President Obama’s comments today (transcript) about reaction to the killing of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman are likely to touch off further debate about that case and the state of race relations in the United States.
Conversation about the verdict is already widespread in the Episcopal Church, where every day has brought a new crop of response. The Rev. Scott Stoner of Living Compass, a faith-based health and wellness ministry and the Rev. Buddy Stallings, rector of St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York City, and Jason Evans, young adult missioner in the Diocese of Washington are among those who have written about the verdict most recently.
Stoner, a priest in the Diocese of Milwaukee who works in all corner of the church writes:
I cannot say with certitude exactly in what ways racial biases were a factor the night that George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin nor if it was with out a doubt a factor in the verdict that was reached regarding Zimmerman. It is hard for me to imagine, however, that racial bias was not a factor in what happened, simply because racial bias–often unconscious– is so prevalent in ourselves and in our culture. What I can say from a wellness perspective is that when racism is present in any of us it is an indication of a low degree of spiritual, emotional, and intellectual wellness. Racial biases, like all biases, do not come from a place of strength or wellness.
In light of the attention surrounding the Martin/Zimmerman case, I hope we will all take some time to be more curious about our own biases and prejudices– racial and otherwise. High level wellness requires intentional, on-going self-reflection and along with a willingness to confess to ourselves ways in which we are not as well as we would like to be. This is why I believe that if we are willing to practice curiosity on a regular basis, we have a chance to create small steps toward a twofold cure. Not only do we create the opportunity to move one step closer to curing the prejudices and biases that haunt our society, but we also have the opportunity to move one step closer to curing the prejudices and biases that haunt our own hearts and souls.
Most of the punditry this week has not helped me much. It isn’t that I disagree with what I have heard. “My” pundits are generally on my side. It is just that I have heard it all a thousand times before—that maybe this time we will actually have the significant race conversation that we need, that we must have in this country. I have been hearing that for my entire life, Brown vs. Board of Education having occurred on the precise occasion of my first birthday. In the midst of all the talk, though, I was deeply moved when I heard a Pulitzer prize winning journalist, who happens to be an African American, tell how often and how earnestly he has instructed his own highly privileged male sons about the way to deal with policemen, about not making any sudden or unexpected movement in their presence, about not running through a neighborhood in which they were not known, and several other admonishments, none of which would have occurred to me as necessary to give my own beloved son.
Guns really are the death of us. We are too imperfect, too given to prejudice and disproportionate fear, too impetuous, too subject to coming to the wrong conclusion—every last one of us are too much of each of these and many not listed—to be walking about with handguns. My guess is that even in my rarefied little world, I am in the minority on this subject. So be it.
Evans reminded his readers that the parable of the Good Samaritan was read in our churches on Sunday. He writes:
There was another story told this last weekend. Attorneys were present in this story as well. We all read about it in headlines, personal status updates and heard about it on television. No matter the opinions we each hold concerning the George Zimmerman verdict, what was made evident is that this country remains deeply wounded regarding race and culture.
The trouble is that people like me–white, heterosexual, middle class male–don’t have to hear and see what this narrative exposes. Like the attorney in Jesus’ story, we don’t have to name it. But we have an opportunity to name what has been exposed, just as Jesus did. As a person of privilege, I can’t say that I fully appreciate or know what is to be done beyond naming the biases and dominance that have been exposed. It seems rather critical that we listen well to other narratives before taking naïve action.
In the last couple of days, I’ve reached out to several people in our diocesan community to do just that: listen. Through those conversations, what is already clear to me is that the kind of action we take must tell a different story. In a world that is broken, we need to embody a story of healing. In a world that dehumanizes, we are called to announce that good news that God’s likeness is found in each of us. Like that good Samaritan in Jesus’ tale, it’s time to draw near the pain of our neighbors–close enough to understand the pain. As it cost the Samaritan man, it will cost each of us. But in the end, this tells another story. A story the Church can demonstrate and proclaim. A story our neighbors long to hear.