Dear Colleagues in Ministry,
Many of you are aware that I have been a public presence at the recent events in Sanford surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin. What you may not know is my motivation in being there. I did not go to Sanford to make a political statement, but a pastoral one: that was Canon Nelson Pinder’s observation and it is accurate.
I went to Sanford with the enthusiastic support of Fr. Rory Harris, Rector of Holy Cross, because I wanted to pastorally stand with a community of people, specifically the African American community of Sanford, who were deeply concerned that they were not being treated fairly by local law enforcement.
What I observed at the City Commission public hearing where I spoke only confirmed that concern. Many of us grew up in communities where we trusted the police to do their job fairly. We believed them to be people of good will who would even let us off for minor infractions if circumstances warranted. Because that is my experience with local law enforcement, I am far more inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt, not get involved, and allow investigations to quietly take their course. These are assumptions that I suspect many of you share and that is still my hope.
The African American community of Sanford does not, however, share many of these same assumptions. They were praying, openly at that meeting, for a fair outcome, but they were not at all sure it would happen. Anecdotal stories of racial prejudice on the part of law enforcement were told at that hearing numerous times from people who began their stories by saying, “I grew up in this community.” There was enough history of unfair treatment by the police that people were afraid that nothing would be done, even though they believed that one of their own had been murdered. They believed that if Trayvon Martin had been white and walking in that same neighborhood, dressed exactly the same way, his death would not have happened.
So I stood before the microphone and addressed the City Commission. I spoke of the grief I would be feeling if it had been one of my own sons who had been shot. I echoed the sentiments of others who were pleading for an open, fair and impartial investigation. I publicly joined that community in their prayers for justice. Later, I sent an email to Sanford’s Mayor, Jeff Triplett, thanking him for his courage and for the City Commission’s open hearing.
My hope in going was to embody, in some small and public way, two Biblical principles:
The haunting question of “who is my neighbor” found in the parable of the Good Samaritan that ties us all together regardless of race or neighborhood.
The heartbreaking unity described in Paul’s phrase “when one suffers, all suffer.”
As a bishop, I have a responsibility to embody and articulate a clear Christian witness, both in our churches and in the public arena. That responsibility is central to my office. That is a part of what I believe it means to live out, in our day, the faith of the apostles.
Since my involvement in Sanford I have received many responses. Most of the responses have been overwhelmingly positive, from clergy and laypeople both in and outside the Episcopal Church as well as in and outside our community.
There have been a few who have voiced some criticism, and understandably so. The facts of the case continue to shift. Things are murky, not clear. All involved have their faults. If one chooses to only publicly support those who are completely innocent, then one will wait a very long time, indeed.
This coming Friday, Good Friday, pastors from all over Seminole County are gathering outside Holy Cross Church at 9:00 to pray for the community of Sanford and the many who are deeply affected by this case. God willing, I plan to be there.
I trust you are keeping me and all involved in your prayers, and if God gives you some discernment in this matter I am more than open to receiving it.
Have a blessed and strong Holy Week as well as joyful Feast of the Resurrection!
I remain your servant and a servant of Christ’s,
Bishop, Diocese of Central Florida