Trayvon Martin was created in the image of God, and should not have been killed.
Ever since our culture replaced the term “religion” with “faith” or “faith-based,” we have found it difficult to be clear about the connection of religious values to public issues. So now, in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict, an understandable cry rises from “people of faith” and others for “justice.”
But justice is an elusive concept. People and groups use the term in a variety of ways, not all informed by religious standards.
Supporters of Zimmerman claim that he received justice when the verdict came in on Saturday. Others, in the attempt to be neutral, offer that the criminal justice system has done its job. Yet others deem the verdict a miscarriage of justice, and pray, protest and petition for real justice. And for many on both sides of a difficult conversation, justice can be a euphemism for revenge, like it was in the Iraq war.
In addition to the calls for a conversation on race, there must be a parallel public discussion of the meaning of justice. Each of us must turn to our religious traditions for definitions of justice which reflect our sacred texts and belief systems. We cannot afford to engage serious issues of public justice solely based on popular, uncritical definitions, regardless of the side which they emerge. And there exist other religious resources in our traditions which need to be applied.
One critical tenet for me is the “image of God.”
Trayvon Martin–like us all– was created in God’s image. He cannot be reduced to a profile, whether by town watch vigilantes, ‘stop and frisk’ cops and pols, defense attorneys bent on destroying character through arguments which stoke a “the kid had it coming to him” response from Zimmerman supporters (including name calling relatives) or even houses of worship that will protest Martin’s death, but wouldn’t know what to do if he showed up on a Sunday morning with a hoodie on.
“Created in the image of God ” a concept lost on many in this age of disconnect between belief and practice cries out “young black men and boys are human! Young brown men and boys have value! God’s children, God’s creation has intrinsic worth even when it wears its pants low!”
In a Huffington Post piece, My colleague, Reverend Michael McBride of the Lifelines to Healing initiative, made the important point that “it is not the verdict, but the values.” A number of us as clergy convened a succession of conversations before he verdict to frame an overtly religious response that had its roots in authentic religious tradition. Reverend McBride warned that irrespective of the verdict, America had some self-examination ahead, because so much of what has transpired from that night of death through the trial into an afterward of anger, mourning and celebration reflects a crisis of values. I submit that there exists agreement between the Judeo-Christian tradition and our founding documents concerning human creation and God-given rights. The constitutional right to bear arms reflects a contextualized interpretation of the fundamental, inalienable right to life.
Let’s face it. What happened to Trayvon Martin reflects a general lack of respect for his creation in the image of God. He was profiled by someone without the qualifications or training to do so (as a legitimate public safety enterprise) who subsequently ignored instructions not to engage the person he had profiled, but characterized him as someone who’s appearance triggered (double entendre intended) a dehumanizing moment that too many of our young black and brown males face whether from vigilantes or gang members, people who deal drugs or depositions, preachers, pimps, or politicians Trayvon Martin was child of God, and did not have to die.
Harold Dean Trulear is Associate Professor of Applied Theology at Howard University and Director of the Healing Communities Prison Ministry and Reentry Initiative.