What Is The 'Word Of God' On Zimmerman Verdict?

The George Zimmerman verdict has divided many people in this country, including African-American church-goers. Host Michel Martin talks about how faith leaders are responding to it. She speaks with Joshua DuBois, former spiritual adviser for President Obama, and author Reverend Kenn Blanchard.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Our coverage of the George Zimmerman trial verdict drew many strong reactions. Coming up, we will hear some of them. We'll dig into listener e-mail and comments in BackTalk. But first, it's time for Faith Matters. That's where we talk about matters of faith and spirituality in times of crisis, whether personal or involving the country. Many people in this country turn to faith for comfort or understanding.

So today, in light of the events of the past week, we thought this would be a good time to hear from two faith leaders. We decided to turn to two African-American men who've often reflected on the intersection of faith and policy and public events, but from two very different perspectives. Joshua DuBois is the former leader of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. He currently writes for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. Also with us is Reverend Kenneth Blanchard. He's a pastor here in Washington, D.C., as well as the author of the book and the blog "Black Man With a Gun." As you might imagine, he's an advocate of expansive gun rights. And they're both here with us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Welcome to you both. Thank you both so much for speaking with us.

REVEREND KENNETH BLANCHARD: Thank you for the invite.

JOSHUA DUBOIS: Great to be here.

MARTIN: Pastor DuBois, I'm going to start with you...

DUBOIS: Sure.

MARTIN: ...Because you wrote a piece for The Daily Beast that we understand from Twitter was not only re-tweeted very often, but was also the basis for a number of sermons that were delivered on Sunday. So can you just tell us more about what you said.

DUBOIS: Sure. There were actually two connected pieces. The first was on the fight for black men, and it was about how our country has failed to humanize young, African-American men. Like I believe George Zimmerman saw Trayvon Martin, we see them as nameless, faceless folks in hoodies rather than young kids with hopes and fears and dreams, insecurities and a lot of potential. And so I got a lot of feedback from pastors about that piece. Folks tweeting me and saying that they used it as the basis for their Sunday sermon about how we need to finally see these boys and men.

MARTIN: And the other piece was also what?

DUBOIS: It was about how we heal in the aftermath of the verdict. I spoke with Congressman John Lewis and Maya Angelou and actually someone from the Southern Baptist Convention, Russell Moore, about how we find places of reconciliation after the verdict Saturday evening.

MARTIN: I want to hear more about your prescription, if I can call it that, for more healing. But first, I want to hear from Reverend Blanchard. I understand that you did not preach on this this past weekend, but if you had, what do you think you might have said or, overall, what do you think your reaction is, particularly from your perspective as a faith leader?

BLANCHARD: I would have not preached on the Trayvon Martin-Zimmerman case. It's like a commentation to me. I don't want to be a commentary, I want to preach the word of God. So I would've included that it in prayer, but it wouldn't have been a sermon.

MARTIN: What is your reaction to this, particularly as a person who is known as an advocate for expansive gun rights. And did you feel that this verdict was justified?

BLANCHARD: Loss of life. That's it, right there. It stopped, it started, began with the loss of a young man, his life. What I see in my community, in the gun rights movement, and the folks who are hunters and law enforcement and military is that they're demonized even further.

There's a anger there that they now are accused of being murderers. And everybody is calling them Zimmermans, or it just brought up race when it didn't exist. And even the black shooters, the hunters, the folks in the community that are pro-gun and black, they can't even talk about it because to talk about your right to keep and bear arms in this frame, in this thought, has been stuck.

MARTIN: But I was asking your reaction to the verdict. Do you not want to tell me?

BLANCHARD: I wasn't surprised. If you have - we have a good criminal justice system. If you want to get out of something, you buy the best and you make sure that folks will do what you want. You pick the juries, you do all that stuff. Has nothing to do with justice. Has nothing to do with what's right and what's wrong. That part is for the Lord and for - I mean, I said he was guilty. Nobody didn't say he didn't kill him. That's it for me.

