*The death of young Trayvon Martin and the “not guilty” verdict for George Zimmerman weighs heavily on our nation. Passions are running high on both sides.
The Zimmerman family and supporters rejoice; even gloat. The ever dignified and deeply wounded parents of Trayvon Martin, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, called for “calm and respect for the court’s decision,” while grieving over the son they will never see again in this life.
Martin supporters blew up Twitter with expressions of outrage, grief, and sadness, while mobilizing to seek justice in the courts and at the polls through a massive mobilization for the 50th Anniversary March on Washington. Thankfully, the Martin’s called for peace, and Reverend Bernice King, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s daughter, wisely labeled the verdict”a defining moment of her father’s dream,” and asked for “dignity and discipline.” Their timely and hopeful words, together with the prayers of many, kept the expected storm of violence to a bare minimum.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:43-45
Still, the pain, grief, and sadness from the verdict remain, along with fear that the court’s larger message is that an African American life…and especially the life of a young Black man in America… has little value. Personally, as the grandmother of three teenage boys, I share that pain, sadness, and fear. Yet, as a servant of the Most High God, I, and my colleagues in the Gospel ministry, are called to a much higher standard. It is the standard of demonstrating Jesus’ example of unconditional love, building true community, establishing justice for all, and reaffirming the profound spiritual truth, that God is still fully in control.
Dr. King, in his book, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?,” raised the hard question with which we must reflect on now that the criminal trial has ended. Will we allow our pain, fear, and anger to lead us to continued chaos and injustice that keeps our nation further divided despite as of 2010, the presence in the United States of over 246,780,000 followers of Jesus Christ, who make up 79.5% of the U.S. population? Or, will we as the Church, do the hard and sustained work of providing the leadership needed to build community that models Christ’s love across every race and culture even as we seek justice for all Americans?
Sadly, our nation, and even the Church, has not yet moved from chaos to community 50 years after Dr. King’s iconic “Dream” message. Nor has the Church sought to nurture thoughtful, respectful, dialogue and reflection on what racial healing and justice requires, which has allowed the elephant in the room to grow even larger. Yet, the same God who answered the biblical Queen Esther’s call for restoration of an oppressed Jewish people, still hears the cry of contemporary leaders seeking justice, fairness and healing of our land. The same All-Powerful Creator of Heaven and Earth who heard the biblical community leader, Nehemiah’s plea for help in rebuilding Jerusalem’s broken walls, still hears the prayers of modern day spiritual leaders for the power to rebuild broken justice systems. This is the unique role of the Church, and especially of clergy leaders of every race who are facing what Dr. King called, “the fierce urgency of now.”
• Now is the time for ministers to unite at the national and local level with civil rights and justice community advocates to look carefully at “stand your ground,” voter suppression, racial profiling, and immigration laws against the biblical standard of righteousness and justice.
• Now is the time for ministers, to move from the 50th Anniversary March on Washington Commemoration events, and visit their state and local elected leaders; praying with and for them; even while appealing for gun violence prevention laws; and other justice measures.
• Now is the time for deep spiritual reflection, prayer, and fasting, on what the scriptures dictate about justice in the courts, care for the poor and vulnerable, racial healing, and leadership, led by God on behalf of the marginalized, together with repentance for a nation which muffles honest, respectful dialogue on these issues that matter to God.
• Now is the time for urban, suburban, and rural ministers to hold joint church-based, community dialogues and prayer gatherings, for racial healing and bridge-building.
• Now is the time to increase mentoring and nurturing of our youth, in order to encourage them to value themselves, and others, as God values them. We must pray together for an end to youth violence, which has become an epidemic in far too many Black and Hispanic communities.
• And, now is the time to engage in intergenerational dialogue on how the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement connects to the Trayvon Martin killing, voting rights, immigration reform, sentencing reform, and other issues of justice for people of every race and culture so that our young people can connect the dots using social media.
This is a defining moment for the Church. Will we turn the page, or hit the TV remote and move to others issues in the news, hoping that time will push to the back pages of our minds the memory of this trial, like so many other tragedies such as the Sandy Hook massacre, and the Boston bombing? Or, will we seize this moment, and realize that God has raised up his people and his Church, “for such a time as this?” This is our moment, by the power of God, to move from chaos to community.
“…as a servant of the Most High God, I, and my colleagues in the Gospel ministry, are called to a much higher standard. It is the standard of demonstrating Jesus’ example of unconditional love, building true community, establishing justice for all, and reaffirming the profound spiritual truth, that God is still fully in control.”
About Dr. Skinner:
Dr. Barbara Williams Skinner is an influential faith leader, author, lecturer, lawyer, businesswoman, educator, trusted advisor, mentor and political strategist. She is Chairman and Co-Founder of the Skinner Leadership Institute. In 1992, she co-founded the Institute with her late husband, Tom, former Chaplin of the NY Yankees, NY Giants and Washington Redskins; and, who was also a respected international speaker and author.
Dr. Skinner, who recently was appointed by President Barack Obama to the President’s Advisory Council of Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships, meets regularly with the President and his senior staff as a trusted Faith leader, strategist and advisor. She was also recently named by The White House as a “Champion of Change” for making an indelible imprint in her community and in American politics.
She is a founding member of the Black Women’s Roundtable, and is Co-Chair of the National African American Clergy Network, a powerful national network of intergenerational clergy leaders with over a million constituents, who lobby and advocate for poor and working class Americans.
Dr. Skinner is a former Executive Director of the Congressional Black Caucus, (its first female Executive Director). She continues to serve as an advisor to CBC members and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, (CBCF), as Co-Founder of the CBCF’s Annual Prayer Breakfast.
Raymone K. Bain