By Diana Chandler & Erin Roach
NASHVILLE (BP) — Southern Baptist leaders voiced a call for active love and respect for justice in response to George Zimmerman’s exoneration in the death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. And they voiced remorse for the racially charged history that continues to affect the nation.
Christians should respond to the turmoil by modeling the love of Christ, Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter said.
“I would love for Southern Baptist to take advantage of this very public case by being ‘salt’ and ‘light’ when our nation is in desperate need for people to show love and grace,” Luter said. “It is a perfect time for the body of Christ to come together to be that healing balm in a troubled nation.
“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 Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans. “We are to intercede and stand in the gap by showing the love of God to all those who have strong feelings about this case.”
Southern Baptists must continue in love while working to create a more just society, leaders told Baptist Press. Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and A.B. Vines, president of the National African American Fellowship, both called for justice in all of society.
“Overcoming racial injustice takes churches working intentionally to model the Kingdom of God in calling persons together in loving communities, shaped not by a common ethnicity but by a common Spirit. We are a long way off from that, but the Spirit is at work,” Moore told Baptist Press. “The ultimate answer to racial injustice is to see the Godness of God over our idolatries of self. Racial hatred isn’t just mean and ignorant; it’s satanic and blasphemous.”
Southern Baptists need to tackle a legal system that discriminates among various ethnic groups, said Vines, who leads a racially diverse congregation in California.
“We need to look at our American justice system and how laws seem to work at certain times for certain ethnic groups versus others. That’s what we need to understand,” Vines said.
Examine state laws
While Zimmerman used Florida’s “stand your ground” law as a successful defense, Vines said, a similarly situated African American woman in Florida was sentenced last year to 20 years in prison for firing a gun in the air — even though she injured no one — because of a state law that predetermines the sentence for firing a gun in public.
“She’s facing 20 years in prison because of mandatory state laws. These state laws are more detrimental to our cause as African American as far as seeking justice. The judge said ‘there’s nothing I can do. You got 20 years, period.'” Vines said, comparing the Zimmerman case to that of Jacksonville mother Marissa Alexander who had secured a restraining order against a husband based on physical abuse.
“Zimmerman gets free and he fires and kills someone,” Vines said. “Those are the issues I think Southern Baptists need to address the disparity of the law and how certain laws affect certain ethnic groups differently than other ethnic groups.”
Moore also referenced a disparity in the justice various ethnic groups receive.
“This ought to remind us of the blighted history of our country, when it comes to racial injustice. Despite all the progress we’ve made, we live in a culture where too often African American persons are suspected of a crime just for existing,” Moore said. “We also have disproportionate numbers of African American men in prison and on death row, and this just isn’t right.”
Leaders also encouraged prayer for all affected.
“They will know us by our love, if we love the brethren,” Vines said. “We need to cry out with 2 Chronicles 7:14 and humble ourselves in seeking God’s face, and cry out with the words of Paul and become spiritual reconcilers in this moment of tragedy and explosive anger over justice, whether flawed or true,” he said. “We still need to be agents of reconciliation to our nation.”
Philadelphia pastor K. Marshall Williams, chairman of the African American Advisory Council of the Executive Committee, expressed heartache and prayer for the Martin family, calling on the SBC to lead the nation in love.
“This is our season as the body of Christ to heed the call of the minor prophet Micah to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8),” Williams told Baptist Press. “The world needs to see God’s people of all races stand up not just on issues of morality but issues of race and social justice, letting the light of our glorious Gospel shine through a unified passionate pursuit of an ocular demonstration and a pictorial illustration of the love of God for all to see who come from one blood!
“We need to beseech the throne of God for our nation when it comes to issues of racism and justice. My heart is aching for the Trayvon Martin family as I am holding them up in prayer,” Williams said.
Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, said in a statement to Baptist Press, “A young man is dead. That is a tremendous tragedy. The hatred and racial animosity that divide our country breaks the heart of God. It ought to break ours as well. The effects of sin always result in brokenness and division. Only God’s grace can heal the brokenhearted and bind people together who otherwise would be enemies. God help us be a people who work for and promote healing and unity through Jesus Christ!”
Twitter lights up
On Twitter, many Baptist leaders voiced compassion and called for further reconciliation of the races.
Moore tweeted several comments, including, “Defense attorney’s post-trial comments horrifying to me, given a young man’s death, a family’s grief, and our country’s history.”
Moore tweeted a link to what he called a “Gospel-centered take on the Zimmerman verdict,” a Gospel Coalition blog post by Trillia Newbell, who urged Christians to mourn with Martin’s parents in the loss of their son, to pray for Zimmerman’s salvation and safety, and to pray for race relations in America.
O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources, also tweeted the Newbell blog post, along with the words, “Have Trayvon Martin’s mom & dad on my mind and in my prayers today.”
Mac Brunson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., tweeted, “I am praying for my dear African American pastor friends this morning. I am trusting God’s grace is greater.”
Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, tweeted several times regarding the trial’s outcome. He shared LifeWay Research President Ed Stetzer’s blog post “The Verdict Is In … and We All Lost,” noting the post was “perceptive & helpful.”
Akin said he prayed for both the Martin and Zimmerman families in church Sunday, and he agreed with pastor Kevin Cosby’s suggestion via Twitter that every pastor should have special prayer for the Martin family.
Cosby, an African American pastor of St. Stephen Church in Louisville, Ky., tweeted several comments that were retweeted by Akin, including, “Why white evangelical Christians so pro-life as it relates to the sacredness of black male life? Where is the Christian outrage?”
Cosby also tweeted, and Akin retweeted, “If the evangelicals ever wake up and rally with African Americans justice a coalition will be built that could change .”
Cosby tweeted, “the black community is engulfed in grief. Service today was like attending a funeral. Despair!”
Eric Redmond, executive pastoral assistant at New Canaan Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and a former SBC second vice president, tweeted that his heart “goes out to Martin’s family.”
“My wife just leaned over and said for me to tell my sons, again, how hard it is to be a young African American man in America. So true,” Redmond tweeted.
In a comment retweeted by Moore, Redmond wrote, “I am determined to hold my children even closer. It is hard to think of them being gone in an instance by accident or murder.”
Kevin Smith, assistant professor of Christian preaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, tweeted, “Revisiting ‘the talk’ with my rising senior (UK honor student) about where he hangs out — unique duty to parents of black males.”
Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ staff writer; Erin Roach is BP’s assistant editor. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).