MARTIN: So let's talk about morally, then. Pastor DuBois...

DUBOIS: Sure.

MARTIN: ...What about you? Morally and spiritually, what lesson do you feel needs to be drawn from this?

DUBOIS: There were a number of moral injuries over the course of this case, what happened that tragic evening and the aftermath. But I think it started when George Zimmerman failed to see the humanity of Trayvon Martin. When he looked at this figure walking with a hooded sweatshirt on as someone less than a man and a person that should be afforded dignity and respect.

And so I think that was the first moral injury, and then there were a succession of them after that, as well. And I would even extend that to the interview, the CNN interview, with the juror. I think it was B-37. You know, she consistently referred to Zimmerman as George and afforded him with a level of dignity and self-determination that she did not extend to - at least appear to extend to - Trayvon Martin. And so, again, I think we have looked past these young men and...

BLANCHARD: Yes.

DUBOIS: ...And not recognized them, you know, for the people that they are.

BLANCHARD: Yeah.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we are speaking with two faith leaders. Pastor Joshua DuBois, he's a former faith advisor in the Obama administration. Also with us, the Reverend Kent Blanchard, author of the book "Black Man With a Gun." We're talking about the faith response, or what should be the faith response in the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict.

So Pastor DuBois, that's one of the other center of gravity in the other piece that you wrote for The Daily Beast. You talked about the importance of conversations. What kinds of conversations do you mean? We keep hearing people say we need a national conversation about race. What do you think?

DUBOIS: I don't think we need a national conversation, but only for this reason. I think the people that show up to national conversations are the ones who are already involved, already talking, already exposed to the issue, and, for the most part, have already formed their opinions. I'd much rather us have a million local conversations. I'd rather have white Americans turn to the person in the cubicle next to them and say, hey, you know, can we talk about this?

I'd rather folks in golf foursomes, or after church, invite people out to dinner of a different backgrounds and races and ethnicities and have honest conversations. On the one hand, about potentially their anxiety about young men like Trayvon Martin, and on the other hand, from the African-American community's perspective, the fact that we know these boys and what they're like.

MARTIN: Reverend Blanchard, what about you?

BLANCHARD: Man, I applaud you for what you just said. I mean, it needs to be one-on-one, just communication, talking to each other - like this show is going to stir some conversation that needs to be happening - needs to happen everywhere. We still have race issues. We're still sensitive to this thing. We forgot about the people. There's thousands of kids in gang fights in Chicago right now that have died. We've forgotten about the people, and we just going on color.

MARTIN: You know, you keep saying we forgot about the people. I just take exception to that. I mean, the fact is, the first lady went to the funeral of this young woman who was killed, who had performed at the inaugural parade and then was killed a couple of weeks later. There have been - how many marches have there been in Chicago? How many marches have there been in Washington, D.C. and prayer vigils? I mean, you live here. You know this. So I just wonder, why do we have to keep hearing, people have forgotten about this. Who has forgotten about this? Is it the people who didn't care to begin with?

BLANCHARD: About black-on-black...

MARTIN: Yeah.

BLANCHARD: ...Crime specifically?

MARTIN: Yeah.

BLANCHARD: You know, my sense is that it certainly has reached a level of national attention, and the first lady's engaged, and there's been, you know, various policy conversations. But I am not sure, Michel, that, particularly the African-American middle-class, has engaged in any sustained way. And I, you know, happen to be...

MARTIN: Has the white middle-class? I mean, is this only...

BLANCHARD: Or anyone...

MARTIN: ...I mean, I'm just asking you. So it's only a black people's problem?

BLANCHARD: No, no, no. I think everyone should engage.

MARTIN: I mean, when the H1N1, you know, virus was making people sick across the country, did people say the only people we care about are the people who are in those neighborhoods that are getting sick, or do you say this is a national problem and we need to get a vaccine, we need to deal with this.

