2009 Photo by Lambert Wolterbeek Muller, flickr

At the time of this writing, the Trayvon Martin shooting is all over the news, with more details about what happened coming out seemingly on a daily basis. And, the country is polarized — largely along racial lines — over what justice demands. The case made national news when President Obama referenced the incident and sent his condolences to the Martin family with the observation, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon” (http://www.suntimes.com/news/nation/ 11484426-418/story.html).

There are many things that are unclear in this ongoing investigation, but a few things are clear: Trayvon Martin was unarmed; Trayvon Martin is dead by gunshot; Christians are called upon by Scripture to be a voice of sympathy and solace to the mourning (Rom. 12:15; Jas. 1:27). In this politically charged environment, I’d propose three things for white evangelicals (especially) to say.

1. This is a tragedy. An unarmed teenage boy was shot dead, a young life snuffed out before it had a chance to reach its prime.  That, in itself, is a tragedy.  That he was shot in his own neighborhood with nothing but a bag of Skittles in his pocket adds to the tragedy. The first and predominant sense that anyone should have about this situation is that it is tragic. 

  1. We grieve for and with the Trayvon Martin family. I have a 15-year-old son myself. I cannot imagine the pain of losing him under any circumstance, much less one so abrupt, violent, and seemingly senseless. Our first and most prominent sympathies should be with the Martin family.
     
  2. We call for justice to be done. If you can say no more than that, then just so that — without presuming to know the facts of the situation, or trying to make judgments from afar about an ongoing investigation.  Nevertheless, an unarmed boy was shot walking home from the candy shop — that, in itself, is an injustice.  SOMETHING is wrong about how that happened. It is OK to note that and raise our voices in support of the cause of justice. 

With a few notable, positive exceptions (including John Piper: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/marchweb-only/john-piper-racism-reconciliation.html; also seehttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-richard-cizik/evangelical-voice-for-trayvon-martin_b_1383205.html), white evangelicals have been mostly quiet, which is a shame.  But more of a shame: evangelicals who joined the bandwagon of voices musing about whether the victim might have done something to warrant the shooting, or urge slowness of comment given the potential for evidence against the victim coming out. That some of these people now urging “restraint of judgment” were the very people who were quite willing just a few months ago to rush to judgment about whether the (self-described Christian) president might actually be a closet Muslim or that his birth certificate was faked, etc., only confirms the impression that a thinly veiled racism is coming into play in these assessments and comments (or lack of comment).

I don’t know what all happened that night in Florida.  I do know that a young man is dead, shot while unarmed, walking home from the candy store.  That’s enough for me to lift my voice and cry out in grief, and to cry out in sympathy for the family, and to cry out for justice — for God’s will to be done including in this situation on earth, as it is in heaven.  This is enough for me to cry, “What a shame!”

Is it not the least we can do to offer condolences to this family in their grief? To recognize the shame of it?  Much less to not add to the shame.


Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.

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