenting on it.
I didn’t watch the trial and so I cannot comment on whether the jury chose wisely or not. My own feelings are mixed. It seems to me a case of cascading tragedies and one can quickly fall down a rabbit hole of “what ifs”. What is clear is that one young man is dead and another man might as well be.
The case has larger implications for the United States. It has shown that there is still racial strife and pain in our country. It’s not surprising; the national sins of slavery and discrimination may forever stain the United States. I used to think we were much further along in racial reconciliation and healing in our nation; I’m no longer confident of that.
As I consider the case in light of my faith, I reach two conclusions.
First, for those of us who are Christians, we must cling to faith in Jesus. That faith soothes our own fears, anxiety, pain and frustration. Second, that faith ought to direct us to action.
In times of trouble I recall the account of Peter walking on the water to meet Jesus. We often focus on the act itself but forget the context of the act.
The disciples were in a boat, absent Jesus, on the Sea of Galilee. It was night. Tremendously strong winds were knocking their boat around. As Matthew 14:22-33 reports, Jesus came walking across the water to meet the disciples in the boat. At first they thought he was a ghost, but Jesus called out to them. Peter stepped out of the boat and himself began walking on water, toward his teacher. But as soon as he took his focus off of Jesus and remembered the storm they were caught in, Peter began to sink into the sea.
How does this relate to the Zimmerman case? I find myself discouraged as I look at this personal, political and cultural storm. I can sink into despair about the future so long as I focus on it. But when I remember my faith in Christ, I gain strength–and hope. It’s hard to do much without hope of some kind. But I can do all things in Christ, which strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).
But feeling good ourselves is not enough–it’s only a starting point.
We must stop looking at each other with suspicion. It cannot be that a young black man in a hoodie is just assumed to be a hoodlum. Nor can it be assumed that all whites are secret racists (or even not-so-secret racists). I’ve heard both sentiments. We all need to go out of our way to put those stereotypes to rest–and this needs to be an active effort.
For Christians, this is not something that is foreign to us. We believe in a common ancestry of all people through both Adam and Noah. We are all created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). As the old hymn goes,
Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white, they’re all precious in His sight
Every color every race, all are covered by His grace
Jesus loves the little children of the world
Parable after parable from Jesus illustrates the necessity of seeing all people as God’s children–the Good Samaritan comes to mind, but there are many others. Paul wrote that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). There is no room for racism or division of any sort in the house of God.
We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more complete union, must find some way to reconcile with one another. As a Christian, I can tell you the avenue is faith in Christ. The longer I consider it the more I realize that many of the “political” problems we face have spiritual cores and therefore need spiritual solutions. Certainly racism will cease to be a problem if we love and respect God and recognize all our fellow humans as our brothers and sisters, created in His image just as we are.