The Tragedy of Trayvon Martin or, Neither Jew nor Gentile

St. Moses the Black - you should really read about this saint

St. Moses the Black – you should really read about this saint

The early 90s presented to America the reality that it hadn’t gone very far since its days of segregation just a decade earlier. The beating of Rodney King and subsequent rioting at the acquittal of the officers showed that black Americans and white Americans viewed our judicial system differently. This difference was underscored by the trial of OJ Simpson and his subsequent acquittal. Both actions deeply divide white Americans and black Americans to this day.

Here we are, 2013, many decades removed from government-instituted segregation and we’re still very segregated. Now I do realize that I am white and some think that this invalidates me from speaking on matters of race, unless of course I am willing to bash “white-privilege.” But this only underscores how racism has so deeply infected our culture; last time I checked, I am human first, just as is any black person. In other words, racism is a problem we all have a voice on, it’s something we can all talk about and should talk about, because it impacts us all at some level because we are all human beings.

This is why the events of the Trayvon Martin killing and trial of George Zimmermann should be something any American, especially Christian, should mourn over. In the immediate facts of the case, Zimmermann shot and killed Martin. Without arguing over who’s at fault, the facts of the situation are that a young man who could have become someone had his life snuffed out. Whether he was responsible or not is irrelevant; he was made in the image of God, just like you and me, and his life was taken from him. He had feelings, he had thoughts, he had dreams, he had friends, and he had a family; any death, even if we bring that death upon ourselves, is a tragedy. If he attacked Zimmermann or was defending himself is irrelevant to the fact that his death is a tragedy.

Likewise, for Zimmermann, his life is ruined. Again, regardless of his innocence or guilt, he killed someone, he took someone’s life, and any person of conscience must struggle with such an action. If he killed this young man needlessly, if Zimmermann is the cause of the actions that led to Martin dying, then he must live with the guilt of murder and also face quite some time in prison. Any future he hoped for is now gone. If he is innocent, if he was defending himself and is found innocent, he must live his life knowing he still took a human life. He must live his life looking over his shoulder and living in fear that someone may come after him for retribution. No matter what, he’ll always be the man who killed Trayvon Martin.

A final victim has recently emerged on the witness stand, mocked and ridiculed by the media or viewed as a symbol of black culture by others. Rachel Jeantel has introduced white Americans to he more urban America, and what we’re seeing is two completely different cultures failing and refusing to understand each other. More to her own situation, however, this is a girl who must live with the knowledge that she was the last person to talk to Trayvon Martin. Yes, she lied to prosecutors, but only because she’s been raised to turn away from admitting to fear, and she lied because she was afraid to see Travyon’s body at the funeral and afraid to see his mother. For taking the stand she has been made to look like a fool to the rest of us. What finally got my blood boiling was seeing Glenn Beck read her tweets and mock her, failing to understand that inner-city education is a product of American values (or lack thereof).

The outflow from this has been devastating. If Zimmermann is found innocent or guilty there is the risk of riots from anyone. Some people on Twitter have claimed (though I hope it’s mere bravado) that they would kill a white person if Zimmermann is found innocent. Some responded saying they welcomed a race war (this came from whites and blacks). Such venom and glee over murdering a fellow human being shows, in my opinion, that we’re regressing. The Civil Rights movement was great because it was able to change the law, but it failed to change the people. That is not an indictment on the Civil Rights movement, but an indictment on our culture.

While this debate over the Trayvon killing takes place, we see another divide over a TV cook Paula Deen. Deen admitted in a very nonchalant manner that she used the “N-word.” This, of course, caused her to be let go by the Food Network and various other organizations. To me, this seemed like the obvious response, especially when you consider the context. She wanted to throw a plantation dinner where the black men served the white guests. Certainly, any modern company that cares about its image (and doing the right thing) would let her go. But apparently white Americans disagreed.

Even now, there’s a backlash forming against those who have turned against Deen. Many have said, “Well she apologized” or pointed to the fact she was raised in the South, so it’s just her culture. Others have said it’s hypocritical because rappers can say that word anytime they want to, but white people apparently cannot. The apologists for Deen have come out in legion.

What is interesting is how these two cases overlap each other. Jeantel said that Martin had a “crazy-ass cracka” following him. The use of the word “cracker” was viewed as offensive by many white Americans, the same white Americans who attempted to defend Paula Deen for using the “N-word.” Likewise, those who condemn Deen have seen no problem with calling a white person a derogatory word. The justification I’ve seen is that “cracker” can’t be demeaning to a white person because white people have never suffered under black people, so no dehumanization can occur because white people are in charge.

