Woe to those who make unjust laws

Sharon Church, Social Justice 61 Comments

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A couple years ago Ike and I lived in an apartment complex inhabited by mostly white families on the North Shore of Chicagoland. One summer we planned to go out of town for a couple weeks, so we needed someone to check our mail. We called some former neighbors of ours who still lived nearby, and asked if their oldest son would mind dropping by every couple of days to clear out the mailbox.

Surprisingly, they were nervous about the idea. In particular, they were concerned about their son’s safety. They worried that someone would see this young man, assume he was up to no good, and instigate trouble. Although he lived within walking distance of our apartment, located in a very nice town, our friends saw the potential for real danger.

Why? Not because they were being overprotective, but because they’re African American. And people get nervous when young black men are around.

Up to that moment, the danger facing a black boy in a white neighborhood had never even crossed my mind. Typically it’s white folks who feel unsafe in black neighborhoods, not the other way around. Or so I thought.

Since then, I’ve come to see things differently.

Ever since Trayvon Martin was killed, I have listened to my African American friends share similar stories. What I have learned is that my black brothers and sisters are experiencing America much differently than I am. On a daily basis, Americans of color witness the fear and prejudice that continues to attach itself to race. Whether it is overt racism, or subtler looks of suspicion and distrust, my African American friends are experiencing our society in a fundamentally different way.

And that’s why the Trayvon Martin case struck such a chord. No matter how you dissect it legally, it’s a familiar story to many African Americans. For many young, black men in this country, they have experienced similar altercations and miscommunications as a direct result of their skin color. Consequently, the Zimmerman verdict felt like the courts had declared, “Your experience will continue to remain invisible. Because nobody cares.”

Unfortunately, a lot of Christians have responded to the verdict by focusing on the technicalities. But oh how I wish they wouldn’t! This approach is like comforting a bereft child on the loss of her mother with heartless clichés like, “Heaven just gained an angel,” or “It’s ok, God is in control.” Such are the words of one who has not entered into the space of the suffering. Such words come from comforters who have never placed themselves in the shoes of the grieving. Such words, in the moment, are empty.

Likewise, the technicalities of the trial are really beside the point. They don’t strike at the core of why our black brothers and sisters are in anguish. Instead, our brothers and sisters grieve because the story is so common. Systemic racism persists, is even perpetuated by unjust laws, and many Christians willfully choose to ignore it.

But here’s the thing, when we choose to ignore the voices of those who are crying out, when we blind ourselves with empty discussions about whether Zimmerman did or did not violate the Stand Your Ground law, when we refuse to join in their lament, or acknowledge the shortcomings in our justice system, we do so in opposition to the heart of God.

Throughout the Old Testament, God sent prophet after prophet to rebuke His people for their neglect of the poor and the oppressed. The entire book of Amos is devoted to this end. In Isaiah 10 we find this frighteningly timely warning:

Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless. (v. 1-2)

God doesn’t simply care about racism and injustice in our country. He is ANGRY about it. It is an affront to His character, His intention for creation, and His sacrifice on the cross. And for that reason, it should matter to us as well.

Friends, we need to listen to the Americans who are experiencing this country differently than we are. We need to hear from those who are wounded and living in fear. Because if we don’t, if we choose to believe that racism is dead and that African Americans are simply making something out of nothing,  WE WILL HAVE TO GIVE AN ACCOUNT.

There will come a day when each of us will stand before God and explain why, when our brothers cried out for justice, we retreated into arguments about politics and the law. We will have to explain why we passively allowed injustices to continue, mistaking passivity for innocence. And we will have to account for why we overlooked the injuries of our brothers and sisters in Christ, pretending it had nothing to do with us, even though Scripture explicitly says that it does (1 Corinthians 12).

My dear friends, I say this in love, but the divide between black and white in our nation and in our churches is wrong. It is sin. It needs to change, and it starts with YOU.

So my challenge to you is this: as you continue to reflect on the verdict of the Zimmerman trial, stop spouting off your opinions on Facebook or in discussions with people who already agree with you. Instead, sit down with a friend who is black and listen to them. Ask them to share their feelings about the case. Ask them to describe their experience of being a black person in America. Just listen. Truly hear them.

