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In sharp contrast to remarks made by his predecessor a year ago about the Trayvon Martin case, the new head of the politics and policy office for the Southern Baptist Convention said Tuesday that Florida neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was wrong and that there are “systemic” racial injustices in the U.S. legal system.
“Regardless of what Trayvon Martin was doing or not doing that night, you have someone who was taking upon himself some sort of vigilante justice, even by getting out of the car. Regardless of what the legal verdict was, this was wrong,” said Russell Moore, 41, who took over this spring from Richard Land as the public face of the Convention, the country’s largest Protestant denomination. “And when you add this to the larger context of racial profiling and a legal system that does seem to have systemic injustices as it relates to African-Americans with arrests and sentencing, I think that makes for a huge crisis.”
A year ago Land was strongly criticized by fellow Southern Baptist leaders after saying President Obama was “trying to gin up the black vote” by empathizing with the Martin family. Land said African-American activists who questioned the shooting “need the Trayvon Martins to continue perpetuating their central myth — America is a racist and an evil nation.”
Land was reprimanded by the Convention and retired a few months later after a quarter century as head of the Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission — Southern Baptism’s most high-profile post.
The Southern Baptist Convention, created in the 1800s in defense of slavery and segregated into the 1960s, recently elected an African-American president. About 1 million of the Convention’s 16 million members are African-American.
“Most white evangelicals, white Americans, are seeing [the Martin case] microscopically, in terms of this verdict, and most African-Americans are seeing it macroscopically. It’s Trayvon Martin, it’s Emmitt Till, it’s Medger Evers, it’s my son, my neighbor’s son, my situation that I had,” Moore said. “Most white Americans say we don’t know what happened that night and they are missing the point.”
Land was one of the Southern Baptist leaders who made possible a 1995 apology to African Americans for the denomination’s historic defense of slavery.