At the root of it all we have people talking about white privilege, black culture, slang, what words are acceptable, and the answers are dividing down the race lines. One side sees no problem with using dehumanizing language as long as you apologize, thinks their will be a race war, and implicitly looks upon the other has less-educated and articulate. The other side sees no problem with using dehumanizing language as long as it’s against the “ruling elite,” thinks it’s okay to retributively kill someone from a same race, and implicitly looks upon the other as oppressive. But in trying to fix the problems of racism we’re only touching a symptom, not a problem. It’s like trying to repair termite damage by painting over the wood; no matter how good you make it look, it’s still rotting from within.

The problem with racism goes down deeper to a problem with sin. In the American context the problem of racism as a sin is highly problematic for churches and something we really don’t want to deal with. If ever there was proof that churches have kicked Christ out of their presence it would be our average Sunday morning. Walk into a church and look at the congregation; chances are that 95% will all the be same color, one way or the other. That’s a sickening tragedy and is antithetical to the Gospel. America has a race problem because America has a sin problem, but that problem begins in the churches. It begins with an unwillingness to view someone else as a human being. It begins with an unwillingness to forgive. It begins with an unwillingness to fall more in love with Christ than to fall in love with what’s culturally comfortable.

The solution to America’s race problem isn’t found in more government legislation. You can’t legislate thinking. The solution is found in the Church acting like the body of Christ. It’s found in churches of different races coming together and working together. It’s found in working past some cultural differences and acknowledging that there is a bigger mission for us. In short, the solution to America’s race problem is love. And it is possible because I’ve seen it first-hand.

I attend a church where I think over a dozen languages are spoken (or at least close to it). North America, Asia, Europe, and Africa are all represented in the congregation. While the people are imperfect – especially since I started attending – to me this serves as an icon of Heaven; in Eternity we will all worship Christ forever. In our church the cultural distinctives are not lost, yet we all worship the same Christ and work with one another. And that’s part of the cure to our racism in America; we shouldn’t seek to be the same, but we should seek to love the same. That is, we will always have cultural distinctives and differences, and that’s great, but we shouldn’t let those distinctives turn into differences.

Think to the early Church which grew out of a very diverse culture. We like to think that because the Roman Empire was an empire, there was only one culture that Christians were speaking to. But within the Roman Empire there were many cultures, and it was to these cultures that early Christians went. They preached to Greeks, Romans, Africans, Asians, Barbarians, and so on. Of the many early saints few, if any, where white. There’s even African saints, such as St. Athanatius (called the “black midget”) and St. Moses (probably my favorite saint because he had such a hard time converting; I respect that), as well as many others. The early Church is often viewed as monolithic movement where everyone was the same; but the reality is that we only view it this way because the teachings were unified. The cultures, however, were various and diverse.

The Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov argued that God is many, yet one. That is, God is three Persons in one Essence. God is also infinite, meaning that God is infinitely diverse, yet infinitely unified. Every human being is made in the image of this same God, but we are finite. This means that every single culture is incomplete, though good (so long as what they do follows God’s holiness). Thus, our distinctives are a celebration of God, because in our distinctives we can still see God. But this should be met with our love for one another, that though distinct, we are not different, that though many, we are still one. Though our rooms may hold different decorations, we are all in the same house. The solution to our race problem, the solution to the ugliness exposed by the Trayvon murder case, is not the harsh rationality of justice, but the soothing paradox of love.


Two Issues, One Problem

In my morning reading of the news, I’ve come across two major issues that simply show one giant problem in America. The first is the Supreme Court and the Affordable Healthcare Act. The second is the modern-day lynch mobs being formed to hunt down Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin. Both issues show one common problem; we’re unwilling to think through complex issues, but instead would much rather jump to conclusions.

The Affordable Healthcare Act, while noble in its intentions, is rightfully being picked apart in questioning by the Supreme Court. The idea that the government can force anyone to buy anything is simply absurd (before people point to car insurance, keep in mind you only have to purchase car insurance if you buy a car; the government doesn’t force us to buy anything as a condition of simply existing). At the same time liberals are bemoaning and attempting to defend what is really an absurd law, conservatives are attempting to defend what is really an absurd system. When we ask for the conservative solution, while some have a more nuanced approach, at the end of the day it looks at those who can’t afford health insurance and says, “Too bad for you.” Liberals think the system is broke and needs to be fixed, but it’s not. The system works fine, it’s just too expensive. Conservatives think the system works completely fine and just needs a few tweaks. The system doesn’t work fine, as there are multiple people who can’t partake in our system.

This issue points to the truth of a G.K. Chesterton saying that, “The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.” The reality is that our current system is simply unaffordable (even by people who have insurance) and highly confusing for those with insurance (I’ve received 7 different “final bills” for a recent hospital trip; even the billing department doesn’t know which one I actually owe). In other words, we do need a solution, but one that doesn’t force the poorest Americans to pay for something that is 1/10 their income. We need to keep our high standards of healthcare, meaning it’ll remain expensive, but find a way to streamline things to try to make it cheaper, or give basic coverage to those who can’t afford healthcare (and reward employees for giving advanced healthcare to their employees, rather than punishing them for not doing so).