BLANCHARD: No, I absolutely think it's a national problem and everyone should engage. But I would say that, you know, there's a particular obligation from folks who - in a very specific example - have moved out of the South Side of Chicago, and there are other places, and that's perfectly fine to bring their hearts and minds and their presence back to those communities. You know, asking ourselves the hard question, what are we going to do about it? You know, how are we going to practically engage in this issue?

MARTIN: But isn't this the same kind of stereotyping you're just talking about? Why is it only some people's problem? If this is everybody's children, why isn't it everybody's responsibility?

BLANCHARD: It's a both end. I would say that, for example, me - as a formerly lower-income and now currently middle-income, African-American man - I have a particular ability to engage with young, black men on the South Side of Chicago. I can't assume that everyone has that ability to engage with them. And so I agree that everyone should.

They should find a way to contribute to solutions to this problem, but, I mean, I can't speak for anyone else. I do feel a particular obligation to impact this issue as much as I can.

MARTIN: Reverend Blanchard, let me go back to something you said at the outset of our conversation. You said, I want to preach the word of God. What is the word of God here?

BLANCHARD: Love.

MARTIN: I noted that...

BLANCHARD: Peace.

MARTIN: ...Well, I mean, noting that George Zimmerman's parents gave an interview saying that they are praying for Trayvon Martin's parents. I noted Trayvon Martin's parents saying that they are heartbroken but their faith remains. So what is the word of God here?

BLANCHARD: It hasn't changed. It's just that we want to make this a legal thing. We want to take it out of the home. We want to take it out of our own responsibility and make it a law. I mean, when I heard that folks who want to boycott a state or not go somewhere because of our law. It's not even in the law, it's about our morality. And it's our sense of purpose, our sense of family. We got to bring it home. It has to stop, letting somebody else take care of us. We have to say, it's my problem. We have to own up to this.

MARTIN: Who is we?

BLANCHARD: You and I.

DUBOIS: I would say, I do think that there are some things that families and individuals can do in their own homes. But I think policies and law is a part of it, as well. Dr. King is echoing in my ears that peace is not just the absence of tension, but the presence of justice. So it's not just that we should all be peaceful and go back into own homes. But I do think that those voices that are pushing for policy change and legal change, they also have a place in the moral debate, as well.

MARTIN: So, to just conclude our conversation for now - really, there's really only one question, is where do you think this goes from here? I heard both families say that their faith has - is tested but not broken. Where does your faith inform you to go next on this? Reverend Blanchard?

BLANCHARD: To heal. I have to heal. I have to heal all the anger. I have to heal. I have to listen to my brother and sister that are frustrated, to hear their pain and allow them to grieve. Because right now, we're not as secure in ourselves as we used to be. We thought things were better.

We were heading for that Star Trek world where everybody was the same, doesn't matter whether you're blue or green. We got woken up that we're not there yet and it hurt us. And then folks are saying, he's pointing a finger at me. And they're taking sides, and that's what I have to work on right now, healing the hurt.

MARTIN: Pastor DuBois.

DUBOIS: I think that the next step is, again, to have a lot of local conversations. I was heartened yesterday. We did a Twitter chat on this issue and white pastors from the Southern Baptist Convention were engaging with African-American pastors from the National Baptist Convention, and young people who were impacted by this issue, and they were acknowledging that we have a lot further to go.

That just a month out of the anniversary of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream Speech," we're not yet at the place where in every community, black and white children can walk hand-in-hand as Dr. King evoked. And so I think the faith community has a particular role in sparking those conversations at the local level around the country. And I certainly hope they'll do that.

MARTIN: Joshua DuBois is the former executive director of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships in the Obama administration. He's currently writing for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. Reverend Kent Blanchard is the author of the book "Black Man With a Gun." They were both here with us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Grace and peace to you both.

DUBOIS: Thank you so much.

BLANCHARD: Thank you so much.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.