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Examining our biases in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict

Examining our biases in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict

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.

Stallings writes:

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.


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Richard Edward Helmer

Fr. McQueen,

I can only express here utter astonishment at your unreflective words. There would be no appeal for the media or any political leader beyond a mere personal tragedy if the Martin-Zimmerman case occurred in a nation where racism no longer was a painful reality.

And to accuse others of mere ideological politicization in the same paragraph as cynically attacking your former church as a whole is quite rich indeed.

I very much doubt the African-American leaders you mentioned want or need your patronizing pity. And the President needed to score no political points with the African-American community for any agenda (he has almost universal support there already.)

The call is, simply put, to look to ourselves and the real relationships we are in where we can effect change. Another is to ask ourselves what kind of society allows the circumstances that led to Trayvon Martin’s death and the ruining of George Zimmerman’s remaining years. Is this the society we want? And is this the society the Gospel call us to? Is that really only spouting left-wing ideology?

This is a matter of shared responsibility, and, as a dear friend of mine is fond of saying “If the shoe fits, wear it.”

If anything is to be pitied, it is the retreat into defensiveness, posturing, and reactive finger-pointing when we need at this time deep listening and open-hearted compassion more than ever.

Fr. Will McQueen

No, I’m not sorry at all for calling out the racism of the above mentioned men. I don’t feel anything but pity for them, and pray that God will have mercy on them.

What happened in Florida was a tragedy. It was a tragedy for the Martin family in the loss of their son. It was a tragedy for the Zimmerman family in that he and his family will forever live with the scars of what happened that night.

Those who want to politicize this tragedy and make this into something that fits a particular ideology is rather pathetic in my mind. I’m sure it will only be a matter of time before TEC finds a place in Lesser Feasts and Fasts for Trayvon Martin which would of course fit their narrative quite well.


OK, since my last comment (a mere request for information) was removed, I’ve apparently got nuthin’. Two out of three comments on this thread leave me gobsmacked. The smallest observation: whenever someone says “I’m sorry, but”, there’s a 99% chance they’re not sorry at all.

JC Fisher

Trayvon Martin, may you rest in peace until you rise in glory. Pray for us!

Fr. Will McQueen

Yep, CJ is exactly right. When I attended anti-racism training at seminary, it was an utter joke and a complete farce. The instructor basically said that any white person by mere existence was racist because we were people of privilege by being born white and that we might as well accept the fact that we were racist and get over it. They also put forward the absurd proposition that blacks could not be racist because one of the components of racism is power and since they were not in a position of power they could not be racist. I’m sorry, but Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and Jeremiah Wright are perhaps the trinity of racism in this country. They keep race baiting everything to suit their damnable ends, and they are an integral part of the racial tensions and problems in this country.

Richard Edward Helmer


Really? The President calls us to individual and shared responsibility for our neighborhoods and civic engagement, and all you can do is point the finger and see a bunch of “leftists” pointing back?

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