Silence Lost: The Trayvon Martin Case

My kids like to talk.  A lot.  I have to be very carful in the way that I correct them when a lot turns into too much.

“Shut up!  You’re driving me nuts” is unacceptable.

Instead, I try to calmly teach my kids that talking too much makes it easier for them to get in trouble.  The more you talk, the more chance you have of saying something hurtful or regrettable.  I get this idea from the Bible.

Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.  Proverbs 11:12 (ESV)

Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.  Proverbs 17:28 (ESV)

My kids aren’t the only ones that need this lesson.  I need it.  Our country needs it.  Exhibit A is the Trayvon Martin case.

If you’re not familiar with the case, about a month ago, Trayvon Martin, who was black, was shot to death by George Zimmerman, who is Hispanic.  Martin was walking through the gated Florida community that Zimmerman was patrolling as part of his neighborhood watch duties.  For some reason, Zimmerman pursued Martin and called 911 to inform the police.  The police told Zimmerman to stop and let them take over.  Minutes later George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin.  Trayvon Martin was unarmed.

That’s all almost anybody knows with certainty.

It seems likely that at some point before the shooting the two men got into a fight with each other but details are still sketchy.

And then there’s the speculation.  There are those who say that Zimmerman attacked Martin for no good reason.  That maybe Zimmerman thought Martin looked guilty simply because of the color of his skin.  This could be true but few know for sure.

There are also those who speculate that George Zimmerman acted in self-defense.  For some reason, Trayvon Martin attacked and Zimmerman countered with lethal force.  Again, this could be true but few know for sure.

Christians have a very important responsibility in situations like these – silence.  I know that sounds terrible.  For generations we’ve been told to speak up and let our voices be heard.  Certainly, there is a place for this but if you don’t know all of the facts and you are driven purely by emotion, you’ll sound like the drunk man singing in the streets as he wonders from bar to bar.  Or even worse, you’ll sound like Geraldo Rivera and Pat Robertson.  Hey, at least they’re letting their voices be heard, right?

As an aid in self-assessment, if you’re arguments begin with, “Well, Rush Limbaugh said” or “Al Sharpton said” you probably could stand to be silent and think things through before you speak.  Remember, even if we manage to win a debate on the Trayvon Martin case, or any other issue for that matter, but those with whom we disagree are left as collateral damage, have we really been faithful in pointing others to Jesus?  No, we’ve just pointed them to our side and what good has that ever done anyone?

We live in an age of instant gratification.  We want our food, movies, music and justice and we want them now.  We’ll wear a bracelet, change our profile pictures and do anything else we can to ensure that justice is served.  Even if we don’t know all of the facts.

The New Testament author James cared about social issues.  He’s the one that called caring for orphans and widows “pure and undefiled” religion (James 1:27).  But one verse before that he said, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless” (James 1:26).  As we care for others and the many social issues that plague us, we must do so with guarded words.

If we fail in this, James tells us the consequences.  “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.  How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire” (James 3:5).  I’m afraid the match has already been lit and thrown on the dry forrest floor.  Hopefully it’s not too late for Christ followers who are, “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19) to put the fire out.

The call for silence is not a call for passivity in the face of injustice.  As you remain silent on this issue and wait with discernment for all of the facts, there are plenty of other social concerns right outside of your door that you can do something about.  Your church could probably stand to be a little more racially integrated so let your voice be heard.  That man at your kids soccer practice that’s a different color than you and has different politics than you probably needs to be shown the love of Christ.  Speak up.  This kind of action is hard.  There’s little fanfare, no celebrity spokesmen and no bracelets.

At the moment, as far as the Trayvon Martin case is concerned, now is the time for silence.  But while followers of Christ silently wait for enough facts to come in we pray loudly for the God of justice to bring healing, peace, wisdom and discernment as only he can.