White churches on sidelines of Trayvon Martin outrage

The killing of Trayvon Martin has sparked rallies in black communities nationwide and is now leading to questions about why white Christians aren’t more visibly involved.

By Jeff Brumley

Pastors of both races offer a number of theories about the anemic white interest, including an inability to identify with the social disparities faced by blacks to an aversion to associating with controversial African-American religious leaders.

Alan Brumback

Some white pastors “haven’t been asked” to attend public vigils for the teen shot Feb. 26, while others “are not taking the initiative,” said Alan Brumback, senior pastor at Central Baptist Church in Sanford, Fla.

And yet others “don’t want to be associated with Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson,” the white Southern Baptist preacher said.

But that hasn’t kept Brumback from getting involved. He was the only white pastor to take the stage with Sharpton and other black ministers at a recent Trayvon Martin rally in Sanford, where the killing occurred. He has also led his multiracial congregation in intercessory prayer for the boy’s family, the city and police.

Martin, 17, was unarmed when he was shot in a gated community by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, who told police the boy was wearing a hoodie and looked suspicious at the time. The boy was walking to the home of his father’s girlfriend when the incident occurred.

Zimmerman, who was legally armed, has claimed self-defense and hasn’t been arrested in the incident. That and the hoodie comment have outraged protestors.

Other white Christians have spoken out. The National Council of Churches and Sojourners, both groups with a large white membership, are among the groups that have expressed concern about the circumstances of Martin’s killing.

And who knows what individual pastors are saying from their pulpits, said Jeffrey Rumlin, pastor of Dayspring Baptist Church in Jacksonville.

Martin’s death has been front-page news in Jacksonville because it’s just a few hours from Sanford and because its lead prosecutor was tapped to investigate the case.

Jeffrey Rumlin

Rumlin said local black pastors began talking about the case almost since the day it happened. He said he hasn’t seen much white involvement, locally or nationally.

“Just because I have not seen it does not mean some of my white colleagues are not bringing it to their congregations,” Rumlin said. “We cannot paint everyone with one broad brush.”

Still, there’s room for improvement, the National Baptist minister said.

“Could or should some of our more prominent white brothers and sisters step out? Absolutely.”

But white religious leaders are unlikely to halt their “stony silence” because they and their congregations simply cannot identify with the feelings of systemic discrimination that the Travyon Martin case evokes for blacks, said Alan Bean, an American Baptist preacher turned social justice activist and author.

“It’s because it doesn’t affect them,” said Bean, executive director of Friends of Justice, an Arlington, Texas-based ministry that’s been blogging about the Martin case and demanding justice for the boy’s family.

“Their kids are not going to be considered suspicious if they are walking down the street in a hoodie,” Bean said.

Brumback said he will stay involved in the case, however. He said he’s called to share with others that Jesus Christ is the ultimate solution to society’s ills.

Plus he’s motivated by the fact that many in his congregation are black.

“The fact that I have brothers and sisters in Christ that are not white -- that I have baptized and led to Christ -- inspires me to take part in stuff like this,” he said.