George, Trayvon, and the Church

By Efrem Smith, Pacific Southwest Conference superintendent

CONCORD, CA (JULY 25, 2013) – “And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” 2 Corinthians 5:19-20

This morning as I prepared to go for a run, I thought of getting my hooded sweatshirt from the closet because there was somewhat of a chill in the air. As I thought about this further my heart once again became heavy. I wondered if by some, I’m still seen as a mysterious Black Stranger in my own community.

As I went on my run without the sweatshirt, I wondered how I was being perceived. Could they see the Christian, highly educated, professional, married, and father that I am? You see, I have had many experiences of being racially profiled during my lifetime.

To my non-African American Brothers and Sisters, please don’t see me as bitter, angry, or overly emotional (though these feelings should bring me more grace and love instead of isolation). You see these thoughts are not all of who I am. I am still passionate and committed to the advancement of the Kingdom of God. I still sense a tremendous call to reconciliation as well as Kingdom compassion, mercy, and justice.

The tensions, mostly across racial lines over the George Zimmerman verdict are a reminder of the sin-filled and upside down world that we live in. It is an opportunity to forge what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called, The Beloved Community. This is the experience of the Kingdom of God on earth, right now.

We must still believe that as Jesus proclaimed, “The Kingdom of God is near.” This is where my hope and action is still rooted.

The Christian Church like never before must be a vehicle of God’s love, grace, truth, compassion, transformation, and justice. The Church must become the glorious bride of Christ by bringing the reconciling revolution of the Kingdom of God to the lost, the broken, and those in denial about this broken world.

My heart is heavy over both the lost life of Trayvon Martin and the current life of George Zimmerman. Why? Because, this is the call on my life.

I have been in ministry for over 21 years. My ministry began in Minneapolis, Minnesota serving mostly African-American, at-risk boys through Hospitality House Youth Directions. This continued with my work with Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Park Avenue United Methodist Church, and The Sanctuary Covenant Church. The Trayvon Martins have been on my heart for years.

This passion has always been there because I am Trayvon Martin.

I join President Obama by saying, over 25 years ago, “I was Trayvon Martin.” Security officers followed me in stores. I was stopped by police just for walking in my neighborhood. But, these experiences led me to another part of my calling.

My experiences in a race-based society also led me to a ministry of racial reconciliation and righteousness. This calling is why I can’t ignore George Zimmerman in all of this. Or, I can’t simply be angry with him for getting out of the car and following Trayvon when he was told not to. I have to love him too.

I am called to pray for him. Because he is still living, there is an opportunity for his life to be committed to reconciliation in new and powerful ways. As hard as it is, I’m called to minister to those who support Trayvon and those who support George. This is the heavy cost of reconciliation ministry.

This is exactly where the Church needs to be right now. The Church must be a force of reconciliation ministering to both the Trayvon’s and the George’s of this broken and sinful world. We can make a difference so that other rainy night, cross-cultural, and violent experiences are thwarted in Jesus’ name.

There is much ministry opportunity for us in the Pacific Southwest Conference. We are in a very diverse, yet divided region of the nation. Please pray about ways God desires to use you for Kingdom advancement and Christ-centered reconciliation.

I was very grateful (Sunday) for the loving and healthy conversation I had over these issues with leaders of Valley Hi Covenant Church in Sacramento, California after the morning worship service. Let’s continue to pray, be a part of conversations, and lift up our focus area of Loving Mercy, Doing Justice.

Editor’s Note: This reprint was originally posted July 22, 2013, on efremsmith.com.

 

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17 Comments

  1. I grieve that this issue is even being discussed in the denominational website. It is an issue of law and a trial of a mixed race man who, according to the trial, scuffled and shot a young man. There was a jury and they rendered a verdict. When we say, “I am Trayvon Martin” or Prof. Rah says “I am Barack Obama” we fall into a religious collective view that denies the personal relationship in favor of stereotyping races and becoming a victim of our circumstances. We live in a fallen world and I am no other than the person Jesus created me to be. Sinner, yes. Saved by Grace, yes.

  2. I am very moved by your grace-filled witness, Efrem. Having experienced life in the ’40s as a child in Detroit, I saw how blacks lived within blocks of my home. I’ve had a black son-in-law who I dearly love for twenty-six years, the father of my five extraordinary grandchildren. I constantly pray that they all will continually rise above any way ignorant people may show a negative attitude toward them.

  3. Thank You Brother Efrem for sharing your article. When it’s all said and done we, the church, are called to be ambassadors for Jesus Christ. We are to lead, teach, love and forgive regardless of hurt, pain, and injustices.