Until you have done that, your love for them will be nothing more than a “noisy gong”, and your opinion no value at all.  So I close with this simple question from the prophet Isaiah, who preached in a similar age:

Who among you will give ear to this? Who will listen and hear for the time to come?

Comments 61

  1. Mechelle Garrett

    Sharon, I have read many articles, blogs, and commentaries regarding the verdict since Saturday night. I’ve agreed with some and disagreed with many. Your blog, however, brought tears to my eyes. Thank you my sister in Christ for saying exactly what we’re trying to say. I pray people are listening.

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    1. Saiko Woods

      Hello Sister! Praise God for your sensitivity and empathy to US who ARE your brothers and sisters by the blood of Christ. Your words were the balm of Gilead to my soul!

      I’m going to be hosting my radio show on blogtalk radio tonight at 8:30pm EST and would be honored if you would call in to offer words of exhortation and encouragement to the body of Christ.

      The call in number for you and others who are wanting to join the discussion is 858-365-5507.

      Topic is: How Does the Zimmerman Verdict Affect the Church?

  2. Glenda

    Sharon, since responses to the verdict have been so deeply polarizing, I have wept over the heartbreaking chasm of lack of understanding, especially between brothers and sisters in Christ whose skin tones are different from each other. I have been pondering how to have a meaningful conversation with some of my closest black Sisters in Christ. But I think your blog has provided an answer. I really just need to sit down beside my Sisters and listen to them. And so I shall. Thank you for reaching beyond the “noise” and bringing insight to draw hearts together. How desperately we need to find ways to bridge these gaps!

  3. Janene Blaine

    Being a single mother of black boys, I on purpose raised them to stay out of trouble, get great grades, they only listened to christian music till they were about 10, no violent games, videos, music. They are, both, now in college. One at WVU the other is at Purdue. I did what God gave me charge over, but I worry every time they are out of my sight, just because they are black males. They have never been in any trouble, but I know the wrong person won’t ask their background, but will look at their skin and assume the worse about them… now they say “if I assume wrong and am scared I can kill them”. My heart is heavy for my sons and all that may have a bulls eye on their forehead. Thank you for saying what we feel. Especially as a Believing African American!

  4. greg_hahn

    Sure, Sharon. The part I’m struggling with is focusing on the technicalities of the case. That’s what I’ve been doing- that’s all I’ve been doing.

    So aside from that- something bigger is going on here. No matter who bears guilt for what- this was a trigger for a history of old wounds.

    I don’t know what to do about that, other than say I’m sorry.

    1. Mark Blanks

      I don’t think there is a need to appoligize. I think there is a need to recognize this still exist today. There are many White people who accuse Blacks of being cry babies and making this racism stuff up. I am a Black man in my late 50’s upper-middle class and conservatively dressed. I lived in predominitely White communities all my life. I have experienced the rude fear of a Black Man treatment all my life, even now at my old age.

      1. greg_hahn

        Well, yes Mark, of course it still exists today. The Paula Deen story is an obvious example, and that was NOT about her saying a word 30 years ago. That court complaint is FILLED with accounts of TERRIBLE racist situations. http://es.scribd.com/doc/148781831/Jackson-v-Deen-Et-Al-Complaint

        That being said- while we as white people need to understand the pain that black people feel when the case “goes against the black man yet again”- you should understand that we can’t feel the same pain, so we can’t view cases like the Zimmerman/ Martin case through the same lenses. Regardless of the color of anyone involved, it seems like the neighborhood watch guy may have been justified in shooting the guy with the Skittles. *May*. Or maybe not. But as you know, you aren’t supposed to convict a man for a crime that you can’t prove against him, no matter waht you suspect may be the case.

        But given that one of our great concerns here is the anguish of the black community that has been stirred up by the incident, shouldn’t we be directing some ire towards those that stirred up the pain?