However, I don’t expect people to think on this issue. I expect people to react emotionally or along party lines – but we forget that doing so can often have dire consequences. Just ask Spike Lee. He recently tweeted the address of Zimmerman (the man who killed Trayvon Martin) implying, “This is where the guy lives, get him.” Problem is it’s not where he lives; it’s the address of someone completely unrelated.

Now as readers will observe, I certainly believe that Zimmerman was in the wrong and most likely deserves to be charged with manslaughter.  But the lynch mobs that are popping up are without excuse and an overreaction to an injustice. Offering “dead or alive” wanted pictures, calling for the death of Zimmerman, putting bounties on his head; these are not the actions of a civilized nation. Crime happens. Racism happens. But we only make it worse when we resort to vigilante “justice.”

Both of these issues highlight the biggest problem in America, which is that we refuse to think through issues. Some might say that I’m guilty of this too by declaring what Zimmerman did to be a murder, but I would argue that when one follows an individual at night, essentially stalking the person, and the person attacks you, you have instigated the attack. I came to this conclusion by thinking through the circumstance, regardless of the race or character of the individuals involved; if Person A stalks Person B and Person B attacks Person A for it, most people would view Person B as being justified. Person A may kill Person B, but this becomes manslaughter, not self-defense simply because Person A’s actions instigated the whole situation. In fact, in most circumstances people would agree with this. I tend to think that if a black man was stalking a white man and the roles were reversed, suddenly this would be about a black man murdering a white man. However, in this same scenario, the New Black Panther party would be defending the black man while those who are currently defending Zimmerman would be defending the white victim. Why is this? Because we’d rather go with gut reactions and rely on our biases than to think through the issue.

Why is it that America is becoming more and more polarized on issues of race and politics? It’s because we’ve found our comfort zone in terms of thinking and we refuse to leave it. We’ll watch Fox News and only Fox News. We’ll read Drudge, Brietbart, or some other conservative outlet. We’ll listen to Limbaugh and Hannity and no one else (except other conservatives). Or, alternatively, we’ll watch MSNBC and only MSNBC. We’ll read Huffington Post or Think Progress or the Daily Kos, or some other liberal outlet. We’ll listen to Maddow and no one else (except other liberals). In essence, we have created intellectual ghettos for ourselves, refusing to interact with other ideas beyond saying, “You’re an idiot and you’re wrong.”

The true sign of being open-minded is the willingness to evaluate ideas. By “evaluate” I don’t mean begin with our beliefs and work from there, because sometimes our beliefs can taint our viewpoint. We may approach politics through a libertarian or Communistic ideal, thus tainting any opinion that doesn’t align itself with our ideal. We may approach race issues as “white is right” or “black power,” but such beliefs merely taint other opinions. In those cases, we truly refuse to see how the other person sees the issue. This doesn’t mean we will necessarily agree with the person’s view, but it means we can understand it and learn from it.

Perhaps we should have a new standard in our discourse. We should only be allowed to vocalize our disagreement with someone once we can provide an explanation for the belief we’re criticizing, and the explanation is something the supporters of the idea agree is an adequate explanation. This means abandoning ideals and dealing with the fact that when it comes to practical issues, there are multiple ways to solve a problem. Instead of being high on attitude, we could for once attempt to be high on reason.

Or you could just say I’m an idiot and go back to your intellectual ghetto.


Our Reluctancy to Follow Martin Luther King Jr

Taken from NewsOne

One of the best op-eds I’ve read concerning the Trayvon Martin murder (and make no mistake, it’s a murder) comes from AP writer Jesse Washington, titled, “Trayvon Martin, My Son, and the Black Male Code.”

Washington speaks about how every young black man must be on the look out when he’s by himself. When police confront him, he must be extra careful. When walking in a predominately white neighborhood, he must do all that he can to present himself as a non-threat. Why? Because more often than not his mere presence will look suspicious, which could lead to arrests or worse (especially in the tragic case of Trayvon Martin).

It’s safe to say that the Martin murder has helped to polarize our nation even further. On one side, we have people beginning to claim that Zimmerman was justified because he got into a scuffle with the young man. “Obviously, Martin got what was coming to him! He shouldn’t have fought!” But let’s reverse the roles here; Martin, who is black, is following Zimmerman, who is part white and part Hispanic. Zimmerman, fearful for why he’s being followed, begins to run. Martin follows. The two end up in a fight when Zimmerman decides to stand his ground and Martin ends up shooting Zimmerman in “self-defense.” How would the law and populace react there? The “self-defense” argument wouldn’t hold up because Martin had instigated it; besides, don’t we just expect young black males to case out their victims prior to robbing them?

