If Trayvon Martin Were a Fetus, Christians Would Be a Whole Lot More Upset

Man still has one belief, one decree that stands alone:

The laying down of arms is like cancer to [his] bones.

— The great philosopher Dave Mustaine

A legal expert stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain eternal life?”

Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?”

He responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”

But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

— Luke 10:25-29, Common English Bible

Who is my neighbor?

Is my neighbor the unborn child no one will ever meet, killed by her mother before ever seeing God’s sun?

Are my neighbors the parents down the street, struggling to pay bills, postponing doctor’s visits because they cannot afford health insurance, which is not provided by the employers who provide them the part-time jobs with which they can barely stay afloat?

Is my neighbor Trayvon Martin and the thousands of other victims of gun violence, slain in a nation with the highest rate of guns per capita in the world?

To which Jesus replies, “Yes, my child. But the real question is: Are you their neighbor?”

The only people who really know what happened Feb. 26 on a sidewalk in Sanford, Fla., are George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, and Martin’s voice was silenced by Zimmerman’s bullet.

So let’s be clear. George Zimmerman is innocent until proven guilty, but we know this: Trayvon Martin was unarmed when he died, and Zimmerman admits to killing him. Zimmerman claims self-defense, and that may yet prove to be the case, although it seems that if anyone on that sidewalk had the right to be acting in self-defense it was the skinny teenager without a gun being pursued by the armed man 100 pounds heavier than he.

And there are a host of questions about race – whether Zimmerman holds an active hatred for African Americans that prejudiced his perception of Martin, whether he holds a more sublimated prejudice that caused him to see a gun that simply wasn’t there, whether the Sanford Police Department saw a dead black kid and accepted without question the idea that Zimmerman would feel threatened enough to use deadly violence in a confrontation with him.

But putting aside – with great difficulty – the race question, there is the matter of the law. Because it is possible the Sanford authorities simply felt they had no recourse under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which states a person may shoot to kill when “he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another” or “to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.”

Nothing in the law prevents a person from acting in “self-defense” after pursuing and confronting someone else. This law – the nation’s first, but now enacted in more than 20 states – was drafted and pushed by the National Rifle Association. As a recent editorial cartoon argues, the natural extent of this law is for the one being pursued to kill the pursuer first, under the reasonable belief that the pursuer will open fire at the slightest provocation.

It is hard to believe this sort of law is necessary, extending the right of deadly self-defense beyond the parameters of one’s home, removing the legal incentive to flee a potentially dangerous situation and replacing it with a legal incentive to escalate it.

But of course laws like this are what the NRA does.

The NRA was behind the lapse of the assault-weapons ban in 2004, which allowed Jared Loughner to legally purchase an extended clip for his handgun that doubled the number of bullets he could fire into the crowd at Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford’s meet-and-greet event in Tucson before he stopped to reload. And the NRA was behind the effort to stifle legislation introduced after the shooting that would have re-banned such extended clips.

In fact, the NRA has spent millions over the years in federal and state legislatures to roll back gun-control legislation.

That has led to such seemingly nonsensical permissiveness regarding weapons – just since the 2011 Tucson massacre (h/t Rachel Maddow):

  • Schools, public libraries and some public hospitals in Indiana are prohibited from restricting handgun possession.
  • Concealed handguns are now allowed in and on the campuses of all Kansas K-12 public schools.
  • A similar law in Utah, but the state also now allows handguns within 1,000 feet of preschools and daycares.
  • Concealed handguns are now allowed in Ohio restaurants, arenas and bars.
  • Counties are prohibited from imposing waiting periods for firearm sales in Florida.

Our society is addicted to violence; indeed, we have become desensitized to it.

How else to explain, as my friend Dan Carlson pointed out on his Facebook feed, that The Hunger Games, is rated PG-13 while Bully is rated R?

Here’s a description from a Gawker story explaining how Hunger Games – “a slaughterfest for the whole family,” according to New York’s David Edelstein – avoided an R rating:

It’s a dance, incorporating the violent deaths of more than 20 teenagers into a film whose blockbuster aspirations aim it virtually at all age groups. Ross pulls it off with a host of tricks like shaky-cam blurring, tasteful squirts of blood (well, as tasteful as squirts of blood can be) and selective montages that focus more on the effect (lifeless corpses) than the cause (say, bludgeoning).

Why does Bully, a documentary about the dangers and effects of bullying others, have an R rating? It uses the f-word six times.

There are many things wrong with the MPAA rating system, and the Hunger Games-Bully dichotomy gets at several of them, but the one I’m focusing on is how much violence is glorified in our culture.

Think about this: Christians who support non-violence or even pacifism are confronted with tough questions about the practicality of their beliefs. Who confronts Christians who supported – or even rushed headlong into – the eight-year carnage-filled adventure that was our war in Iraq? Who confronts the followers of a rabbi who preached turning the other cheek when they advocate nuclear armament, saber rattling or, yes, the NRA.