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          Sharon

          Greg, I agree and disagree. You and I will never know what it is like to be black in this country, so you are right that there is an extent to which we will never feel quite the same pain. However, Scripture also exhorts us to mourn with those who mourn, so one thing you might consider doing is to ask the Holy Spirit for help. Ask Him to help break your heart for what breaks God’s heart. God has certainly used this case to open my eyes and heart to a wound that I had never seen before. No matter what you think about the case, it started an important conversation that needs to be had, and that’s the direction we need to now turn to.

  5. Mark Blanks

    What is so sad is some people will never understand this article. There are also those who never experience this, they will refuse that this exist today.

  6. Mark Blanks

    Thank You for this article Sharon. It warms my heart that someone other than a Black person gets it. I live and work around many conservative closed minded people in a small town in Indiana. As a result of the Paula Dean story and the Zimmerman trial I hear a lot of bigoted statements in the past few weeks. I’m not angry. I feel pity people that say cruel hateful things. I pray for them and hope one day all people will have enough compassion to understand those who are different than they are.

  7. Sara D

    Thank you for these words. It is so important to listen and understand. I have empathy, but realize I’m only beginning to scratch the surface of understanding what this country is like for black men and women.

  8. Kate

    Thank you for intriguing reflections. I appreciate them. However, I am a little concerned that you brush off the “technicalities” of this case. Those of us who ARE concerned with the technicalities are not “retreating into law and politics” to avoid discussions of racial justice (at least, I’m not). Mr. Zimmerman was not proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Plain and simple. Therefore, it isn’t right for us to turn him into a criminal–or his actions into the quintessential hate crime–just because of social pressure or mob mentality. Isn’t that exactly what happened to Jesus before Pilate? Pilate even declared that Jesus had committed no crime, but the masses would not be silenced. Obviously Zimmerman is no Jesus but he’s also not guilty of a crime, at least “technically.” I don’t believe it is right to use him as the whipping boy.

    I understand the call to discussion and compassion. I understand that many black Americans live in a very different reality than I do. However, I believe this was the “wrong case at the right time.” Blacks are angry (quite rightfully so) about injustice, but I think this was simply a case of convenience. Nevertheless, please do not dismiss those of us who do engage in discussions of law and politics, because the Bible is not silent on secular government and, in fact, commands us to be obedient to it.

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      Sharon

      Kate, my intent was not to dismiss those who engage in discussions of the technicalities. However, if that is the ONLY discussion that you are having, I would argue that you are missing out on something important. This case launched a much broader discussion about what it means to be black in this country, and the Zimmerman verdict doesn’t change the fact that the conversation needs to be had. Even if Trayvon Martin had never been killed, this is something that our nation needed to address. Perhaps, just perhaps, God is using this case to open the eyes of Americans who haven’t been paying attention. My only request is that you would be open to hear what black Americans are saying about their more general experience in this country.

    2. Susan

      Dearest Kate, thank you for your honesty. I find it interesting, as a member of the Body of Christ, that you tend to dismantle each empathetic statement by following it with a “but” or “however.” It makes me question whether or not you are making a sincere effort to just be still, listen, and consider another perspective, as Sharon is suggesting, or simply seeking to justify the status quo. If I may play devil’s advocate (for lack of my knowing a better term), how do you feel about abortion? About the fact that millions of women all over the world elect to abort healthy fetuses rather than give birth to them? According to the laws of secular government, this is technically lawful, and the procurers of abortion are guilty of no wrong doing– “plain and simple,” right? Are ardent pro-life advocates wrong to negatively characterize their actions? Is pro-life activism an example of “mob mentality?” Did Hitler technically do anything wrong? Pre-Civil War slave owners? Rendering to Caesar what is his speaks more to not contravening laws– our reasonable (minimum) obligation. We can always do more, i.e. go above and beyond the minimum legal requirement. Because man’s law says I am *permitted* to kill in defense of my person or possessions, does not mean I am *required* to do so, I can choose to humble myself, de-escalate, seek mediation, or simply walk away. If it is wrong to use Mr. Zimmerman as the “whipping boy” for social injustice, is it not equally wrong to dismiss young Mr. Martin as its ultimate sacrifice or, worse yet, collateral damage? I do get your distinctions drawn between justice and the letter of the law, but analyzing only from the world’s point of view is a slippery slope for Christians. Jesus came to facilitate the writing of God’s code on our hearts– no tablets (law books) necessary, but it is up to us to desire and apply discernment in order for this to work as God intended. Do you feel that the law applicable to the Zimmerman verdict is an unjust one? If so, does The Church have a responsibility to lobby against it? Thanks for listening.