And yet, because it was Zimmerman who hunted down Martin, because it was Zimmerman who chased Martin down, and because it was Martin who stood his ground and died for it, our first reaction is, “Well, he had every right to think that Martin was suspicious looking; he was wearing a hoody!” Hence the unfortunate and sickening necessity for the Black Male Code.

I agree with Washington that not all white people are this way, nor are all people period this way. Likewise, even for those that are, it doesn’t prove they are racist; merely that they’ve bought into certain social stereotypes. I know for myself this incident reminds me of my own reaction a few months ago, one that I’m ashamed of. As I was walking down the street, two young black males who had obviously just gotten out of school began to cross the street to the point where I was walking. My immediate thought was, “Are they going to try to rob me?” Now, to be fair, I’m a bit paranoid and having worked with teenagers I find it hard it trust any teenager, thus I’ve found myself thinking the same way when I see young white males with shaved heads. But the entire point is that my initial reaction isn’t indifference or a realization that they’re probably not going to rob me, but to fear them. Hence the unfortunate and sickening necessity for the Black Male Code.

Of course, as wrong as our society is to harbor these stereotypes, it doesn’t help when so-called “Black Leaders” help to enforce those stereotypes. When we have the New Black Panther party calling for the death of Zimmerman and the Nation of Islam doing the same, how far have we actually progressed as a society? If anything, when people call for such a thing and face no repercussions by our justice department, the oppressed have become the oppressors. We can think back to Mississippi in 1950 and imagine a black male killing a white male. Back then, people would have called for lynch mobs to kill the black male, especially if he escaped prosecution. We view such vigilante justice as abhorrent and racist; but we should view the modern calls for Zimmerman’s head as no less abhorrent and racist.

In short, our society has made great strides for racial equality, but has regressed significantly in the past few decades. The dream of Martin Luther King Jr, that all of us would be judged by the content of our character than the color of our skin, seems to be forgotten and empty on our current generation. Rather, it seems very much that we are still judged on our skin color; if you’re black and walking in a white neighborhood while wearing a hoodie, then you’re “suspicious.” If you’re white then you’re automatically a racist. If you’re black and commit a crime against a white person, then it’s “typical.” If you’re white and commit a crime against a black person, it’s a hate crime, regardless of your motive. In short, we’re still judged by how we look and not by who we are.

I’ve heard white people say, on multiple occasions, “Wow, he’s very articulate for a black man” or “Wow, he’s very intelligent for a black man.” Alternatively, I’ve heard black people say, “Wow, he’s very understanding for a white guy.” Thus, even when we do value the person’s character, we still do it in a racist manner; we’re shocked when someone of a different color than ourselves is actually upstanding and respectable.

It’s hard to see what the ultimate solution is other than sacrificial love. Short of viewing everyone in the way Christ views them, I don’t see how we can move beyond our racism. Short of helping one another out regardless of skin color, of desegregating our churches (the last bastion of segregation), of learning what it’s like to experience our society within one of our various sub-cultures, we cannot fix this problem. The early Church was composed of different races and cultures; it had high society Romans and Germanic Barbarians. It had the noblest of men and even their slaves. It had men and women. It had Europeans and Africans. Looking at the early Church Fathers we see black men (Athanasius was called “the black dwarf”), Arabs, Huns, Goths, Franks, and everything in between. Their unity wasn’t found in their skin color, nor was it found in abandoning what made their culture distinctive; what unified them was Christ and Christ alone. We should seek the same thing if for no other reason so that there are no more Trayvon Martins, no more Black Male Code, no more mobs against either race. Let us seek Christ so that we might one day judge one another on our character rather than our skin color.

Christianity is more than sharing the Gospel

Today I was listening to a professor talk about how our worship of practicality has eroded much in the church. He pointed out that in many Christian churches, segregation is common practice. He talked about how he visited a church where he was told they were casual. So he showed up in his shorts and a t-shirt. He then realized what “casual” meant at this church – $50 shorts, $60 polo shirts, and $150 sandals. And everyone was that way and he, being half Japanese, stood out in the all white congregation. He then stated that our love of the practical in Christianity has forced us into segregation over cultures, languages, and economic status.

The above is something that I hope many Christians can agree upon. Unfortunately, someone in the class asked the question, “But if segregation increases our ability to share the Gospel, isn’t segregation a good thing?” The professor, being far more civil than I could have been, simply said, “No, it’s still wrong.”

One of the problems with conservative Christianity is its love affair with all things practical. Having elaborate services with professional-style music, a dynamic preacher, and ministries for the family and even the family pet are all practical because they can help increase attendance numbers. After all, what is more likely to get a person into the pew; a church where they still sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” and the sermon is basically the preacher throwing raw chunks of theology at the crowd (and this doesn’t have to be done in a high-brow fashion), or the church that ministers to every need of the person for the “sake of the Gospel”?

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