Religious Responses to the Zimmerman Verdict

George Zimmerman was acquitted last weekend.  A lot has been said about the Zimmerman trial, and the general awfulness of Zimmerman’s act, the police’s response, the media’s response, and the trial itself.

Perhaps the only good things to come out of the Zimmerman verdict have been the articulate, critical, and powerful responses that have really cut to the heart of America’s enduring racism. And there have been some particularly good ones coming out of the world of religion.

The verdict sparked “hoodie day” in many predominantly African-American churches the day after the verdict, in honor of Trayvon Martin and in protest of how many in the media have (mis)used the hoodie as a symbol of potential criminality. The Huffington Post talked to a couple of preachers who planned to wear the hoodie about what they would preach about in light of the verdict.

Said one pastor who planned to wear the hoodie, Mike McBride, “We are going to be talking about humanizing the dehumanized and amplifying the value of life for all people, but especially our young black men.” McBride was also planning on using the service to organize nonviolent direct action.

TIME linked to “The Best Sermon about Trayvon that you will hear.”  It is 27 minutes long and is not a waste of your time. You can watch the whole thing on their website, but here’s a link to one of the most powerful bits.

At Religion Dispatches, Anthea Butler wrote about, “America’s Racist God”,

God ain’t good all of the time. In fact, sometimes, God is not for us. As a black woman in a nation that has taken too many pains to remind me that I am not a white man, and am not capable of taking care of my reproductive rights, or my voting rights, I know that this American god ain’t my god. As a matter of fact, I think he’s a white racist god with a problem. More importantly, he is carrying a gun and stalking young black men.”

Mark Pinsky, a writer for Religion News Service, wrote that concealed handguns could be a form of “white social control”,

More recently, the GOP has been shaped and skewed by a demagogic notion of what constitutes law and order, and a creepy, almost pathological fixation with carrying concealed handguns. In Florida, Texas or North Carolina there is little demonstrated practical need for citizens in non-high risk occupations to be armed outside their homes and places of business.

With barely a wink and a nod, it is evident to a significant segment of the white political class in Florida, and throughout the Sunbelt, who the menace is considered to be — the “other,” people like Trayvon Martin. In much the same way that lynchings in the 19th and 20th century served as a symbolic — and actual — mechanism of social control in the South, so too does the acquittal of George Zimmerman for taking the life of Trayvon Martin.

It’s a powerful point, and a reminder just how racial the whole “tough on crime” attitude really is.

Elizabeth Drescher, writing for Religion Dispatches, lamented how rarely liberal religious people draw on religious values to fight racism. She wrote,

Crusades, colonization, clergy abuse scandals, and toxic levels of sexism notwithstanding, Christians have also been radical world changers in profoundly positive ways throughout history. But in America, if we’re honest, there’s been little broad Christian action for social change since the Civil Rights Movement more than a generation ago. Has all the rancor over the ordination of women and the full inclusion of LGBT persons since then made it impossible for Christians to ally against what it would be difficult to name as anything other than sin? In the name of Christ, is it really?

Indeed, although the “not guilty verdict” was an unequivocal outrage, it has been truly inspiring to watch people respond: across the board, the response has not been fruitless anger but a recognition of the real problem: racism. Not only has there been recognition, but there have been widespread demands for change.

Sometimes the law is horrible. After all, the law is designed to keep existing structures of power in place, and right now one of those structures is racism, and more specifically, racism against African-Americans. But at least in this case, we can take inspiration that people are standing up to the law and saying, “This is wrong. This needs to change.” We may still be a long way from change, but what the volume and nature of the response to the Zimmerman verdict says to me is that radical critiques of racism are not nearly as marginal as they used to be.


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