Response to Zimmerman trial verdict from Elizabeth Soto Albrecht, moderator, and Ervin Stutzman, executive director:
Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed on Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford, Fla., while walking in a gated community where he was staying temporarily. George Zimmerman, the 28-year-old man who shot him, said he thought Trayvon “looked suspicious.” Zimmerman followed Martin in his vehicle after police advised him not to, then pursued him on foot and provoked a confrontation that ended in Martin’s death. On July 13, 2013, a jury of six women, none of whom are black, found Zimmerman “not guilty” on all counts.
We grieve and lament the killing of a beautiful young person. We grieve and lament that the perpetrator can walk free without legal consequences for his actions. We grieve and lament the pervasive use of guns in our culture. We grieve and lament laws and systems that profile people based on race and that justify the use of violence to settle conflicts. We grieve and lament the deep racial divisions in our society and in our churches that make it so hard to understand or even hear each other’s perspectives.
Our country carries a painful legacy of racism and oppression that has marginalized and dehumanized many people. As Mennonites in the United States, we are brothers and sisters from many racial/ethnic backgrounds. Some of us look like the marginalized: like Trayvon Martin and his family, like immigrants from many nations, like Indigenous people.
We feel this pain of marginalization on a regular basis: at the grocery store; in airports; when our children are harassed due to the color of their skin. Many of us are considered white. We are not racially profiled. We have not always been attentive to the experiences of brothers and sisters of color or stood in solidarity with each other.
In response to the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., that killed four African-American girls, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “… we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.”
In light of these events, as a church committed to the gospel of peace and reconciliation, we recommit ourselves to our denominational priority of undoing racism and advancing intercultural transformation.
In this moment, as an initial small step, we especially invite white members of our congregations to engage in conversation with at least one other person from another racial/ethnic group about the Zimmerman verdict and to listen deeply to understand their perspective and experience.
As stated in our Purposeful Plan, “as missional communities we will seek to dismantle individual and systemic racism in our church.” We see this both as a matter of faithfulness to Jesus and as an important part of our witness in the world.
This is not an easy or quick task, but as followers of Jesus, we trust that God is with us.
We invite and encourage congregations and individuals in the Mennonite Church USA family to continue to be part of this journey of healing with us.
For further reflection and conversation on this topic, see the following:
“I am in mourning: a white woman’s response,” Women in Leadership column by Laura Brenneman:
“On Trayvon Martin, Privilege and Race” on Hannah Heinzekehr’s blog, the femonite:
“Three things privileged Christians can learn from the Trayvon Martin case,” by Christena Cleveland in the July 13, 2013, issue of Christianity Today.
Original article form TheMennonite