United Methodists join mourning for Trayvon

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Across the nation, people donned hoodies and went to church to pray for justice for a slain teen.

Bishop Beverly Shamana, retired, was moved to tears Sunday at the sight of several young people wearing hoodies as a symbol of solidarity with Trayvon Martin as they entered First United Methodist Church in Pasadena, Calif.

"It was such a gift to have them with us," said Shamana, who is serving as co-interim pastor at the church. "I wanted to do something; I wanted the church to do something, and this was the opportunity God gave us."

She promised a sermon on "Hosanna, Hoodies and Hope" for next Sunday. The group plans to come back, and some members of the congregation said they also will wear hoodies.

"The Resurrection is hope for new life, a new future. There is the Scripture that says, 'The rocks are going to cry out.' The church cannot be silent," she said. "We are the ones who have to make some noise about injustice in our land."

Newspapers from across the nation reported worshippers joined in solidarity with Martin by wearing hoodies and planning rallies. In Miami, Ebenezer United Methodist Church will be the gathering place for a rally by People Acting for Community Together.

Shooting one month ago

On Feb. 26, Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old, was shot and killed by a member of a neighborhood watch in Sanford, Fla. The shooter, George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old Hispanic, has not been arrested. Zimmerman told a 911 operator he (Martin) appeared suspicious.

One month after Martin's death, a rally and town hall meeting is planned in Sanford on March 26, in advance of a city council session. Martin's parents as well as religious, community and sports leaders plan to attend the meeting. Sanford's police chief has temporarily stepped down since the national outcry over the shooting.

"The church cannot be silent. We are the ones who have to make some noise about injustice in our land."
- Bishop Beverly Shamana

In Florida, as in more than 20 other states, a "Stand Your Ground" law provides significant leeway for using deadly force if a person feels threatened.

"Florida's law was passed in 2005 and reports of 'justifiable homicides' have tripled since the law went into effect," said Bill Mefford, executive with the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.

"We call on our legislators to pass policies that protect our children and make the use of firearms a truly rare occurrence," Mefford said. "Responsible gun ownership and public safety are not mutually exclusive, but tragically, both were ignored here by the Florida state legislature under enormous financial and political pressure from the National Rifle Association."

Joining voices

Last week, a United Methodist coalition composed of two ethnic caucuses and three unofficial United Methodist advocacy organizations, spoke out about the shooting.

The shooting is the latest example of race trumping humanity, said Pamela Crosby, executive director of Black Methodists for Church Renewal, one organization in the Love Your Neighbor Common Witness Coalition.

"Trayvon is our son, baby brother, church member, friend. This is just another example where race trumped humanity. The time for love of God and neighbor to trump racism is now!"

A statement from the Florida Council on Churches, posted on the United Methodist Florida Annual (regional) Conference website, called for "just prosecution."

"Trayvon is our son, baby brother, church member, friend. This is just another example where race trumped humanity. The time for love of God and neighbor to trump racism is now!" - Pamela Crosby

"Trayvon's death was unwarranted. Florida should be a place where a person of any color can walk in a neighborhood without fear of violence or being presumed a suspicious threat," the statement says. "Florida should be a place where the use of deadly force is rare and uncommon. Florida should also be a place where the misuse of deadly force is not tolerated."

United Methodist Bishop Timothy Whitaker of the Florida Area signed the statement.

National attention

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.), a United Methodist pastor and chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, said the shooting would be the top agenda item at the weekly meeting of the caucus.

President Obama made the shooting personal, calling it a tragedy and said, "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon."

Mefford says the tragedy is personal for him as well.

"As a father of an African-American son, I am tired of watching a society systematically place more value on the rights of a few to own large numbers of guns, which, most of the time are not used for &ellipsis; protection, over and above the value of my son's life.

"I am tired of hearing how the parents of African-American boys have to give exhaustive instructions on how to walk to the store and buy candy; instructions that never have to be given to Anglo boys. It is frankly tiring and overwhelming to have to constantly explain to my son why some will defend unrestrained gun ownership and the uncontrolled activity of the NRA in the creation of dangerous policies over his right to walk to a store to buy candy without fear for his life," Mefford said. "I love my son and will do anything to protect my son. I pray that the church will boldly stand up on behalf of my son and value his life and defend his rights as well."

*Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for the young adult content team at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].

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