ELCA NEWS SERVICE
March 27, 2012
ELCA leaders respond to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin
CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., has called members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to engage in the work of "restoring and reconciling communities, pursuing justice and peace no matter how long the journey or wide the chasm," said ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson.
"The deep sorrow of Trayvon Martin's family has become our shared public lament," he said. "The tragedy of Trayvon's death must move us to ask searching questions. How much longer shall any child live in fear because of the color of their skin? Are we, who are white, ready to confront our power and privilege for the sake of a more just and inclusive society? Are we as a nation ready to reform our criminal justice system?"
An ELCA task force recently released a draft social statement on criminal justice that calls for urgent reform with areas of the U.S. criminal justice system, such as persistent inequalities and injustices based on race and class.
"Now is the time for all in the ELCA to live up to its commitment made in our social statement 'Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity and Culture,'" said Hanson, where ELCA members commit "to 'model an honest engagement with issues of race, ethnicity and culture, by being a community of mutual conversation, mutual correction and mutual consolation.' And further, we will 'participate in identifying the demands of justice and work with others who would have justice for all.'"
The presiding bishop said the death of Martin also calls for courage. "Let us have the humility to repent of the sin of racism and the courage to tear down the walls we erect to divide us, turning those walls into tables of conversation and reconciliation."
The Rev. Albert Starr Jr., program director for ELCA African descent ministries, encourages ELCA congregations to declare their church facilities as "places of sanctuary for meeting and gathering, shelter and protection."
Starr said members can develop "listening and healing circles for community, conflict resolution and restorative justice; and promote conversations and training about non-violence and tolerance; provide assistance and training for parents and parenting; practice civility in public and private discourse; and work to develop proactive legislation to address the climate of aggression in a community."
"Trayvon's death and the circumstances surrounding his death call us to do more than grieve. We trust God to inspire and equip us for action, for work that builds community and values the dignity and worth of every human life," he said.
According to Judith Roberts, director for ELCA racial justice ministries, people need a "plan of action to (address) race and racism, particularly when the story is no longer headline news."
In addition to reading the draft social statement on criminal justice, Roberts encourages congregations to learn more about how race impacts the criminal justice system and host an anti-racism training event.
The Rev. Edward R. Benoway, bishop of the ELCA Florida-Bahamas Synod, helped develop a statement in collaboration with other Florida faith leaders to convey condolences to the family of Trayvon Martin. The statement says Martin's death was "unwarranted" and that the investigation into his death "should proceed swiftly without racial bias, so that the matter is not continually tried in the media."
The circumstances surrounding Martin's death have "a significant appearance of injustice," said Benoway. "Trayvon was pursued by the one who shot him, and there has been no arrest in the case. Florida's 'stand your ground' law, which allows for deadly force when one feels threatened, lends itself to abuse and misuse. The law can be and is applied inconsistently across the state. It certainly opens the door for racism and disparity."
Benoway said that the "ELCA is concerned that our criminal justice system be fair and just for all persons, victims and accused, and all involved. Our laws must be enforced reliably and appropriately without regard to color, class, creed or sexuality of those involved."
The statement was released March 21 through the Florida Council of Churches. The Rev. Russell Meyer, an ELCA pastor who is executive director of the council, said more than 100 church leaders have already endorsed the statement.
"The death of Trayvon has really galvanized the young people in Florida," said Meyer. "You cannot be declared suspicious of how you dress. No one is fooled by the fact that (Trayvon) had a hood over his head. This is what racial profiling is all about.
"My hope with what's happened with the Trayvon case is that we not just deal with gun laws or structural and cultural racism, but that we understand how all of these things together have a created a culture of despair for young men with dark skin," said Meyer, adding that one out of three "black young men in Florida will be incarcerated or arrested some time in their life."
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The ELCA draft social statement on criminal justice is available at www.ELCA.org/criminaljustice and a message from ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson at http://www.ELCA.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Office-of-the-Presiding-Bishop/Messages-and-Statements/120327.aspx.
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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with 4.2 million members in 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work. Our hands," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.
For information contact:
Melissa Ramirez Cooper
773-380-2956 or Melissa.RamirezCooper@ELCA.org
Living Lutheran: http://www.livinglutheran.com