It has been with the utmost grace and dignity that the parents of Trayvon Martin have held up since their son was shot and killed.
They have been resolute yet firm. They have shown compassion toward the family of George Zimmerman and indeed have not shot poisonous darts,verbal or otherwise, toward the man who has been accused of shooting their son. They have held their anger in check, not wanting, it seems to divert attention from their goal: justice for their son.
Surely they have shown grace under fire.
God…and other parents who have lost children for whatever reason, but especially due to violence – knows their pain. They would have been within their rights, their grieving rights, to rant and rave.
And yet, they have stood, in a protective and protected place.
It has seemed, as I have watched them, that the nation and indeed the world, has been able to see the power of the Black Church. It has been none other than the Black Church, with its emphasis on the ever-presence of God and its insistence that God demands social justice, which has kept the African-Americans on solid ground and in their right minds throughout their sojourn in America.
The history of black people in America seeking Jesus for their literal salvation on earth is one of the most beautiful and powerful in all American history. Albert J. Raboteau, in his The Invisible Institution, wrote that when a slave was questioned about conditions of slavery, he said, “We endeavor to keep ourselves up as well as we can …what can we do unless we keep up a good heart. If we were to droop, we should die!”
Slaves were pushed to have a special trust in Jesus; there seemed to be none but God and his son Jesus in this strange country which used them but did not respect them. Writes Raboteau of another slave, “I knew very well, if God was able to deliver me from the corrupt influence of the world and the power of Satan, that he was able to deliver me from this slave-holder. Yet, I was like so many others, I did not see by what method he would secure my deliverance. Still, with childlike simplicity, I trusted him.”
It was this constant teaching blacks received in the Black Church during and after slavery which made the Black Church unique, and which accounts for African-Americans having the strength to push through and, like Trayvon’s parents, demand justice in spite of huge odds.
Of course, there has been some criticism of the Black Church – like, for instance, it urged black people to endure the suffering on this earth and become complacent, believing in a sweet “life after,” and there were not a few African-Americans who absorbed that particular message, but the reason for African-Americans enduring and prospering in this country, in spite of great odds, has been this persistent nudging and reminding by the Black Church to trust God and his son Jesus, no matter how bleak a situation.
Doing so gives on grace under fire.
As I have watched Trayvon’s parents, I have found myself thinking, “They love the Lord…and they are holding onto Jesus by the skins of their teeth.” Some voice, bigger than the oppressive voices of racism and injustice, has been speaking peace and power and determination into their grieving spirits. I would imagine God speaks like that to anyone who will listen; certainly the parents of other missing or exploited children have heard it, too, and have shown grace under fire as they have waited for positive news.
But in the case of Trayvon Martin, and the history of African-Americans not receiving justice so often in America, I am thinking that the voice of God has to be sharper, clearer, because this history of racism and injustice inspires rage, and not peace. It would have been so easy for Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin to scream out, “racism!” but they never did.
It has been, consistently and quietly, the demand for justice, simple justice for a 17-year-old kid who happened to be their son.
As of this writing, the Washington Post is reporting that George Zimmerman will be arrested. A pastor working with Trayvon’s parents, the Rev. Jamal Bryant, said in a CNN interview that the parents have been praying.
The old people always told me that “prayer changes things.” The author of the Book of James wrote that the “fervent, effectual prayer of the righteous avails much.” Yes, surely. Like grace under fire. It has been amazing to watch Trayvon’s parents, and has given credence to the power of God, certainly, and the power and strength of the Black Church, specifically.
A candid observation …