In Response to Tragedy
Racism, Conflict, and the Church's Present Life Together
Since the announcement of the “not guilty” verdict in the case of the State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman, renewed conversations about the nature of racism in the United States, coupled by questions about the equitable execution of justice through the legal system and the troubling rise of gun violence, have emerged. For some, these conversations seem long overdue, while for others, engaging in dialogues on the issues of race, racism, and inequality causes much discomfort. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has a longstanding tradition of equipping the body of Christ in addressing and denouncing the sins of inequality and inequity that diminish humankind as created in the image of God.
Though many other resources and forums exist, please find a concise list of programs, worship aids, study guides, assessment tools, books, and links of interest that help to promote and foster meaningful conversation, reflection, and response:
Resources from the Office of Gender and Racial Justice:
“Building the Beloved Community – A Congregational Self-Assessment”: a tool adapted from the antiracism facilitators’ training manual to assist congregations in preparing to engage in dialogues on race and cultural differences (can be modified for use by individuals and other groups)
A Pastoral Letter from Rev. Nancy J. Benson-Nicol, Associate for Gender and Racial Justice: In Response to Tragedy
To request a workshop on Antiracism, Cultural Proficiency, and Gender Justice Issues, please contact the Office of Gender and Racial Justice by following this link
Resources from the Office of Public Witness
A Sermon Written and Preached by Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Coordinator of the Office of Public Witness, The Real Difference in the Trayvon Martin Case: A Gun Changed Everything:
A feature article on gun violence from the publication, Advocacy as Discipleship
Resources from the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program
(in partnership with the Office of Theology, Education, and Worship)
The Confession of Belhar (full text): http://www.pcusa.org/media/uploads/theologyandworship/pdfs/belhar.pdf
A Study of The Belhar Confession and its Accompanying Letter, by Eunice T. McGarrahan (published by the Office of Theology and Worship): http://www.pcusa.org/media/uploads/theologyandworship/pdfs/belharstudyguide.pdf
Resources from the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation
Available to download (for purchase) from The Thoughtful Christian—
“A History of Racism in the United States,” by Martha Bettis-Gee, Laura Mariko Cheifez, and Jessica Vazquez Torres: http://www.thethoughtfulchristian.com/Products/TC0366/a-history-of-racism-in-the-united-states.aspx
“Why is it so Difficult to Talk About Racism?” by Michelle Hwang and Nancy Ramsay: http://www.thethoughtfulchristian.com/Products/TC0378/why-is-it-so-difficult-to-talk-about-racism.aspx
Resources from Presbyterian Women
Available to download (for purchase): "Practicing God’s Radical Hospitality: Exploring Difference, Change and Leadership Through the Spiritual Discipline of Hospitality." written by Rev. Dr. Teresa Chavez Sauceda, edited by Rev. Dr. Unzu Lee. http://store.pcusa.org/Communications?search=%25u200Epwr13060%25u202C
A resolution on fostering inclusive and diverse communities—Structural Review of Presbyterian Women from an Antiracist Perspective Report and Recommendations (Approved by the Voting Representatives 2003 Churchwide Business Meeting)
Resources from Theology, Worship, and Education
A blog post on thinking, praying, living, by Rev. Teresa Stricklen, Associate for Worship, Theology, and Education: “The Gospel of Equality and Justice for All”:
Books and Other Links of Interest
‘But I Don’t See You as Asian’: Curating Conversations on Race, written by Bruce Reyes-Chow (Moderator of the 218th General Assembly), 2013. (http://goo.gl/8cQL4)
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. New York: The New Press, 2012.
White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son by Tim Wise. Berkeley: Soft Skull Press (an imprint of COUNTERPOINT), 2011.
For Children: White Flour, written by David LaMotte with illustrations by Jenn Hale. Canada: Lower Dryad Music, 2012. (http://whiteflourbook.com)
A statement on the verdict in the case of Florida vs. George Zimmerman on the shooting death of Trayvon Martin by Marian Wright Edelmann, President of the Children’s Defense Fund: http://www.childrensdefense.org/newsroom/cdf-in-the-news/press-releases/2013/marian-wright-edelman-2.html
The Applied Research Center is a public policy, educational and research institute whose work emphasizes issues of race and social change. http://www.arc.org
Resources available at the ARC website include:
Colorlines Magazine: Race - Culture - Action, a quarterly magazine
Code Switch is a forum of journalists, sponsored by NPR, that explores the intersections of and shifting patterns of race, ethnicity and culture. Many articles feature issues of particular interest to young adults: http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/
Everyday Democracy is an organization exists to help communities develop their own ability to solve problems by exploring ways for all kinds of people to think, talk and work together to create change: http://www.everyday-democracy.org/en/Index.aspx
Kaleidoscope Institute, coordinated by Eric. H.F. Law (author of works on multicultural communication including The Bush is Blazing but Not Consumed and The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb) provides programs to church groups and individuals on issues ranging from basic diversity-skills training to dialogue programs addressing specific issues such as sexuality, interfaith concerns, race, class, intergenerational issues, etc.: http://www.kscopeinstitute.org/consulting.html
Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) is a national network of groups and individuals organizing white people (and their allies) for racial justice. A Justice for Trayvon Action Kit may be downloaded from this site: http://www.showingupforracialjustice.org/archives/1765
Recent Actions of the General Assembly
Facing Racism: A Vision of the Beloved Community, 211th GA (1999)
Building Community Among Strangers: A Plan for Study and Action, 211th GA (1999)
Report on the Church’s Effort to Combat Racism, 216th GA (2004)
Environmental Racism - an ecumenical study guide, by the Eco-Justice Working Group of the NCCC-USA (National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA)
A Prayer for Peace
Office of Gender and Racial Justice
The Reverend Nancy J. Benson-Nicol, Associate for Gender and Racial Justice
Thus says the Lord: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more (Jeremiah 31:15, NRSV).
