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Trayvon Martin and the Adventist Imperative

I’m not surprised that I wasn’t surprised by some of the responses to the announcement that Elder Dan Jackson called for justice in the Trayvon Martin case. I knew he would have an audacious amen corner, but I also knew that those among us who caucus with the raucous right would blast him for taking a stand.

Standing Their Ground

The party of the insulted held no punches. How dare the President make such a premature proclamation! Shouldn’t he wait until all the facts are in? Doesn’t he know that Trayvon Martin has been accused of graffiti and possession of an empty weed bag? Didn’t he hear Geraldo Rivera’s “he deserved it” comment? Hasn’t he heard of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” laws that enabled Mr. Zimmerman to walk away from the incident without repercussion? Is he so naïve that he can’t see that his stance aligns him with the liberals who want us to pay for abortions and contraceptives so that our youngsters can engage in hedonistic sex?

Those who symbolically hoisted our regional leader on their triumphant shoulders were equally vocal.  After years of maintaining a muzzled position on social issues, we finally have a President who is not afraid to sound the trumpet. Why should we sit on the sidelines when countless citizens around the country have taken a courageous stand? Who says that the church must stay silent on sensitive social issues when scores of our congregations are frequented by youth from the hood, like Trayvon, whose love for hoodies don’t make them hoods? Who declared that the church should be so heavenly minded that we are impotent of all earthly good?

My Facebook friends are well aware of where I stand on the matter. Yes, to the delight of my daughter and the embarrassment of my son, I took a low-pixeled picture in a hoodie! I did it because on cool and drizzly nights when I walk the streets of my neighborhood, I often wear a hooded sweat suit with the hood drawn over my head and could easily be mistaken for a heavier version of the right-wing caricature of Trayvon. I did it because my son’s hoodies have had places of prominence in his wardrobe (in fact, the best picture in his high school senior portraits is one of him posing in a hoodie). I did it because I don’t believe anyone should be tried and sentenced solely on the basis of his/her choice in wardrobe.

Facts and Fiction

It is true that we still don’t know all the details about the Trayvon Martin case, but there are some irrefutable facts that suggest that this killing was indeed murder. George Zimmerman has a recorded history of violence. George Zimmerman was told by the police dispatcher to stop pursuing the young man. Before hanging up, George Zimmerman is heard defiantly stating that these [expletive + racial slur] are always getting away with crimes. George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin. Again, none of us knows all the details, but given what is currently public knowledge, there is enough for even an incompetent prosecutor to make a case—we have means, motive and opportunity!

Nonetheless, in spite of the obvious, there are still some who have bought the twisted rhetoric of George Zimmerman’s family and supporters who are pathetically trying to portray him as the victim. Totally ignoring the fact that their kinsman and colleague was the one who was stalking Trayvon, they want us to believe that any violent confrontation that occurred that evening was instigated by the 150 pound teenager.  If they had the power of resurrection, it is Martin and not Zimmerman who would be on trial. I was stunned to hear the distorted reasoning of Larry Pratt, Executive Director of Gun Owners of America, who opined that Mr. Zimmerman had a right to shoot Mr. Martin, even if he was the original aggressor because the moment Mr. Martin may have reacted to Mr. Zimmerman’s aggression, he became the aggressor! I’m still trying to twist my mind around that one….

The Real Issue

Of course, we all know what the real issue is in this case: race. This is the elephant in the room that some of us want to avoid. In fact, as soon as I enhanced the word with unique attributes, I imaged the names and pseudonyms of those Spectrumites whose favorite chorus is “Get over it, Burton!” As you can see, I haven’t and I won’t because I refuse to ignore the problem that keeps us divided. I am especially disheartened when I see the entrenched racist positions that have hardened the hearts of professed people of God. This is not an issue to “get over.” If it is ever to go away, it’s one that we must “work through.”

I believe the Trayvon Martin incident gives us another opportunity to “work through” some of the issues that have defined us. But in order to “work through” our dysfunction, we must be willing to work. It’s not going to be easy, because there is a lot of stuff that we have allowed to accumulate over the years; and that stuff has calcified into cloudy cataracts that cause us to skirt the clear counsel of scripture. We need the eye salve that Christ prescribed in Revelation 3, so that we can see our collective selves for who we really are: “wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked.” We cannot be effective witnesses to the gospel if the gospel has not effectively witnessed to us.

Conclusion: Working Through It

I would love for an opportunity to “work through” it with brothers and sisters in the faith who feel differently than I do about this and other racial matters. I would love to hear honest confessions of comfort zones, fear, distrust, privilege and hate. I would love to hear the real reason for White flight and African diasporic segregation. I would love to see public acts of repentance that are followed by implementable plans for reconciliation. I would love to see an end to superficial talks with insensitive language about ending Regional Conferences, and more honest discussion on the realities in the local church and individual heart that are at the root of our separation.  I would love to see the people of God “working through” it with the tears and pain that accompany self-examination, and the consequent joy and freedom of discovering “how good and pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to live together in unity.”

Is there anyone who would like to work through it with me? As you prayerfully contemplate your response, never forget that “a tree is known by its fruit.”


Keith Augustus Burton is the proud father of soon to be college graduate and a college freshman. He teaches at Oakwood University and is the Executive Director of the non-profit organization Life empowerment, Inc.

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