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Until now I have avoided making any public comments on the George Zimmerman trial. For one thing, I was not there on that tragic night, so I cannot know exactly what happened in the final moments before Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin. Whose voice was it calling for help in the background of the 911 call? Who initiated the physical altercation? Unfortunately there are only two people who truly know these answers to these questions, and one of them is dead.
But the other reason I have avoided comment is that, frankly, I have been afraid. This case not only illustrates but further inflames the racial discord that still scars our society, and I have simply not wanted to wade into the understandable outrage it generates. Surely you can understand. I am busy man, right? I’ve got enough challenges to handle without taking on the centuries-old injustice that African Americans and other minorities continue to face.
But my fear-based avoidance is only indicative of the real problem, because fear is at the heart of this story. Why did George Zimmerman get out of the car and follow Trayvon Martin in the first place? Because he was afraid of him. Maybe it was his dark skin. Maybe it was the hoodie. Maybe it just because he was unfamiliar. Either way, Zimmerman saw the unarmed teenager as a threat. While I cannot say for sure exactly what happened in the final moments of Trayvon Martin’s young life, I can say that his death was directly caused because Zimmerman acted out of fear.
1 John 4:18 tells us that “perfect love casts out fear.” Whatever else this means, it at least means that you cannot love someone and be fearful of them at the same time. This morning I retweeted a comment by Joanna Butler-Bass who said she imagines a world in which Zimmerman offers Martin a ride home on a rainy night. That almost sounds like some kind of fairy tale-nonsense until you realize that she is imagining a world in which the words of 1 John 4:18 have become true, a world in which we respond to one another on the basis of love and not fear.
Clearly, that world is not here yet – not in all its fullness at least. One day the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ. When that day comes the lion will lay down with the lamb, blacks and whites and browns (and every other color of God’s kaleidoscope) will embrace in a bond of true fellowship, and a teenager will be able to walk home from the convenient store without having to look over his shoulder. But until that day comes we have a choice to make. Love or fear?