Now that we are more than a week removed from the George Zimmerman trial, I am struggling with how believers have responded along racial and socioeconomic lines to the verdict.
I have to admit that I am able to see both sides of the argument and understand why people think the way that they do about the verdict. At various points in my life, I have occupied similar worlds that were occupied by both men.
More than 10 years ago, I worked as a police officer in St. Louis, which was, and still is, one of the most dangerous cities in our nation. For five years, I patrolled some of its worst neighborhoods.
I regularly saw violence perpetrated against people, making them feel powerless and forgotten. Most nights, while on patrol, I did what was necessary to protect citizens and myself. Sometimes that involved using force.
On the flip side, my life perspective is influenced by growing up as a black man. As a youth, I was profiled for no other reason than where I lived, what clothes I wore and what people I spent time with.
I am now a 39-year-old, professionally employed father who still gets racially profiled in the neighborhood that I have called home for more than eight years. Ironically, I patrolled this neighborhood for a year before I resigned from the police force.
Although I do not agree with how Zimmerman described Martin, I do understand why Zimmerman was suspicious of someone who fit the profile of a potential criminal. But, on the other hand, I don’t think that skin color or manner of walking makes my own 16-year-old son subject to committing a crime.
What type of response should be given amid protests that seem to be both a general response of agreement or disagreement to the verdict, and an expression of years of pent-up racial frustration?
I believe the response of believers should be one of restoration. We have the opportunity to work together in order to restore relationships that have begun to be severed and communities that are becoming divided over the verdict.
What do I mean when I use the word “restoration”? One of the ideas that restoration carries with it is the thought that something that was out of place is returned to its former state.
A simple example would be a shoulder that separates during exercise. It may be painful to get that limb back into its proper place, but that limb can’t function as long as it is out of socket. After it’s returned to its proper place, that limb will function as it was designed.
In light of the current circumstances, how can we restore relationships that are being painfully and publicly separated along racial and social lines? I can think of three ways.
The first is to practice a spirit of gentleness in how we respond to people in the discussion.
People are understandably tense and frustrated, but that does not mean that we have to assume the same posture. Intentionally taking time to think through ideas and feelings before we verbalize them can help us avoid making an already heated discussion more volatile.
The second way is to see people as they see themselves.
It helps to understand why someone holds a particular opinion. By learning why someone thinks the way they do, you may be able to put yourself in their shoes and understand that their point of view is not necessarily based on race or socioeconomic factors. Instead, it may be based on an experience to which you are able to relate.
Finally, be willing to forgive.
Let go of the anger and frustration that has been building. In your heart and mind, willingly spare the participants from your personal wrath.
Exercise grace toward Zimmerman, Martin, the jury and the members of the legal teams. See all of them through the prism of God’s grace and forgiveness, as God has seen you.
Restoration along these lines is going to be a painful process. Separation does not necessarily happen overnight, and it is not necessarily fixed overnight.
Restoration will require believers to intentionally practice love, patience and grace. These are all qualities that we are familiar with because we have all experienced them ourselves.
Terrell Carter is currently interim pastor at Webster Groves Baptist Church and director of the Foundations in Ministry program for Central Baptist Theological Seminary in St. Louis.
A pastor, author and educator living in St. Louis, Missouri, he is the author of several books, including The Gospel According to Broadway and Taking Apart Bootstrap Theology: Gospel of Generosity and Justice.