By Matthew Hodges, Director of City Outreach
and Kevin Schaub, Director of Family & Youth Ministry
It would be amazing to stand in front of the famous “Castle Geyser” or “Old Faithful” at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. To stand there because you know full-well that an eruption of water and steam is imminent. To know that once the water has seeped its way down through the geyser’s plumbing and reaches the magma below, that it will be super-heated and then dramatically forced back to the surface in a hydrothermal explosion.
Kevin Schaub & Matthew Hodges
Racial tension in the U.S. in the humdrum of life might not seem to be that big of a deal. But every once in a while, that tension can reach a boiling point, and sometimes, it explodes.
On Saturday night, we were all reminded of the racial tension that still exists in our nation. It’s not necessarily something all of us thinks about every day, but it’s still there under the surface, and at times we’re forced to deal with it. That night, we watched at our homes as the news unfolded that George Zimmerman had been acquitted in his trial for the murder of seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin. Neither of us was surprised. As best as we could tell from the news reports of the trial, the prosecution was unable to prove its case.
Yet, at the same time, neither of our hearts was satisfied either.
From Matthew (co-writer of this post): Last year, I served as a juror in a Wake County murder trial. The facts presented to the court in that case led the jury to find the defendant guilty. But, it was an emotionally draining experience. In that case, the selected jurors had to make their decision based on the admissible evidence and facts alone. The jurors couldn’t draw on their own experiences; they couldn’t act upon what wasn’t known. Whatever justice, therefore, that was served in that trial, was limited, in part, because of those factors. For me, it was one of those reminders that God alone is the one who knows all the facts of all time. God alone is the true server of justice.
As difficult of an experience as that was, the Zimmerman trial and verdict has been different. The whole nation has seemed involved. There were even some small protests in Durham and Raleigh on Sunday after news of the verdict went out. Matthew and I have since wondered what the church should say in response to various reactions we’ve seen and read about due to this blockbuster of a verdict, and, as a church situated in downtown Durham, we have wondered how our membership should speak to the urban community around us in a way that points to the cross of Christ.
Here is some of what we would like to say.
1. Not a post-racial culture, but a post-resurrection world
It is a fact that we don’t live in a post-racial culture. We’re sure that you already knew that. It’s just that occasions like the Trayvon Martin saga have been an explosive reminder of something we might be prone to forget: that racial tension still exists, often beneath the surface of our culture. We certainly don’t live in a post-racial world … BUT, we do live in a post-resurrection world, and what happened that Resurrection Day has rendered a death blow to all racism and racial tension, and one day it will all be gone. That is our hope.
We need to be reminded of gospel truths in times like these. To be reminded that in Christ “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col 3:11).
2. Being slow to speak, quick to listen
When racial tension spikes around us, it’s also helpful for us to be reminded that God is indeed sovereign and he alone knows all the facts. That in itself should remind us to be careful not to pass undue judgment. Unlike our true Judge and King, we don’t know everything. We should therefore be careful, and slow to speak and quick to listen (James 1:19). Often when racial tension explodes to the surface, it’s because we’ve used our tongues to curse rather than to be a blessing (James 3:1–12).
Because of Matthew’s own experiences, and because of the love of Christ that compels him to stand for the truth of Christ’s gospel, we thought it would be good for him to share the following separately, as exhortations to both white and African American brothers and sisters in Christ:
3. Compassionate and sympathetic neighbor love
To my white brothers and sisters in Christ, please seek with God’s help to understand the impact of the court’s verdict in the Zimmerman trial from an African-American’s point of view. We understand that the jurors didn’t necessarily consider Zimmerman’s actions to be racist or racially profiling. But here’s the hard truth: racial profiling has been happening in our country, and it will continue to happen. It’s happened to many, many African-Americans, especially young African-American men.
Whenever racial profiling occurs, it’s a wicked thing. I have personally experienced this evil act twice, as far as I know. Once, when I was younger, my brother and I were driving home from the barber shop in our parents’ new car. On the way home, we were followed by a police car. The officer never turned on his lights, but he asked to see our IDs because we “looked suspicious.” The other time, my brother and I were accused of stealing a tape at a local record store because the bulge from my brother’s wallet “looked” like a tape in his pants pocket.
We grew up with that, as have many others. So for many African-Americans, the verdict of the Zimmerman trial once again felt like a reopening that old wound of racism that still hasn’t healed. In Christian compassion and sympathy, I would simply encourage you to consider how the verdict from this trial has felt to so many in the African-American community like yet another demonstration of injustice.
To my African-American brothers and sisters in Christ, please seek to listen to—and understand the news of the Zimmerman verdict from—a white person’s point of view. It can be difficult for many of our white brothers and sisters in Christ to understand what it is like to grow up in a sub-dominant culture. Of course, many will see that all of this is yet another chapter in America’s sad racial history, but be patient with my brothers and sisters. Please seek to give our white fellow-Christians the benefit of the doubt—as you would hope they would do for you—even while you may graciously respond to their opinions, and they to yours.
4. Taking an ax to the root of racism
Finally, it’s our conviction that the church cannot afford to be silent about race relations. We need to be active in taking an ax to the root of racism, stereotyping, and ethnocentric pride. The Zimmerman trial made it known yet again that our nation is still deeply racially divided. It’s just that sometimes we’re not all that aware of it, because it is often hiding beneath the surface. But we know that it’s there, and we know that the gospel can kill the evils of racism to its very roots. As David Prince has recently tweeted, “Racism can only exist to the degree that the gospel is not treasured. The Kingdom of Christ has declared war on ethnic hostility (Eph 2:14–16).” The gospel is the war ax against racism, and the church needs to wield it for the glory of God.
It is also our hope as we think through all of this that you will pray for the Martin and Zimmerman families. Pray that they might all trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. We will all one day stand before the One Righteous Judge, and our only hope on that day will be if Jesus Christ is our advocate. Such tragic circumstances as these should also remind us of how we should deal with one another in lesser offenses. Always be ready to apply the gospel and be gracious and merciful to one another (Col 3:8–17). We all make mistakes with our words and in our deeds at times. And lastly, we hope you will say with us: Come Lord Jesus and establish your Kingdom, a kingdom where your will is done on earth as it is in heaven, where racism is no more.