Phelan M. Ebenhack, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Many pastors around the country changed their Sunday sermons to address the wide range of emotions unleashed by the verdict in the Trayvon Martin murder trial.
Not long after reports that the jury acquitted shooter George Zimmerman in the death of Martin, a young black teenager, pastors either responded to pleas from their congregations or were moved on their own to address the racially charged issue.
The Rev. Tony Lee told the Huffington Post that his phone was "blowing up" with text messages about the verdict late Saturday.
Realizing that he was going to have to preach in the morning, the pastor began thinking of what he would say to his largely black congregation, the Community of Hope outside of Washington, D.C. Many in the congregation have lost loved ones to gun violence, and are simultaneously grieving and seething from what is being widely viewed in the black community as an injurious miscarriage of justice.
"I knew I would be wearing my hoodie while preaching," Lee said, "and I wrote to all the pastoral staff that hoodies are welcome."
Martin was wearing a hoodie when he got into an altercation with Zimmerman, a Neighborhood Watch volunteer who fatally shot the unarmed 17-year-old in Sanford, Fla. The February 2012 killing unleashed debate across the U.S. over racial profiling, self-defense and equal justice that continued in houses of worship on Sunday.
Bishop T.D. Jakes of The Potter's House in Dallas told the Christian Post that he received more than 100 calls after the verdict from pastors and friends all over the country.
"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 told his congregation that he normally avoids politics from his pulpit to focus on "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 said. "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."
Pastors in the Washington, D.C., area told their congregants that ultimate justice lies with God, according to the Washington Post.
"Earlier Sunday, hundreds beneath the bright white dome of Foundry United Methodist Church in Dupont heard Nelson Mandela’s prison chaplain, a South African bishop who was in town to give a sermon on hospitality. The Foundry congregation is largely white.
“ ‘The outcome of the trial in Sanford is a troubling thing, because it’s exposed our addiction to racial division,' said the Rev. Peter Storey. 'We will see what the Holy Spirit does with this painful thing, if it can be turned to God’s providence for healing.’ ”
Greg Carey, a religion scholar who also blogs for the Huffington Post, wrote that the Zimmerman trial exposes racial divisions that are relevant to the church.
"The unity of the church requires that white Christians truly honor the reality of our neighbors' experience. We cannot isolate our spiritual lives from the rest of our experience. We cannot say, 'We love you, but we don't believe your stories.' Shallow reconciliation will not do. We cannot expect to pray with black, Latino/a, or Asian American neighbors while we tolerate the absolute negation of their humanity."
Writing for the Christian Post, psychologist Christena Cleveland said pastors can no longer ignore the cultural differences within their communities.
"In order to minister effectively, in order to be neighborly, in order to love across differences well, privileged Christians need to practice standing in solidarity with diverse people."
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