Before the verdict for the George Zimmerman trial was announced, we all knew that regardless of the outcome, many people would be upset. Angry. Hurt.
When the man on trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin was acquitted by a jury this week, both sides considered it a travesty – either because the system let a presumed guilty man go free, or because a presumed innocent man had to suffer such degradation. The fallout is significant, the reaction ranging from violent to despairing. Regardless how the verdict grabs you, and whether you believe race has anything to do with it, here are a couple “out of my mind” thoughts that seem important to me in the aftermath.
Racial matters matter. Our country – and our world – is still too sharply divided along racial and ethnic lines. There is misunderstanding, prejudice, fear, and anger. Despite encouraging gains in some ways, to a large degree we continue living in homogenous ghettos, marked off by dividing walls of hostility, perpetuated by our ignorance and fear.
That’s right. If your outlook and worldview makes room for racial hostility and prejudice, I’m suggesting that it is due to your ignorance and fear. Prejudice perpetuates itself by feeding on the toxicity of what it refuses to learn and know. Ignorance and fear are not only unbecoming of good and mature people, they are inconsistent with God’s people.
In this context it’s crucial that the Church of Jesus Christ understands we are called to give witness to the good news of Jesus. Jesus came to break down the dividing wall of hostility – a wall that not only divides us from God, but from one another. The gospel is a powerful force and trajectory, functioning as a battering ram that will always and everywhere destroy those dividing walls.
When the church was “born” in an upper room, there were representatives from multiple nations and ethnicities (Acts 2). It was like a reversal of Babel (Genesis 11). Scripture assures us that when the Church comes home to heaven, it will be composed of people from every tongue, tribe, and nation, worshiping together, side by side, around the throne (Revelation 7). Somewhere between our beginning and our conclusion we have gotten off track. It’s Babel all over again.
The Church itself too often mirrors the divided nature of human society – both in our makeup and our mindset. We seem too willing to mimick and perpetuate the ethnic and racial divisions we are told are inevitable. Sunday morning hours have infamously been referred to as the most segregated hours in America.
Until a church demonstrates that “we are a different kind of community,” a people reflecting Kingdom of God values more than current status quo values when it comes to overcoming racial divides, we make ourselves innocuous, possessors of a weak gospel that changes nothing of significance. Except maybe for my own “personal salvation.” And if you believe Jesus came for “your personal salvation” only, I suggest that in itself is part of the problem.
If you are a follower of Jesus you are challenged by the principle announced in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The truth here excitedly points to the future social and ethical implications of what Jesus has done. It is as if Christ detonates a powerful explosion on earth, meant to blast dividing walls to smithereens. And yet, we have cemented them so firmly into place – in our minds and our institutions – constantly repairing our dividing walls of prejudice and ethnic mistrust through the years, that we no longer believe the gospel has power – or authority – to blow them away.
True Christ followers will make up communities and churches demonstrating a commitment to Jesus and HIS vision for what church is supposed to look like. That means we need to do whatever we can in the context where we are placed – in a proactive way – to work purposefully and powerfully for racial unity, harmony, respect and trust.
Make a friend with someone on the other side of the wall.
This is not about being politically correct. It’s about being biblically correct. It’s about deciding if the gospel has any power to lead us where it inevitably wants to take us.
Regardless of what you think about the fairness of the verdict, if you are a follower of Jesus don’t miss this opportunity to speak into water cooler conversations about the need for us to move forward in making the church a place on earth where all are welcomed by the Jesus who has love and grace for us all.
And then act like the church, even when it’s not Sunday morning.
To those who feel Zimmerman was justly acquitted, I say, please do not fail to recognize the reason for the anger and hurt on the part of our brothers and sisters – many of whom are simply longing for the very thing the heart of Jesus longs for.
To those who feel this verdict has failed us, I say, please do not fail to recognize that the kind of justice and unity we are all longing for will never be provided in a court of law.
We must point the way to Jesus. He alone can provide what no jury or justice system can.
“For he himself is our pace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility. … Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.” — Ephesians 2:14, 19
Cain and Abel. Zimmerman and Martin. Killing is what we do to each other. Whatever you think of the verdict, the result of human enmity is tragic.
If you want to do Jesus a favor and in the aftermath of this divide, do what you can in your life and your church for racial and ethnic harmony, unity, and peace. Do what you can so that by Jesus’ power may we be “built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (v. 22)