Florida churches and prominent evangelical Christian leaders from across the nation are joining the calls for justice for slain teenager Trayvon Martin, with the issue of race dominating discussions about the African-American student's fatal shooting at the hands of a white Hispanic male. However, some Christians say the case is more about social justice than it is race.
The culmination of nationwide protests over Martin's shooting death was a Thursday rally in Sanford, where some of the nation's top luminaries, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, called for justice in the case – the arrest of shooter George Zimmerman – alongside thousands who gathered to express their support for the Martin family.
"Trayvon could have been any one of our sons, he could have been any one of us," Sharpton said during the rally. "Trayvon represents a reckless disregard for our lives that we've seen for too long."
Sharpton added that Zimmerman "should have been arrested that night."
Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watchman, was not arrested due to Florida's "Stand Your Ground Law," which allows residents to use deadly force to defend themselves in order to "prevent death or great bodily harm." Zimmeran reportedly told police officers he shot Martin in self -defense, as he feared for his life. According to reports, Zimmerman followed Martin, despite police ordering him not to, as he walked through the gated community.
While some observers have expressed concern that racism played a factor in Zimmerman shooting Martin, others have expressed concern that white Christians have failed to actively involve themselves in the case.
Mark I. Pinsky, a former religion reporter for the Orlando Sentinel and author of Amazing Gifts: Stories of Faith, Disability, and Inclusion, wrote Thursday in a column published by CNN: "Few if any white clergy have spoken up to demand that the killing be fully investigated. None can be seen standing by the African-American preachers calling for justice, or marching with Martin's family members."
However, Pinksy would appear to be wrong. Not only has evangelical Christian minister Franklin Graham joined in the call for justice for Martin during a recent meeting with the NAACP, but prominent Christian minister, John Piper of the Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minn., has also addressed the issue in a recent blog post, in which he condemns racial prejudices.
Piper, who has admitted to being racist earlier in his life, wrote: "Jesus died and rose again to say no to racial reactions that result in dead boys. Not just to say no. But to empower no. And the power is not in shedding others' blood but his own. The power is in humbling every race to be more suspicious of our own racial instincts than we are of others' racial intentions."
In addition, the Florida Council of Churches issued a statement expressing compassion with the Martin family and calling for "just prosecution" for Zimmeran, who fatally shot the black teen as he walked through a Sandford gated residential community. "We pray for the family's peace of mind in knowing of the love of God which surpasses death and for justice to be pursued in this tragic mishap so that it does not happen to another family anywhere in Florida," the statement reads.
Alan Brumback, senior pastor of Central Baptist Church in Sanford, was in attendance at Thursday's rally at the invitation of Sharpton and local African-American churches. The pastor's church is "primarily white, but not completely," he emphasized in a discussion with The Christian Post on Friday.
The pastor revealed that he was "the only Caucasian on stage."
"They asked me to pray primarily for the peace of the city of Sanford," Pastor Brumback said. "It was a full embrace."
However, Pastor Brumback, whose church is about 30 percent black and 10 percent Hispanic, believes the Martin-Zimmerman case is an issue of social justice and not a "racial issue."
"There is a definite desire of all Christian churches in the city of Sanford to be involved, because there is a race aspect to this, even though I don't see it as a racial issue, I see it more as a Gospel and social justice issue," he told CP. "Some pastors of some denominations pray for it but they are not being overly involved. A lot of it is just because there's some division in town. As a pastor of a Southern Baptist church – we have been actively praying for them [the family]."
The pastor noted, however, that he was not "trying to get involved in 'political wrangling'" of the case as much as "to be there to share a word of comfort to the family," and to "speak a word of the Gospel to bring reconciliation to the community."
"I think the only thing that's going to really resolve [the disagreements over the nature of the tragedy] and bring reconciliation in Sanford, it's going to have to be the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If there is one person who can understand losing a son in a very unjust way, it's God the father. He spared his son for us," he told CP.
"This is not a black-white issue, but this is an issue of the Gospel; it's the issue of sin" he added.
Brumback's Central Baptist Church is holding a special prayer for Martin on Saturday.