    3. Mechelle Garrett

      Kate,
      I don’t think Sharon is brushing off the “technicalities.” Here’s the other side of the coin. White people get to consider the technicalities only in any case. Because unless socio-economic or class because a barrier to justice, the law “works” for you. We all know that the law is open to interpretation. The prosecution/state decides what cases to try, how to try those cases, and on what laws in which to base those cases. Here’s the thing. Those laws are open to interpretation, and for people of color, race/ethnicity greatly influences how those laws are interpreted. We, black people, are not upset about “the verdict.” We are upset about all the ugly history behind the verdict. The ugly history that influenced this case from the moment Zimmerman saw Martin.

  9. Tex Hayes

    I agree with Sharon’s statements but, there are entities that are envolved that fuel the fire of racism. We the people are the ones who need to sit down and hear each others voices and talk like human beings. What we need to do is stop listening to the media and people like Al Sharton and Jessie Jackson, and the government. I say this because all of them, in my opinion live off of racism. I don’t get up every day and think,”oh no” what are the black people going to do today. I don’t even think about race. I served this country for twenty years and I trusted and loved all my black brothers in arm. I covered there back as well as those men covering mine. And I will tell you, not one time did I think about race. And today I still try to stay in touch with these guys. I am sure you have heard it before, I judge a person by thier character and nothing else. But, when you have the media showing nothing but one side of a story, that bothers me. And it doesn’t help with the problem of racism. There will always be racism in the world, no matter what we try to do about it. And there are two sides to every story. Take the good over the bad and that would be a great start. And to my friend Greg Vancaster that sent me this blog, we are friends and always will be.

    1. Susan

      Mr. Hayes, the fact that you made a reference to general “entities” and “the media” and then proceeded to cite only Black examples of such, i.e. Sharpton and Jackson, may be indicative of some degree of racial bias on your part. Many White Americans are also involved in organizing and participating in protests, and other White Americans have been very vocal about “the other side of the story” as you call it, e.g. Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter, et.al. Regardless, aren’t these individuals also “we the people” and entitled to participate in civil discourse? You say you “don’t even think about race,” but one of the salient points of this article is that perhaps the time has come to do more of precisely that. Call me an idealist, but prayerfully, there will NOT always be racism in the world. To “take the good over the bad” first requires that we are able to discern between the two. Agape.

    2. Mechelle Garrett

      Mr. Hayes,
      First, I want to thank you for serving our country–and for 20 years! You rock. Second, your comment stating you don’t even think about race is part of what we are trying to say. You’re a white male; you don’t have to think about race. The rest of us do–every day. Like Sharon said, whether it’s overt racism or subtle looks of suspicion or distrust, or even looks of disgust, we are reminded that we are different. And I want us, all of us, to think about racial identities and the different ethnicities that exit in our country. However, I would like to see us use those differences to come together, to share, to learn and grow, not use them to keep us apart.

  10. Benita

    PROFOUND! God bless you for such an elegant perception. Hopefully this will, at the least, spark some much needed positive dialogue.

  11. Andrew Van Leerdam

    Wow, I am a Canadian and here in Western Canada, we do not have such race issues with our Black brothers and Sisters, such as you in the States. However, here in Western Canada our Indigenous Brothers and Sisters are commonly looked on with suspicion and kept down by the ‘Man’ and by society.The end of racism beings and ends with us. Are we to be like the rich Scribe who beckoned Jesus to allow him to continue in his ways so he could continue his way of life? Join the throng of people who will one day say… neither slave nor greek nor female or male… for all are one creation in Christ. Sharon, you rock?