  4. Thank you for your honesty, Efrem. It made me think about the one time I met you, in an elevator, at the Feast in Green Lake, Wisconsin. Because of the setting, we chatted on the short ride and I was very excited to meet you because I had heard many good things about you. After reading what you wrote above, I couldn’t help but wonder what our encounter would have been like had we shared an elevator in downtown Minneapolis, outside of a “church” setting? I grew up in Columbia Heights, Minnesota, just outside of Northeast Minneapolis. As an adult I went back to Columbia Heights for a visit. I saw a small group of African American teens walking near my elementary school. My first thought was, “What are they doing here?” Then I realized that they probably lived in the neighborhood because fortunately the area isn’t as lily white as it was when I was growing up. I like to think that I’m not a racist, but I know that deep down I am. I was fortunate enough to go on a Sankofa trip with the Covenant a number of years ago. It was very eye opening for me and I have tried hard to continue to learn and grow from the experience. I greatly appreciate the fact that the Covenant has intentionally moved away from being primarily Swedish in its makeup. I hope that we, as people of God, will continue to struggle through the reconciliation process. I pray that we will continue to be honest with each other, that we will be able to forgive each other for acting in ways or saying things that are hurtful without realizing it, and that we will be willing to change and learn, not just in our safe church environments, but outside of them as well.

  5. It is to each of us to reach into ourselves and find that of God in our hearts. I thank my friend, Connie, that pointed out the racism in me. She saw me say hello to other whites kids on campus even though I didn’t know them and how I avoided eyes if they were black. I remember her words from 1970 and it has made me a better person. Thank you, Connie.

  6. I appreciate Efrem’s heart for reconciliation and compassion. I appreciate, too, his reminder of the tragedy of a young man dead–every mention of the case needs to include it.

    But I grieve that we’re mired and astray in distortions, and they’ve crept in here too. Omitting Trayvon’s assault distorts the picture. Zimmerman was told something more ambiguous than to not follow him. And leaving the hooded sweatshirt home because of a single case seems equivalent to clutching one’s purse nervously, in the President’s words. Please lead us away from there, not toward it.

    I feel that treating racism with the seriousness it deserves means, in part, engaging each distortion or falsehood as passionately as each truth.

  7. Efrem:
    I also remember similar experiences I have gone through, in suburban Chicago neighborhoods.
    I weep for my students, who go through these very, very sad experiences, on a very regular basis.

    Thank you so much for your courageous witness, my brother,
    Boaz

  8. Efrem,

    Thank you for being transparent and honest. Your words affirmed all the dialogue I’ve been having over the past week…it’s time to be an active partner in doing the work of God, planning the restoration of our communities, and being engaged in the lives of our children daily in order to save, protect, and prepare them to be seen as the children of God. We are called to be reconcilers even in the midst of verdicts and what we may perceive as a miscarriage of justice. A letter to our President has just left Chicago from myself and some other clergy stating what we intend to “do” to bolster and reinforce our African American boys and girls. We are the church, we are called by God to do the work of building the kingdom here on earth; we are not waiting for the government, philanthropy, or other groups to plan and strategize for “us.” We have the Spirit of the Lord upon us and therefore we will be the church and talk about race and racism. We will walk with our sisters and brothers grieving the loss of their children. We will be present in the schools, parks, and places where teens are present. We will take responsibility for our children today. Thank you again for your words and may God keep you as you serve God, love mercy and do justice.

  9. Thank you Efrem for speaking openly, honestly and redemptively. I especially want to thank you for this sentence “To my non-African American Brothers and Sisters, please don’t see me as bitter, angry, or overly emotional (though these feelings should bring me more grace and love instead of isolation).” Thank you again for raising my own awareness of how by God’s call I should respond to those who have experienced injustice and discrimination…with “more grace and love instead of isolation.” May God continue to use you for a voice for God’s kingdom and his righteousness. Pastor Don Olson, Community Covenant Church, East Bridgewater, MA

  10. Efrem, you are a man of peace, created for good works anointed by your Heavenly Father.
    I praise the Lord for you….your praying mama.

  11. Thank you Brother Efrem for a well articulated article. My heart is heavy as well and I am praying with you.

  12. Thank you, Efrem, for sharing your powerful and painful reflections. May we not miss this opportunity to engage the difficult conversations as we seek to dismantle the barriers that divide. The challenge is before us…Using Dr. King’s words: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

  13. Thank you for confirming our role as Christians in response to this tragedy, which has left me confused and angry. Your words help me understand my confusion and transform my anger into understanding.

  14. Beautiful and thought provoking message on” Christ-centered reconciliation”… Thank you…. Pastor Efrem Smith…..Charlene Tinglof, Covenant Congregational Church, Boston, MA

  15. Thank you, Efrem, for these hard, good words. Yes, we are called to reconciliation——first, last, and always. We all need this reminder and I am grateful for your voice in this important conversation.

  16. Thank you! I hope the church and other Covenant affiliations (like camps and universities) will also prioritize having important conversations on this topic.

  17. If only all those voices speaking out could think and speak like this pastor did regarding the recent trial, the world would be so much better! My thought from the beginning was of course a tragedy but one was a grown man who should not have let his emotions rule…no matter what. He may have been found “not guilty” according to the law but he was not innocent in this tragedy.

    Race is a very subliminal state of mind at times. If George had been a black man with watch dog responsibility’s and in the tussle shot a white boy…I truly doubt we would have responded with just compassion calling it just a tragedy and let it pass. But then if the world could respond like this Pastor, we would be in the Kingdom, wouldn’t we? The conversation this has brought forth is good IF something could come of it to make things better…I pray it does.

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