Monday, July 15, 2013

Thoughts on the trial of George Zimmerman

Like many Americans I watched the news and social media closely after the George Zimmerman verdict was announced. The reaction on social media especially was fascinating if somewhat predictable.

Was the verdict the “right” one? I think as far as the judicial system goes it was. As a very casual observer I saw nothing come to light from the prosecution to prove their case and much of what was presented was at least as helpful to the defense as it was to the prosecution. I am glad that the feared violence at the result was muted, perhaps because many people realized the weakness of the case against Mr. Zimmerman. Of course this is 2013 and that means that even when a jury of his peers acquits Mr. Zimmerman there are plenty of voices calling for another trial on the basis of “civil rights violations”, lack of evidence of racial animus and the clear specter of double jeopardy notwithstanding.

We are entering a dangerous era, a time when people accused of certain crimes will face both the traditional justice system and then in certain high profile cases the court of public opinion and political pressure. I think it goes without saying that, right or wrong, this case never would have come to trial had it not been for the national outcry and media coverage. If Mr. Zimmerman had been black no one would have heard of this case outside of Florida. But he is not and his identification as a heretofore rarely heard of “white hispanic” means that the media circus is not anywhere close to being over.

After laying all of that out there I fully recognize that my perspective on this event is far different than that of other Americans. I have never been pulled over without cause. I have always been treated with at least a modicum of respect. I don’t by and large see police as people to be feared unless I am speeding. For many of my fellow Americans that is not the case. Many have been discriminated against and dealt with the omnipresent reality of prejudice all of their lives. No one looks at me with suspicion because of my skin color. Even as a young person who got into more than my share of mischief I always got the benefit of the doubt. Many Americans have a completely different experience. The reality of my upbringing is the lens through which I view these events, just as other people see this entire ugly situation through their own lens. Even in this day and age it is very difficult to look at something like the killing of Trayvon Martin objectively.
So how should the church look to this avoidable tragdy and respond (if at all)?

First each and every human being was born dead in sins and trespass. Not to use a sweeping generalization but tragedies like this are an outworking of the actions of sinners in a creation groaning under the weight of sin. If anything we should be thankful that God uses Caesar to put limits on the acting out of human depravity. Perhaps I am cynical or jaded but I harbor no fairy tale illusions of human nature left unchecked. There is a reason God has instituted earthly secular rulers and that reason is to be a check on otherwise unrestrained human depravity. People are not basically good, they are basically lost and outside of cultural barriers and various upbringings are prone to all sorts of selfish mischief.

Second this event should be a reminder to us of the very real racial and ethnic divisions in America that are part of the very fabric of our country. There is usually very little constructive dialogue between religious leaders who seek to exploit our racial wounds for their own gain and those religious leaders who seem oblivious to it amidst their all white local church interspersed with the occasional adopted child that is Asian, black or Latino. We cannot pretend that this division is not there or that it is OK, not when the church is in many ways more divided by race than almost any other institution of American life. It is something we have to deal with, if the adopted people of God from every tribe, nation and tongue cannot stand to be in the same building as others who are different from them on Sunday morning, what does that say about how valid our faith truly is?

Third we see on full display the results of a confused gender narrative in America, a narrative where young men do not have appropriate same gender role models, whether that be a father or some other adult man. Knowing very little of the case it still can be ascertained that the culture that Trayvon Martin seemed to be consumed in is one where manhood is found in violence and misogyny. It is a well-known culture and easy to denounce but for many young men there is little alternative to this culture other than a childhood spent being the target of others who exhibit their masculinity in caricatured and often violent ways. Like many other young black men this culture is at least partly complicit in his death, a tragic everyday event in our culture that gets little media attention because young black men killing other young black men is not something the news media and various professional George Zimmerman strikes me a man with little understanding of what being a man means (see this excellent essay by Daniel Flynn writing for the American Spectator titled Two Males, No Men). He apparently sought to fill this gap by seeking out “manly” pursuits and on that fateful night two men with no understanding of masculinity came together and one is dead.

As many have said, there are no winners here. This wasn’t a victory for good old fashioned American values. It was a weak man being stupid and a confused young man responding that led to a violent clash and a dead 17 year old. One hopes that as a nation and as the church we can learn from this but sadly history does not give me much hope. How I long for the day when 17 year old young men are no longer shot to death but until that day we must look forward to our hope in Christ and tell others why we have that hope. We can and we must do nothing else.


Bean said...

Depressing isn't it? I read the article you had a link to, and it was depressing too.
This is what an ungodly society looks like, and it is't pretty.


Anonymous said...

Hi Arthur,
I tend to agree with you (at least somewhat) and the article you link to about the circumstances that brought about the death of a young man and the resulting trial of the another man in the Zimmerman/Martin tragedy.

What I kind of wonder about is if the solution to our ailments in our countries is men having most or all of the authority, in society, in business, in the family, etc.

Men having near complete authority was the case for many centuries in the past. Women had no individual voice in government or essentially an authoritive say in society in days gone by. We see the cultures in our world today that deny women authority or a voice in their society. It hasn't solved the issue of sin, nor has it solved the issue of masculinity? These men are often violent in these countries. Their leaders are violent men and often intolerant men. Having a 'male' dominated world in their lives growing up has not made them 'men' as we may want to idealize masculinity.

The absolute only thing that works as we would like it to, for masculinity and femininity, is men and women being governed by Christ and his Spirit.

In my mind this governing by Christ does not create an all male heirarchy in order to accommodate the manliness in men. If this were so, I think we would not see 'boys' being put under the authority of women growing up as God has ordained and planned it. When my husband was away from the home, I governed my son, I disciplined my son, I taught him, I instructed him, etc. There were times in our family rearing days when my husband was away from home for a period of two months because of his work requirements.

Boys need their mothers, just as boys need their fathers.

We also see in Africa, that giving the money and the decisions to the women there has increased the stability and the economy in the home. The men spend the money largely on 'extras' for themselves and their masculine image. It has been found that the women largely spend the money on the essentials for life and the family as a whole. Men have authority in Africa, having authority is not their problem. Selfishness and sin is.

I'm thinking that I want to hold a middle of the road opinion on what men need for masculinity. The need they have does not appear to be domination or authority over women. Nor do I believe masculinity is based on only being taught in society, in the church, by other men.

The Spirit of God has a place here. He is neither male nor female. He can teach, He has authority, He indwells both men and women, the Bible is clear on this. Both men and women were in the upper room, and every 'one' was given the Spirit of the living God when He came down from heaven. The tongues of fire appeared over the heads of 'every person present in that room'. Mary the mother of Jesus was there, Mary Magdalene was there, Johanna was there, other women were there, praying with the men.

God is not a respector of persons. He gives gifts to both men and women. He judges men and women impartially. I see nothing in the Bible that says that women will be judged differently from men. We have the same responsibility as men to live godly lives. To be righteous, to guard our souls, to value the inheritance that we have in Christ. We are also saved individually. The men do not save us women who believe and have faith. We have to stand on our own before God, as do the men.

Thoughts from me again.