Last Saturday a Florida Jury acquitted Mr. George Zimmerman in the death of 17 year old Trayvon Martin, and catalyzed an escalating movement of protest and resolve throughout the nation. While many contend that neither Martin’s death nor the verdict was motivated by race, many others would disagree. In the midst of that argument, several realities seem painfully clear to me.
- The U.S. remains deeply divided along racial lines.
- The poor, many of whom are persons of color, often live on the margins of our society, particularly in the cities.
- The social and cultural disintegration at work in our society in general proves most damaging and intense on the margins, and affects those who live there in glaringly disproportionate ways.
- The pursuit of justice for wrongs sustained by those on the margins regularly proves frustrating, futile, and can even lead to even more injustice.
At our best, Free Methodists understand and embrace Jesus’ passionate love for all people, and especially the poor. Free Methodists know only a gospel that extends to the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized no less than to others. Free Methodists make common cause against injustice of any kind and for whatever will address it. And, thus, from our beginnings we have sought freedom for captives, of whatever sort, and full equality for all people, because all people are created in God’s own image.
Patrick McNeal is an ordained elder in the Free Methodist Church and a friend. In the wake of this controversial verdict, he wrote to say that the church should not be silent at such a time. Of course, as you know, “The Church” has not been silent, but Patrick meant specifically the Free Methodist Church. I agree with Patrick, and invited him to speak into the current national situation as a Free Methodist and a follower of Jesus.
Growing up I can remember my parents always seemed to get it right when it came to disagreements between my big brother and me. They possessed the innate ability to somehow assess the debate, decide a course of action and somehow bring if not peace and end to the concern. Later, I asked my dad how were they able to get to the bottom of the issues. He said that there are three sides to every story: your brother’s, yours and the truth. He went on to say that sometimes our view could be skewed by what we want to see rather than what really is there. This is especially true when perceived injustices of the past are either overlooked or not settled to one’s satisfaction. Thus in his mind, the issue is almost never solely about today, but all the events that have led up to and including today.
During the discourse that has taken place in our country over the past 17 months surrounding the George Zimmerman Case, I find that my father’s wisdom has much validity. And because of the effort and discomfort that goes into the type of discourse that needs to happen it is so much easier just not to have it. Some would say that such discourse will likely lead nowhere, because people tend to believe what they want no matter what others say. So talking about it turns out to be a waste of time. And yet, as Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying, “The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just.” If we never discuss it we will never arrive at or come closer to any type of agreement and more importantly a course of action. And so we operate in the silence. Yes we will share our thoughts with those who we believe agree with our worldview, but outside of that silence. In many African American homes difficult conversations were had with children, especially boys, about whether to run or fight or trust the police. These conversations also dealt with how they dress and how they might be perceived, because the most important thing is simply making it home.
After the verdict in the Zimmerman trial, one of the defense attorneys made a most powerful statement: “That young black males are treated a certain way in the criminal justice system, yes. Should we have a conversation about it, absolutely.” He was referring to the reality that there are a disproportionate number of African Americans who live in our nation’s prisons and jails. Yes,
• African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population.
• African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites
• Together, African American and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one quarter of the US population
• According to “Unlocking America,” if African American and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates as whites, today’s prison and jail populations would decline by approximately 50%
At our recent General Conference, we believe the Lord called the Free Methodist Church back to the cities of our nation. That call involves more than specific ministry to African Americans, but whatever we may do in and for cities will have to deal with what is happening to this group. In his book, Holy Available, Gary Thomas writes, “It is not enough for us to discuss issues, pray about them, and merely feel inspired by them. No, to actually become “holy available,” we have to find ways to translate these issues into action.
So I am asking: Can we break the uneasy silence and enter into some honest but difficult dialogue and discussion? Can we talk in ways that bring us together and might lead to plans and deeds that show God’s compassion, care and concern for all, and specifically for at risk populations, including African Americans?
Dr. Martin Luther King asserts, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” And, I’m reminded that Jesus said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Free Methodist Church, let’s talk about how best to do as Jesus directed, visiting the sick, those who are in prison, and those who are potentially on their way to prison even now. Then, let’s do it, let’s go with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the grace, mercy and love he has shed on us.