  12. Marc

    Honestly, I’m having a difficult time with the reaction to the verdict and the calls for “justice for Trayvon”. Because of the history of racial injustice and the racism that still exists in society, there has been a rush to judgment by many, and an assumption that Zimmermann was suspicious of Trayvon because he was black, was predisposed to shoot him because he was black, that the police were reluctant to prosecute because he was black, and that the resulting verdict was because Trayvon was black.

    The unfortunate truth though is that although one could surely find pages of incidents and trials for which those assumptions hold true, the evidence simply doesn’t support all those assumptions in this case.

    Could it all have been Zimmermann’s fault? Yes. Could he have overreacted to what would have otherwise just ended up with a broken and bloodied nose? Yes. But one could just as easily surmise that Trayvon overreacted to Zimmermans suspicions and was determined to teach him a lesson he wouldn’t soon forget, and one does not have to look very far to find examples of cases where people end up beaten to death in situations like that.

    Only Zimmermann and Trayvon really know what happened that night, and Trayvon can’t tell us his side of the story. What we’re left with is Zimmermann’s story and the evidence, and despite the best efforts of the prosecution the evidence simply did not support a conviction. Finding Zimmerman guilty when the evidence did not support it would not be “justice for Trayvon”. You can’t achieve justice for one man by committing an injustice against another, that’s vengeance, not justice.

    In my opinion, there are plenty (much too many) of actual clear cut racial crimes in the USA for us to assume and react as if this is one of them just because the media and influential leaders and celebs want us to. For those of us who looked at the details carefully and agree with the verdict the technicalities are not beside the point, so wouldn’t ignoring the open questions regarding what happened that night and joining with those crying out for “justice” become just another form of a heartless cliché?

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      Sharon

      Marc, I think it is important to make a distinction between those who are calling for a different verdict, and those who are simply mourning the entire incident and calling attention to this aspect of racism. I think they are actually two different movements (though overlapping at times) so I would hate for you to tune out those who are mourning racism in our country (and crying out for more attention to it) because you are conflating their grief with a movement to overturn the verdict. They are not the same.

  13. Steven Weathers

    Sharon,
    I told someone what I was preaching on tomorrow (Christian Response to the Zimmerman/Martin incident) and they asked me whether I had read your blog. I told them I had not. Now that I have read it, let me just say:

    Great post and Thank you. Sometimes when we talk about race you don’t know if others are listening. It is obvious that you and Ike were listening years ago. In fact, Steven goes to work for a gentleman, a friend of ours who lives in a predominantly white neighborhood. Last week when I took him to work with our friend, he opened the door to our friend’s home without knocking or ringing. (Our friend had told Steven earlier, by phone, that he wouldn’t be readily available but to come on over. Steven did not think twice about opening the door and going in). Just as I was concerned a few years ago with people seeing him at your mailbox, I reminded him saying: “Son, come back out. You can’t do that (open doors with out notice) in this neighborhood. People (the neighbors) don’t know who you are and might think that you are breaking and entering.” I definitely want to believe the best about people, but even today we still inform him of how people perceive him as a “black” person.

    That said, my heart is still saddened by the Zimmerman/Martin incident. For everybody: His parents (who had to experience what other parents dread), the nation (who has not come to grips with its ethno-racial reality), even Zimmerman (because he either gets what he did and is glad he’s off the hook concerning race and otherness in this country, he just doesn’t get it); or because of the strange and strong insensitivity of certain Christians who express vitriolic, degrading, or even just patronizing comments about Martin or blacks in general. Your article does indeed touch on the reason why many African Americans are upset and also provides a sound solution (for individuals) to address ethno-racial division in our nation. Soon, we will see a day where God will correct these things. But we do long for them now. In the mean time, your blog is a breather in potentially noxious times.Thanks

  14. Douglas Hill

    Hi Sharon,
    Your blog was forwarded to me from another African American friend on facebook. Firstly, blessings from God almighty upon you and your entire family. If our wonderful sisters and brothers (from another mother – LOL) do not stand up in exactly the way you’ve prescribed: LISTEN, then God cannot reveal himself in our every merging lives. Thank you so much for not only your concern, but your love and your out-reaching friendship. You’ve gained another friend in me (whom you’ve never met)!! Big hugz. God bless my sister-in-Christ

