US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Trayvon Martin’s death: A challenge to Christians

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By guest blogger Kevin Considine

Holy Week is upon us and this often leads to critical reflection upon our culture in light of the Paschal Mystery.  Or, as Protestant theologian Karl Barth said, doing theology with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.

Right now, this would point us to the killing of a black, teenage boy named Trayvon Martin by an overzealous neighborhood watch captain, named George Zimmerman.  There has been outrage over this senseless killing and a collective cry for justice.  But what is this justice we seek?

Martin Luther King offers a point of reference in his “Eulogy for the Young Victims of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing” (1963).  Here, he reflected upon the senseless murders of four black children in a Black Baptist Church in Birmingham by white supremacists. He declared an ethical demand posed by the murdered children: “They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.” 

Although the context of the killing of Trayvon Martin is vastly different from that in which King was originally speaking, I think this still offers a relevant challenge to Christians: are we concerned that God’s justice is fully realized in this senseless killing, a justice that reaches into the sinful roots of our violent culture? That is, are we concerned with confronting the roots in American culture that have “normalized” violence against those with darker skin color?  

In one of his earliest speeches (1955), King gives a vision of God’s justice and its connection to love.   This provides a vision of our God of love and justice: “…it is not enough for us to talk about love, love is one of the pivotal points of the Christian faith.  There is another side called justice.  And justice is really love in calculation.  Justice is love correcting that which revolts against love.  The Almighty God himself is not the God just standing out saying through Hosea, ‘I love you Israel.’  He’s also the God that stands up before the nations and said: ‘Be still and know that I’m God, that if you don’t obey me I will break the backbone of your power’…standing beside love is always justice…”

Are we truly interested in God’s justice?  If so, we cannot end our grief and reflection at Trayvon Martin’s death, George Zimmerman’s act of “self-defense”, and Florida’s “stand your ground law.”  Obviously, action here is necessary.  But are we willing to go deeper?  Do we, the Church, have the courage to follow God into the depths of fear, violence, and racism that made this incident a possibility in the first place? That is, to enter into Holy Saturday in hopes of reaching the new creation of Easter Sunday?

The Roman Catholic Church has been a vocal proponent of a “culture of life.”  I pray that we, the church, truly practice this through accepting the challenge posed by the killing of Trayvon Martin: to transform a sinful, violent society into a just society that gives life and dignity to all of God’s children.

Kevin Considine is a Ph.D. candidate in theology at Loyola University in Chicago.

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.