White preachers silent on Trayvon Martin case

As I suggest in this Associated Baptist Press article, your average white pastor will have little to say about the killing of Trayvon Martin.  Pastors are expected to serve as prophets, priests and politicians, roles that don’t always mesh easily.  The national debate over racial justice is driven by messy narratives that raise uncomfortable questions about America.  Neither white pastors nor their congregations are negatively affected by the criminal justice system and, if they are, they keep it to themselves.  The possibility that people of color face risks that white folks can scarcely imagine is deeply disturbing.  White preachers who speak of such things are playing with fire.  So we turn our attention to other things.  There are always plenty of other things to talk about on Sunday morning.  Important things, holy things, inspiring things.  Why trouble the faithful with the tragedy of Trayvon Martin?

White churches on sidelines of Trayvon Martin outrage
Jeff Brumley
Associated Baptist Press

SANFORD, Fla. (ABP) — The killing of Trayvon Martin has sparked rallies in black communities nationwide and is now leading to questions about why white Christians aren’t more visibly involved.

Pastors of both races offer a number of theories about the anemic white interest, including an inability to identify with the social disparities faced by blacks to an aversion to associating with controversial African-American religious leaders.

Some white pastors “haven’t been asked” to attend public vigils for the teen shot Feb. 26, while others “are not taking the initiative,” said Alan Brumback, senior pastor at Central Baptist Church in Sanford, Fla.

And yet others “don’t want to be associated with Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson,” the white Southern Baptist preacher said.

But that hasn’t kept Brumback from getting involved. He was the only white pastor to take the stage with Sharpton and other black ministers at a recent Trayvon Martin rally in Sanford, where the killing occurred. He has also led his multiracial congregation in intercessory prayer for the boy’s family, the city and police.

Martin, 17, was unarmed when he was shot in a gated community by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, who told police the boy was wearing a hoodie and looked suspicious at the time. The boy was walking to the home of his father’s girlfriend when the incident occurred.

Zimmerman, who was legally armed, has claimed self-defense and hasn’t been arrested in the incident. That and the hoodie comment have outraged protestors.

Other white Christians have spoken out. The National Council of Churches and Sojourners, both groups with a large white membership, are among the groups that have expressed concern about the circumstances of Martin’s killing.

And who knows what individual pastors are saying from their pulpits, said Jeffrey Rumlin, pastor of Dayspring Baptist Church in Jacksonville.

Martin’s death has been front-page news in Jacksonville because it’s just a few hours from Sanford and because its lead prosecutor was tapped to investigate the case.

Rumlin said local black pastors began talking about the case almost since the day it happened. He said he hasn’t seen much white involvement, locally or nationally.

“Just because I have not seen it does not mean some of my white colleagues are not bringing it to their congregations,” Rumlin said. “We cannot paint everyone with one broad brush.”

Still, there’s room for improvement, the National Baptist minister said.

“Could or should some of our more prominent white brothers and sisters step out? Absolutely.”

But white religious leaders are unlikely to halt their “stony silence” because they and their congregations simply cannot identify with the feelings of systemic discrimination that the Travyon Martin case evokes for blacks, said Alan Bean, an American Baptist preacher turned social justice activist and author.

“It’s because it doesn’t affect them,” said Bean, executive director of Friends of Justice, an Arlington, Texas-based ministry that’s been blogging about the Martin case and demanding justice for the boy’s family.

“Their kids are not going to be considered suspicious if they are walking down the street in a hoodie,” Bean said.

Brumback said he will stay involved in the case, however. He said he’s called to share with others that Jesus Christ is the ultimate solution to society’s ills.

Plus he’s motivated by the fact that many in his congregation are black.

“The fact that I have brothers and sisters in Christ that are not white — that I have baptized and led to Christ — inspires me to take part in stuff like this,” he said.

One thought on “White preachers silent on Trayvon Martin case

  1. The facts are not fully known. Neither black nor white pastors should comment on the matter unless it’s to urge calm.
    Setting that aside for the moment, there is nothing in Scripture that supports the claim that pastors are to serve as prophets or politicians.
    According to Scripture the duties of a pastor are these: 1) shepherd his flock and 2) proclaim the ONLY solution to the deaths of young men like Trayvon: the proclaimation of the gospel loudly and clearly, without adding to it nor taking away from it.

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