Rachel Held Evans’ continuing “Ask a …” series this week featured Tripp York, a Christian pacifist.

And, sure enough, York was asked about whether the growing number of young people in the church turning toward pacifism are doing so more because it’s trendy and less because they’ve truly struggled with the implications of pacifism. One of his points made me pause:

If it is a trend, then I say let’s embrace it. The alternative has been trendy long enough! You very well may be correct. I think your question is an interesting one. Though, I doubt that the “blank check” most Christians write for the never-ending wars of their nation-states are “wrestling” with the challenging implications of their “position” either.

Indeed, we need a reassessment of our norms as a church.

We rightly condemn abortion and would have justifiably tough questions for any Christians who were members of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

But where is the condemnation of the culture of violence fetishization? Where are the tough questions for those Christians who support the NRA, paying dues to an organization that spends millions to continually expand access to weapons of violence in a nation with more guns – and more gun violence – than nearly any other?

Similarly, where is the condemnation of a system that is so broken that thousands of people can be deprived access to health care to the point of dying? Where are the tough questions for those Christians who demonize and promise to repeal attempts at making that system better, such as the Affordable Care Act?

Are the victims of gun violence no less our neighbors than the victims of abortion? Are the children dying from preventable diseases in our own country no less our neighbors than the children dying in their mothers’ wombs?

They are all our neighbors. But whose neighbors are we?

“What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?”

Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

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3 comments on “If Trayvon Martin Were a Fetus, Christians Would Be a Whole Lot More Upset

  1. Dvora snell says:

    Wow, that is powerful! Thank you!

  2. Lectorel says:

    It’s hard for me to read this post with an open mind, when the opening is so openly hostile to woman. I agree with you, that we have a culture of violence that needs to be condemned. I wish you could see how anti-abortion rhetoric supports that culture instead of undermining it. You speak of your neighbor as ‘the unborn child no one will ever meet, killed by her mother before ever seeing God’s sun’. As if the woman carrying it is not within consideration. Elided over, neatly reduced to one-dimensional monster. As if you, who never can and never will be pregnant, know so well what it means to be pregnant, can speak with such bright clarity on the moral implications of a choice you will never face.
    Your neighbor was also the woman who chose to have an abortion. Your neighbor was the mother who already had a child and couldn’t afford another. Your neighbor was the woman whose abusive boyfriend sabotaged her birthcontrol. Your neighbor was the twelve year old raped by her step-brother. Your neighbor was the teenage girl pregnant her senior year. Your neighbor was the woman whose wanted child was found to have abnormalities incompatible with life. Your neighbor was the woman whose health was endangered by her pregnancy. Your neighbor was the trans man who found himself suicidal when his body turned against him. Your neighbor was the child of an abusive household who knew she couldn’t trust herself with a child. Your neighbor was the woman who needed to not be pregnant.
    And to value the child who will never think, never breath, never feel pain, over them isn’t what I call neighborly. Abortion is messy, and complicated, and pregnancy is a potentially fatal condition. Reducing abortion to ‘murder’, a if the only life in question is the fetus, is part of the systematic dehumanization of women, that supports the continued violence that is epidemic in women’s lives.

    • Paul says:

      L, thanks for the response.

      I keep looking over my shoulder, wondering who you’re arguing against because what you’ve written doesn’t seem to apply to what I’ve said on this blog multiple times about abortion. I encourage you to click on the “Abortion” tag in the right sidebar and see for yourself. I certainly understand that abortion is a complex and difficult subject, and I also share the anger you clearly feel toward those who moralize about the way women should act when they are not, in fact, women themselves.

      However, I cannot shy away from the fact that I generally and strongly oppose abortion – as strongly as I oppose gun violence, removing the social safety net and capital punishment. Regardless of its ability to feel pain or think or breathe air, a life is a life – inside the womb or outside of it. Now, I understand we can get into all sorts of arguments about when a life becomes a life, and that’s one of the reasons abortion is so complex and complicated and why I share your concern for demonizing women who make the painful choice to abort their children. Perhaps the opening paragraph edges close to that line. Trust me when I say I did not intend to demonize anyone. I had no specific situation in mind, but I do know unnecessary abortions take place – not because of rape or incest or abuse or poverty but because of convenience, and that should be a sad and troubling event for all of us, whether we support abortion or not.

      There are times when I see children in horrible homes and wonder if it wouldn’t be better for them if they had never been born; you describe some of those situations in your comment. But I can’t help but think the best thing for them would not have been to be killed ahead of time, but to have been born and given away to people who could love them the way every child deserves to be loved. I think adoption provides a middle ground for many of those scenarios. For all the complications and complexities of the abortion issue, I hope we can all agree the best solution, whenever remotely possible, is for life and love to win.

      Thanks again for your comments. I hope you’ll stick around and continue keeping me honest! Paul

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