In the wake of the verdict of “not guilty” in the case of the State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman, there is one indisputable and irreversible fact: Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American teenager, is dead. A promising young life was cut short by an act of violence that could have, and should have, been prevented. That so many lives have been tragically cut short by gun violence is appalling evidence of the brokenness of humankind.
More evidence of our brokenness exists in our all-too-frequent tendency as a society to unreservedly categorize people of color in general, and black male youths in particular, as dangerous threats to safety and security. Be it conscious or beyond our awareness, this pernicious bias pervades all areas of society, and played a fatal role in the untimely death of young Mr. Martin by the hand of George Zimmerman. Had he been perceived to “belong,” Trayvon would not have been pursued as a threat at the onset, and would have lived to see the measure of his days. But Trayvon is not alive; he does not possess that privilege, while George Zimmerman lives on; and continues to possess his power, his privilege and, indeed, his very existence.
Though there are conflicting testimonies and pieces of evidence in this case, it is clear that the suspicion of racial difference contributed to how the course of events has been characterized. While an individual court case cannot bear the burden of responsibility for resolving a nation’s discord on the subject of race, nonetheless, the verdict rendered in this particular case lays bare the unbalanced scales of justice that would allow for the killing of a young, unarmed black male to go unpunished.
That the value and character of the victim of a fatality would be held under suspicion to the extent exhibited in this trial is an injustice lamented by many people of all shades and colors. The lament by people of color, in particular, rests in the disquieting notion that the safety of their children is of little consequence, and that those who cause them harm will not be held accountable. I cannot help but recall the remarks by a guest on a popular talk show many years ago; she was an African-American mother of a young man slain by gun violence, speaking on her petition to open an investigation into his murder: “a big challenge was in convincing the public that my son deserved to live in the first place.” The apparent de-valuing, or under-valuing, of young black life in our society causes deep and profound pain and finds its roots in the plague of racism that infects our history and diseases our present life together as a nation.
The elimination of racism and all forms of injustice, both in the hearts of individuals and as embedded in the systems and structures of society, remains a challenge unresolved by our current generation. It is, however, a task for which we all must rise, peaceably, to the occasion, for the lives of all God’s children are at stake. What is more, our efforts in eliminating injustice demonstrates the work that God is unfolding in our midst to build the Beloved Community; to advance God’s Realm; in which, as the book of Revelation describes, “[God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more…” (21:4).
May it be so.
For a recent discussion by Presbyterians of the Trayvon case and what churches can do, readers may be interested to read Unbound's series, "Trayvon's Verdict on Us" at justiceunbound.org
We should have a day, a month, a year when no one mentions race. Every person should be responsible for their actions. Skin color is not a reason or an excuse. I am 64 and can't remember a time when I didn't have friends who were different than me, sometimes skin color, sometimes hair color, some were fat. Stop pointing out differences and start loving diversity. If you are black or redheaded or tall no one owes you anything. Get over yourself and be more like Jesus-loving, not condemning.
This account of the Martin death is so one-sided that it should embarrass any thinking Christian who reads it. George Zimmerman, like the Martins, is our neighbor. He deserves our love and prayers as much as the Martin family. He also deserves an honest account of the Martin shooting, not a fantasy adopted by PCUSA to further its favorite social issues-white racism and gun control. Mr. Martin may have led a “promising” life, but it was also a life reportedly burdened by the same pathologies that cut short the lives of too many young, black males. He came from a broken family. He was a drug user. He was enamored with fighting. He had been apprehended at school in possession of stolen jewelry and a burglary tool. (In an effort to diminish campus crime statistics, the school system treated this as a disciplinary matter rather than a criminal one, a little white lie that prevented Mr. Martin from getting the help he needed.) Had Martin’s death been caused by another black man, PCUSA would have taken no notice. On the night of his death, Mr. Martin attacked Mr. Zimmerman as Zimmerman returned to his truck, not while Zimmerman was in pursuit. Martin then broke Zimmerman’s nose and pounded his head into the concrete. Law enforcement determined that Mr. Zimmerman acted in self-defense and should not be charged with a crime. Only after racial agitators, including the media and the President, demanded “justice” did the machinery of government set out to destroy Zimmerman in order to set an example. As we all know, he was exonerated by a jury of his peers. Still, the President, the media and, remarkably, PCUSA refuse to allow the truth to get in the way of advancing an agenda. At a minimum, PCUSA could offer both sides of the story, which includes Zimmerman's prior efforts to defend a black man against police abuse. Fairness disctates at least that much. I take no pleasure in having to write these things. Mr. Martin's death was a tragedy, and his true potential will never be realized. The tragedy is only compounded, however, by a false and incomplete recounting of the events that led to his death. I think it is particularly incumbent upon Christians to tell the truth. Only then can we seek justice. Shame on us for being no better than the rest of the mob.
I think we do have a problem with guns in the wrong hands in this country and leaving the law in the hands of the trained police force. It is a tragedy anyway you look at it.
Thank you for a response that emphasizes racial stereotyping -- not gun violence -- is the real issue