Bishop T.D. Jakes of The Potter's House in Dallas was admittedly shocked by the not guilty verdict given Saturday evening in the George Zimmerman case, and broke away from his normal message during the majority of the worship service on Sunday to discuss the case from the church's stage.
Along with a panel of leaders in various professions, including in law and psychological counseling, and who are church members of The Potter's House, Jakes hit on a wide range of issues that the court case with its racial overtones raised.
"I cannot imagine the devastation of this man and woman (Martin's parents), whose son committed absolutely no crime at all, walking down the street on his way to his daddy's house with some Skittles and a soda, and ends up being followed by someone and ends up with an altercation with someone, and never makes it to his destination," said Jakes, near the beginning of his message. "Those parents are left grieving."
Zimmerman, who is half Hispanic and half Caucasian, was acquitted by a Florida jury on Saturday in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen. Shortly after the verdict, which was announced around 10 p.m. ET., civil rights leaders and critics expressed dismay at the verdict.
On Sunday morning, debates about racial profiling, guns, self-defense laws and the equality of justice that came as the result of the shooting in 2012 continued.
"Regardless of what you think should or should not have been done in that trial, and I have to say, I seldom speak out about a case," Jakes said before the panel discussion. "I seldom take time on a Sunday morning to deal with politics or anything else. I am generally silent because I have an obligation as a pastor to bring you the word of God regardless of what is going on in the times … I grappled with whether or not to be saying anything about this. I feel like for the most part that when you come to church you come to get the good news of Jesus Christ.
"But I cannot ignore the obligation that I have to you … it would be disingenuous of me to not tell you quite honestly and quite succinctly that I was stunned, shocked, [and] speechless about the outcome of this trial," he continued. "Maybe it turned out for you just the way you wanted it to, and that's fine. I am not here to change your mind, but what makes this country great is that I have the right to my opinion, you have the right to your opinion."
Jakes said that since the verdict he received more than 100 calls from all over the country from pastors and friends who are in tears as a result of the decision.
"I think it is an oversimplification of the truth to say this is totally about racism," he said. "I think that all people should be concerned. All people of all colors should be concerned."
He suggested that perhaps the media unnecessarily focused its coverage of the trial on race.
"But every parent who has a teenager, who dresses in some stereotypical way, needs to be a little alarmed that we live in a country where if that teenager is followed and ends up in a fight that we have now said it's okay to kill him if you lose the fight," Jakes explained and after pausing said, "…even though you are bigger and older and carrying a gun."
Jakes said that despite the criticism of pastors and Christians in general with associations to national issues, politicians, and political movements, the Church needs to continue speaking the truth of the Gospel.
"We sit there and watch it (injustices) and we don't say anything. I want to get rid of this lynching mentality where we come out and watch people burn up and don't say anything about it, and [instead] bring power to the church, where the church begins to speak up and speak its conviction," he said. "Even if we don't all agree as Christians, that's okay. What's important is that we be heard, that we be considered, that we be reflected upon."
Before ending in prayer, Jakes, who told new guests to the church that they had just witnessed an entirely different service, perhaps the most unique in the church's history, said he was concerned about what the verdict might mean to future cases similar in nature.
"Once you redefine something on the books (law), what happens when a woman is going through a parking garage and somebody follows her? And she's taken some kind of defense training and she tries to defend herself and she gets shot to death," Jakes insisted. "Now we have a case on the books that defends the one who shot them. ... Now you have changed the standard and even if you think it was right in this case, what happens to the precedence that you set for the next case? For someone that has no weapon and tries to fight back, do you get to kill me because I can fight?"
Jakes concluded the service by saying that the Church is in a critical time in history when it's important to accept differences of opinion and at the same time, worship God together despite those differences.