The George Zimmerman trial amplified the continued division in our nation over race. America has made great strides in race relations, but this trial reminds us that we still have far to go. Language on both sides of this case contained disturbing racist slang. Regardless of your feelings on the verdict, the sad reality is that there were no clear winners.
Tragically, a young black teenager is dead. He was killed in a senseless act of fear-provoked violence. Trayvon Martin’s parents have lost a son, and he will never be brought back. I cannot imagine the anguish of losing a child in such a senseless tragedy. I understand their desire for justice, but there will never be a verdict that completely takes away their hurt and loss.
George Zimmerman was found “not guilty” by a jury, but he is not a winner. His life continues to be probed. His legal battles will likely continue, and much of the media and public have forever labeled him as a “racist.” He walked out of a courtroom, but I am not sure if he will ever be free from the weight of this tragic night.
It has troubled me that many have sought to use this tragedy for their own agendas. In the end, we were all reminded of the deep and continued divides in our nation over race. Martin Luther King Jr. once dreamed of a day when, “On the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” This trial reminds us that his dream has not yet come to fruition.
Though the barriers of race continue to separate us, our nation and Southern Baptist churches have come a long way in race relations. Our current convention President, Fred Luter, is African American, and we have great leaders across our convention from many ethnic backgrounds. We have growing numbers of multi-ethnic churches. We have white, Southern Baptist leaders who offer a strong voice to racial injustice, and who are leading others toward reconciliation. We concur with the truth of Scripture: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female – for all of you are one in Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 3:28)
But, I must also speak a word of reality, we have not yet won the battle in race relations. Too often, our emerging churches look a great deal like the old, when it comes to race. In some of our multi-ethnic churches, we are multi-ethnic in attendance, but not in how we practice church. The culture of many of our multi-ethnic churches is still pre-dominantly Caucasian. Though ethnic believers represent some of our greatest areas of growth for Southern Baptists, they still represent a very small part of our leadership. Most tragically, the Sunday morning worship hour remains one of the most segregated times of the week.
We can do better than this. For if the transformed church of Jesus Christ cannot do better than this, what hope is there for the world?
If we are to win this battle, we must cross boundaries and reach out to those different from us. We must have the courage to speak out clearly about injustice, not for the sake of agenda, but because we believe in the worth and value of every human being. We must be willing to share leadership and influence with our African American, Asian, and Hispanic brothers and sisters in Christ. Furthermore, we must model the transforming grace of Christ by sharing in genuine relationships that give evidence to the world that we care more about what is beneath the skin, rather than the color of one’s skin.