Can Faith Help Us Find Healing and Forgiveness in the Wake of the Trayvon Martin Case?
As President Obama said, the jury has spoken. The case has concluded. One side won, and another side lost. Yet, no one is happy. A 17-year-old boy is dead. Grieving parents will never be the same. What now?
Some want to continue the conflict. Facebook and Twitter are filled with words of vitriol and vengeance. Others, like Trayvon Martin’s parents, have conveyed their sadness and hope. They have turned to faith not in the name of anger. They have turned to God in the name of healing. This morning Trayvon Martin’s mom tweeted, “Lord during my darkest hour I lean on you. You are all that I have. At the end of the day, God is still in control. Thank you all for your prayers and support.”
Amen. There is a time for conflict. There is a time for healing. Now is the time for healing. What insights and support can our faith give us?
1. Hold out for God’s comfort: Trayvon Martin’s mom tweet echoes the most famous words of the 23rd Psalm: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for Thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”
Among the most important and overlooked verses in this verse is “through.” To find God’s comfort, we have to walk through the valley of the shadow. We cannot jump over it. We cannot run around it. But we will get through it. On the other side of despair lies hope.
2. Reject vengeance: One of the extraordinary lessons of the Hebrew Bible is the beauty of reconciliation. In the Book of Genesis, Joseph’s brothers leave him for dead. They tell their father a wild beast devoured him. 20 years pass. They meet him again. He has every reason to hate them. He has every reason to take vengeance upon them. He does not. He embraces them. Faith lifts us above revenge in the name of healing.
3. Watch our language: The media exacerbates our differences. Conflict sells, and heated language generates conflict. If we are to find healing, we need to watch what we say.
Some of the post-trial comments by both sets of attorneys have generated further hostility. People of faith need to speak words that bring us together rather than drive us further apart. An inspiring example comes from Reverend Jacqueline Lewis in New York, who told her congregants on Sunday that Martin Luther King Jr. “would have wanted us to conduct ourselves on the highest plane of dignity.”
4. Express our convictions: Watching our language does not mean silencing our hearts. Reverend Lewis went on in her sermon to say “we’re going to raise our voices against the root causes of this kind of tragedy.” Respect does not mean acquiescence. The beauty of democracy is the place it gives us for constructive disagreement.
5. Look for the opportunity in tragedy: Whatever our feelings on the case, we can take this time as an opportunity for discussion. When the religious school year begins in September, I plan to talk about the case with my students. Justice and forgiveness are as much a part of faith as ritual and prayer.
Rabbi Evan Moffic serves as rabbi of Congregation Solel in Highland Park, IL. His newest book, Wisdom for People of All Faiths: Ten Ways To Connect With God has garnered tremendous praise.