Responding to Trayvon Martin: Our Renewed Call to Suffer Together
America is living with a deep racial wound. Many, today, are limping. They're hurting. Not a day goes by that racism relinquishes its visceral sting on our broken world. Yet, it's possible for many of us to ignore issues of race in America, to not see the pain around us.
The racial divide—and more broadly, a divide over privilege—has come to light again this week in the wake of the Trayvon Martin trial. As Americans react to George Zimmerman's "not guilty" verdict, I've heard, in the cries of many, that members of Christ's body have been suffering alone.
"I was and have remained in shock. No—not shocked—devastated and dumbfounded, at a loss for words," wrote Enuma Okoro, for Q Ideas. The words "not guilty," and the deafening ecclesial silence afterwards, sound too much like, "Your suffering is discountable."
From a Christian perspective, that's hugely problematic. In Christ, we've been knit together, across racial divides, as one body. The Bible affirms we are conjoined, our interests so intertwined that there is no such thing as suffering alone. When the apostle Paul described the way the body of Christ was designed to function, he taught "that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it." (1 Cor. 12:25-26).
The concern that Paul describes, so central to the church's identity, has been largely absent from not only the responses to the recent trial but to decades of wounds within the church.
The kairos—time-is-right—invitation for many believers today is to open our eyes and ears to the hurting members of the single body whose head is Christ.
This week, those who suffer include many African Americans. But we also need to wake up to the pain of many more to whom we are joined: believers in China, Latino immigrants to the United States, people with disabilities, and many others.
Some dismiss these groups and their experiences as being tied up in current issues that are not the concern or responsibility of the church. But that's not the case. Paying attention to the experience and suffering of others isn't about being politically correct. Neither the metric of tolerance nor the metric of relevance were ever meant to measure the church's response to a world in need. Rather, the church gleans her identity from the person of Jesus and the counter-cultural kingdom he built and continues to build. Our very unique calling is to behave as the living body of Christ in the world today.
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