  15. Dawn Sloan

    This summary is simply amazing, insightful and wonderful. This is poetic at the same time, the reality that needs to be said and read by all. What am I doing about the situation as a Christian and as an African American? Am I going to sweep this under a rug, hope someone else “picks up this cross” and carry it- or am I going to speak out about an injustice that was not only served to Trayvon but also the injustice that is served everyday in our judicial system in a way that can be understood by all. Ms. Sharon, I hope and pray my words come out as elegant when asked about this subject and they leave open hearts and ears and insight change in us all. Thank you for sharing.

  16. Author Souraya Christine

    Thank you, Sharon. It’s very comforting to know that some people of other races have some understanding of what we, as black Americans, face. It really gets to me when people who are not black say stupid things as if racism doesn’t exist, or that we don’t have it any more difficult than our white counterparts.

  17. Mike

    Wow! What a great blog post! I’m a 47 old year black man with several friends of different races and many that are white, but unfortunately I still carry an insecurity that keeps me from feeling comfortable in situations like picking up mail in a friends mostly white neighborhood because of suspicion, but a sentence you wrote is so much more profound than i expected to hear tonight “Whether it is overt racism, or subtler looks of suspicion and distrust, my African American friends are experiencing our society in a fundamentally different way”. That means a lot to know that is understood by a lot of white brothers and sisters. Thank you for your awesome words and bless you!

  18. Beverly Thomas-Brewer

    Thank you my sister in Christ your wisdom bring light to a very depressing week. At first I just started to shake and then I cried so hard just like I cried for the babies of the Shandy Hook killings when will people realized that the commandment of God is “Thou Shall not KIll” really is a law that never should be surpassed. I thank Jesus for your insight, love and grace that you shared in the blog posting…. You are my sister in Christ and I did make the move to attend an intergrated church because God of creation made us all in his image so what does that say about GOD he’s all knowing and he’s every color………thanks again for your thoughtful message it really touch my soul♥

  19. Angie

    What a wonderful article! I appreciate the fact that it’s not necessarily about race but understanding a different perspective in the HUMAN experience. So many people get hung up on race because it is an uncomfortable topic, but if we truly learn each other’s experiences, which are different as a result of our race, gender, morals, etc… then we will truly be spiritual beings doing what we were put here to do. This was eloquently written and clearly sincere. Thank you.

  20. Minnie Robin Field

    Thank You. I am so moved by your conviction and reperesentation of Christ’s Love. That’s the second greatest commandment that we love one another as we love ourselves. You’ve stepped outside of the box, and I pray now for a
    spiritual hedge of protection against any weapon that may come against you. Where God’s spirit is, there is FREEDOM.

  21. Sonja Rodgers

    May God bless you always!!! When one has so many emotions running together, it can become difficult to articulate your feelings and experiences in a manner that will truly express the “heart” of the matter. Sharon, you have done exactly and so much more!!! This is what should be plastered across the television screens and played in churches and every place for all to hear and digest. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!

  22. Rose

    I am a Christian and I do feel heartache for my black brothers and sisters and some of the injustices they’ve had to face in our country. However, I feel God’s heart is just as broken over the death threats leveled against the Zimmerman side, the high levels of black violent crime that have made even someone who loves the Lord afraid when she sees a black person coming towards her, especially at night, especially in Chicago, instances where a white person was unjustly treated in the name of political correctness, or the school I grew up in where whites were regularly bullied and beaten up by blacks simply because we were white. (I was one of them). And yet, whenever I try to share this, I get angry and dismissive responses rather than compassion for the fear and trauma I went though facing this everyday. I think God sees both sides of hurt and has compassion for both. I know many white people who have had similar experiences but are too afraid to talk about it. As Christians, we need to champion all sides where pain and injustice are felt.

  23. Tammi

    This is so thoughtful and caring. You know this message is coming from the heart of God. Thank you for posting this. I just wish everyone could read this article. This is beautifully put and extremely well versed. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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