WASHINGTON (BP) — The dramatic difference between how black and white Americans view the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case calls for ongoing conversations between people from both groups, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell D. Moore says.
Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), addressed the divide between many blacks and whites as reactions mounted to the July 13 not-guilty verdict for George Zimmerman in the Florida shooting death of Martin, a 17-year-old African American.
Blacks look at the trial “macroscopically,” while whites view it “microscopically,” he said.
“African Americans tend to speak about the case in broad social and political terms,” Moore said in Newsweek’s July 17 cover story, “but we rarely get to hear their own quiet, personal stories.”
“[M]any white Americans deal in particulars, without realizing it’s larger than that,” Moore said. “It’s not just about this individual case; it’s about the fabric of American history. We have to recognize that African Americans see Trayvon Martin’s face alongside Medgar Evers, Emmett Till and others that most people will never know. We have to acknowledge that in our conversations.”
Evers was a civil rights leader who was shot dead in 1963 in the driveway of his Jackson, Miss., home. Till, 14, was brutally beaten and shot to death in 1955 in rural Mississippi after reportedly whistling at a white woman.
Moore acknowledged he, as a white man, didn’t appreciate an important aspect of the case.
“The real message of the Martin case didn’t hit me until an African American pastor, a friend of mine, told me that there are some places he doesn’t want his young son to go, because he’s ‘afraid of him becoming another Trayvon,'” Moore told Newsweek.
“This man was fearful for his son’s personal safety,” Moore continued. “That hits home for me, as a father and as a man. And it’s the type of personal story that can shatter the myth that everything is OK.”
Jonathan Capehart, an opinion writer for The Washington Post, communicated a similar message in a July 17 appearance with Moore on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports.”
After Martin’s shooting death in 2012, Capehart wrote about his mother’s talk to him about the “don’ts.”
“[A] lot of white colleagues were moved by what I had to say and were surprised by what I had to say,” Capehart said on MSNBC. “Many of them said to me it wouldn’t even occur to them to have a sit-down with their teenage son or even teenage daughter and tell them things they can and cannot do in this country, in America.”
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, commented on that same subject — “the talk” he did not have to have as a white father — in a July 16 commentary in Baptist Press. He described it as “[t]he talk about what to do when you are eyed suspiciously by people” just because you are you.
Moore told MSNBC’s Mitchell racial justice is “the larger teaching message” of the death of Martin and the subsequent trial.
“We still live in a fallen and evil world, and we still live in a country that has a long way to go. … I think we can all celebrate and rejoice in the progress that has been made, but we need to understand,” he said. “We need to work together in a moral fashion to love one another and to hear one another and to have conversations with one another.”
Moore said, “As a Christian, I think the place for that to happen most ideally or to start most ideally is within local congregations, white people and black people and Latino people loving one another and listening to one another together.”
Those conversations “can’t be in the heat of nationally polarized moments,” he told Newsweek. “We have to take time to invest in preparation. There’s advance work that has to be done.
“It’s like marriage,” Moore added. “You have to work on issues in advance, when times are good — not when you’re screaming at each other and on the way out the door.”
On Thursday (July 18), Moore and Joshua DuBois, writer of the Newsweek cover story and the former head of President Obama’s faith-based office, conducted a Twitter conversation on the Martin case. It can be accessed here; the live forum can be followed by logging into Twitter and searching #BeyondTheRift.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).