Trayvon Martin, Race, and the Gospel

Racial tensions continue to rise just as I prepare to go to New York next week to talk with Anthony Bradley and Tim Keller about race and the Christian. I watched a video on Wednesday of an African American pastor who said that recently he was denied service at a convenience store. The woman behind the counter said, “We don’t serve your kind.” That’s 2012 not 1962.

From Miami to New York to the Twin Cities frustration over the Trayvon Martin case grows. Seventeen year old Martin was killed on February 26 in Sanford, Florida by George Zimmerman. Martin was black. Zimmerman is Hispanic.

Zimmerman was a volunteer neighborhood watchman in a gated community, armed with a semiautomatic handgun. Martin was unarmed. Zimmerman claims self-defense.

What has enflamed this situation are the pieces that simply don’t add up. Zimmerman is a hundred pounds bigger and ten years older. He had the gun, not Martin. Reportedly he has been arrested before on assault charges. As he was following Martin in his truck, he called 911 and was told “we don’t need you to do that.” The police were on the way. But Zimmerman followed him anyway. His comments on the 911 recording (I listened to them) suggested possible racial frustration that “they always get away.” Martin’s call to his girlfriend suggested he was troubled by being followed. Not all the witnesses corroborate Zimmerman’s story.

In spite of all this, Zimmerman was never arrested, and is now in hiding. He was not routinely tested for toxicity. And there appears to have been little effort to discern if his self-defense claim is valid. The author of the stand-your-ground self-defense law in Florida said that the law was never meant to cover a situation where the assailant is being followed.

How Christians Should Think

Of the dozens of things that Christians need to be thinking and saying about this, some are awakened by what the Bible says in Hebrews 13:3, “Remember those who . . . are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”

In the context, this probably refers to persecuted fellow Christians. But notice the nature of the argument: You also are in the body. The appeal is to heartfelt empathy with the mistreated, because you have a body!

Not a white body. Not a black body. Just a human body. This is a cry for Christian whites and blacks and Asians and Latinos to feel the human flesh on their faith in Jesus. Trayvon’s flesh. His dad’s flesh. George’s flesh. His dad’s flesh. That kind of getting in their flesh will yield a long night’s groaning.

Jesus died for sinners to forgive sins through faith. He died to reconcile sinners to God. That’s all of us — all who receive Jesus as the stunning treasure he is. Stunning because “You were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every people” (Revelation 5:9). Every people. At the cost of being slain.

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.

Being a Christian means being crucified with Christ. My old arrogant self. My old ethnocentric self. My old fearful, suspicious, unloving self. That self died with Jesus. Jesus said, “Take up your cross daily.” That means daily reckoning my old self dead.

In Love and for Love

Jesus died in love and for love. Love bears all things, hopes all things, believes all things, endures all things. It’s not gullible. But it would rather be gullible than guilty of murder. Jesus-like love — Jesus-empowered love — would rather be shamed than shoot.

O what a difference it would have made if George Zimmerman had thought: “I have a gun. For Christ’s sake — for the sake of love — I better not follow this young man. I might wind up using it. Law enforcement is on the way. I have done my duty. Lord, I pray that this man will be treated with respect, and that justice will be done, and that your name will be great in this place.”

Evidently that was not his prayer. Now we face the consequences. What are you praying?

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John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.