Response to Zimmerman trial verdict

From Elizabeth Soto Albrecht, moderator, and Ervin Stutzman, executive director
Mennonite Church USA

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[Note added on July 22: We appreciate that many people wrote to share their perspectives in response to this statement. We recognize that our goal of issuing the statement was overshadowed in part by debates about the account we gave of the case in the first paragraph. We have revised this paragraph in response to concerns and questions that were raised. Also in response to feedback we received, we have added a sentence to the end of the statement to invite people to pray for all people involved in and affected by the tragedy. The revisions appear in red.

In light of these revisions, we have decided to remove all comments referring to the first statement (including ones that were submitted but not published) and instead to invite comments to this revised version.

Our website will be open for new comments until Friday, July 26, at 5 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. Due to staff schedules, we will not be able to moderate additional comments after this date. Thank you for your understanding.—Communications Team of Mennonite Church USA]

Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old youth, was shot and killed on Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford, Fla., by George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old man. On July 13, 2013, a jury found Zimmerman “not guilty” on all counts.

We grieve and lament the killing of a beautiful young person. We grieve and lament that the perpetrator can walk free without legal consequences for his actions. We grieve and lament the pervasive use of guns in our culture. We grieve and lament laws and systems that profile people based on race and that justify the use of violence to settle conflicts. We grieve and lament the deep racial divisions in our society and in our churches that make it so hard to understand or even hear each other’s perspectives.

Our country carries a painful legacy of racism and oppression that has marginalized and dehumanized many people. As Mennonites in the United States, we are brothers and sisters from many racial/ethnic backgrounds. Some of us look like the marginalized: like Trayvon Martin and his family, like immigrants from many nations, like Indigenous people. We feel this pain of marginalization on a regular basis: at the grocery store; in airports; when our children are harassed due to the color of their skin. Many of us are considered white. We are not racially profiled. We have not always been attentive to the experiences of brothers and sisters of color or stood in solidarity with each other.

In response to the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., that killed four African-American girls, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “… we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.”

In light of these events, as a church committed to the gospel of peace and reconciliation, we recommit ourselves to our denominational priority of undoing racism and advancing intercultural transformation.  In this moment, as an initial small step, we especially invite white members of our congregations to engage in conversation with at least one other person from another racial/ethnic group about the Zimmerman verdict and to listen deeply to understand their perspective and experience.

As stated in our Purposeful Plan, “as missional communities we will seek to dismantle individual and systemic racism in our church.” We see this both as a matter of faithfulness to Jesus and as an important part of our witness in the world. This is not an easy or quick task, but as followers of Jesus, we trust that God is with us. We invite and encourage congregations and individuals in the Mennonite Church USA family to continue to be part of this journey of healing with us. We also invite your prayers for the family of Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman and his family, and everyone affected by this tragedy.

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For further reflection and conversation on this topic, see the following blogs and articles:

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July 19, 2013 [revised July 22, 2013]