More than Faith: For Trayvon Martin, a Promise to Act

By Marie Griffith | July 17, 2013

(Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel)

(Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel)

The sorrowful story of Trayvon Martin’s deadly encounter with the excitable George Zimmerman has mesmerized the nation anew with Zimmerman’s recent acquittal. Those who see this outcome as a gross injustice made possible by a culture of racism (including what Eugene Robinson calls our society’s assumption that black boys are “dangerous, interchangeable, expendable, guilty until proven innocent”), shoddy police work in the early stages when it counted most, and the deep assumptions beneath “stand your ground” laws as enacted in Florida and elsewhere, grieve for Trayvon and his family and for the shocking number of other families who have lost children, so unnecessarily, to gun violence. 

Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, and his father, Tracy Martin, have both emphasized that they are deeply disappointed in the legal system but that their faith in God remains strong. After Zimmerman’s acquittal, Ms. Fulton tweeted, “Lord during my darkest hour I lean on you.  You are all that I have. At the end of the day, GOD is still in control.” Similarly, Mr. Martin tweeted that despite this awful news, “my faith is unshattered.” As Ms. Fulton’s pastor, Arthur Jackson III, put it, Trayvon’s mother was “still trusting in God. Even though she couldn’t trust in the legal system she’s trusting in the Lord; not being able to trust the courts, she’s trusting Christ.”

Religious and nonreligious people alike can appreciate the consolations of this faith to Trayvon Martin’s family, empowering them with the strength to keep living despite the fact that their innocent young son is dead while his killer lives, a free man. But whatever religion’s consolations for the bereaved, they are no substitute for concrete action, political and otherwise. Ms. Fulton and Mr. Martin know this well, having already acted in numerous practical ways on behalf of black youth like Trayvon; and we are sure to hear more from them in the coming months and years.

Other religious parties are also acting. The National Black Church Initiative has staged a variety of public actions relating to the Trayvon Martin case for many months, the latest a rally protesting the Zimmerman acquittal in front of the Justice Department. The National Council of Churches responded to the verdict with a statement calling for genuine racial justice, concluding, “May God lead us to live with one another as Jesus taught us: not as strangers who shrink from one another in fear, but as neighbors who reach out to one another with empathy and compassion.” A number of other religious organizations and leaders have reacted similarly.

Those reactions have not been limited to religious liberals. The conservative Southern Baptist leader Al Mohler has written movingly that “Trayvon Martin belongs to us all”; still more, he notes, “This nation needs a deep and intensive conversation about racial profiling, self-defense laws, and a range of issues related to this tragic case.” Mohler laments that black parents must still talk to their sons in a way Mohler, who is white, never had to with his own: “The talk about what to do when the police pull you over and you are a young black man. The talk about what to do when you are eyed suspiciously by people just because you are a young black male. The talk about how to act and how to respond when people watch just to see if you are trouble. . . . I pray and yearn for that day when those conversations will not be necessary.” 

With Mohler, the NCC, the NBCI, Trayvon’s parents, and countless others, religious and nonreligious alike, we at Religion & Politics yearn for that day too. But it won’t come about magically, or easily. It will take determined action, both personal and political, to bring that day to pass. One place to start becoming more educated about “stand your ground” laws and their impact is here. If you feel devastated by the senseless deaths of boys like Trayvon, killings that are actually legal in many states, then do something. If you, like Mohler, occupy a position of privilege such that you have never had to talk to your son about the suspicions cast upon him solely because of his race, then do more. If you belong to a religious or political organization that can act constructively for real change in our laws and our culture, then do everything you can to assist those efforts. We must own this case, including its outcome, and call ourselves as a nation to account.

© 2011 Religion & Politics