On February 26, 2012 George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. Each day for the foreseeable future, the 24 hour news networks will inundate us with the daily news as he now goes to trial for the murder of 17 year old, Trayvon Martin.
When this senseless killing first took place, police were slow to arrest Zimmerman, who claimed his killing was justified under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. These laws permit, in some circumstances, the use of deadly force instead of requiring one attempt to first flee a situation. Zimmerman is now arguing that under the law, he was not required to flee the situation with Martin, and that instead he was justified in using deadly force against the teen who was just walking home after a visit to the convenience store.
When this incident first took place in 2012, I immediately denounced the killing and subsequent failure to immediately arrest Zimmerman, the killer. Taking this stand wasn’t very popular, especially with many of my conservative Christian friends who immediately defended the concept of “stand your ground”, thus supporting Zimmerman’s decision to use lethal force in the situation. However, I find that in these situations, many Christians unintentionally and unknowingly swear primary allegiance to the constitution and US law instead of making a primary allegiance to the teachings of Jesus.
The Zimmerman case is a perfect example of why Jesus followers cannot support laws such as “stand your ground” and simultaneously claim to be following the teachings of Jesus. Sadly, as we look at some of the bare facts of the case, we see that had Zimmerman been a follower of the teachings of Jesus, the destruction of countless lives could have been avoided.
Here is why it is completely impossible for a Christian to side with Zimmerman in this case:
1. As Jesus followers, we are required to abstain from judging others.
The one line from the teachings of Jesus that both Christian and Non-Christian alike can probably quote is: “judge not, lest ye be judged”. Here in the book of Matthew, Jesus issues his followers an instruction and warning: do not judge others, or you will end up the one facing judgement. Sadly, this is exactly what we find in the Trayvon Martin case on multiple levels.
George Zimmerman saw a teenager walking home with a bag of Skittles, and attempted to judge if Martin was up to “good or evil”. We see the depths of Zimmerman’s hateful judgement in his own words in the 911 call, when he says: “These f#$king punks always get away”. This shows that Zimmerman had already judged Martin, and was acting accordingly.
This desire to judge others goes back to the original sin in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Even ate from the tree of the knowledge of good an evil, so that they could be like God in their ability to judge. However, we will never be like God with the ability to infallibly judge good and evil- especially in the life of another human being. Zimmerman did not follow this teaching of Jesus, and now is on the receiving end of Jesus’ warning– Zimmerman is the one now being judged.
When we judge other people, we end up making decisions based upon our faulty judgement instead of the truth. Zimmerman’s judgement that Martin was up to no good, caused him to treat Martin in accordance with his faulty judgement instead of that which was true.
2. The teachings of Jesus and the Bible tell us we are to comply with the authorities, and Zimmerman did not do this.
In the book of Romans, we are told “let everyone be subject to the governing authorities.” The passage goes onto warn that those who don’t follow the instructions given to us by the authorities, will find themselves facing judgement. This is exactly what happened the night Trayvon Martin was killed.
As Zimmerman called 911 to report a “suspicious person” the 911 operator asked: “Are you following him?” When Zimmerman admitted he was, the dispatcher instructed him by saying “We don’t need you to do that.” Zimmerman responded with “ok”, indicating that he understood he was not to follow Martin. Zimmerman did not comply with the authorities.
Jesus also weighed in on the issue, but took things one step further, arguing that when a Roman soldier made you carry their equipment for a mile you should be overly compliant and actually carry it for two. Had Zimmerman been following the teachings of Jesus and the whole of scripture, he would have complied with the authorities’ request to stop following Martin.
3. Jesus tells us to not resist an evildoer, but Zimmerman instead chased down and murdered someone he simply thought was an evildoer.
“Not resisting an evildoer” and “turning the other cheek” means that when confronted with evil, we should not respond in-kind. While the world may teach us that responding in-kind is acceptable and within our rights, Jesus tells us that we are to live by a different standard- one that refuses to respond to evil with evil but instead responds to evil with love.
The English rendering of the word “resist” is unfortunate in this situation, because it doesn’t fully express the meaning in Greek. The word Jesus actually uses is the word ἀντιστῆναι, which means “to act hostile towards”. Therefore, the teaching of Jesus is that when we encounter a person who is doing wrong, we are to abstain from acting hostile toward them.
However, that is the exact opposite of what Zimmerman did. By his own account as recorded in the 911 recording, Martin noticed that he was being followed and ran away. Zimmerman, instead of obeying the authorities who instructed him to remain where he was, and instead of acting in accordance with the teachings of Jesus to refrain from “acting hostile”, got out of his vehicle and chased Martin down in a most hostile fashion.
4. Jesus taught his disciples to “put their weapons away”, but Zimmerman took his weapon out.
As I think about the Trayvon Martin case, I see some interesting similarities to the arrest of Jesus: an innocent man being chased down by those who had falsely judged him, and ultimately killed him. In the case of Jesus however, when his disciples began to turn towards violence they were quickly rebuked and told to put away their swords because, as Jesus taught, “all who take the sword will die by the sword.”
Jesus refused to resort to violence or to kill another human being in self-defense, and taught his disciples to do the same. This doctrine of “total nonviolence” was held by all of the disciples who, but John, nonviolently went to their deaths. The church continued on in this teaching of Jesus until Christianity was joined in unholy matrimony to state power, under that of Constantine. Since that time, many Christians have incorrectly argued that it is permissible to kill in self defense. However, the red words in scripture remain clear on this issue: put your weapons away, love your enemies, turn the other cheek, and do not act hostile towards and evildoer.
Zimmerman, did the opposite of this- he took his sword out, and used it.
5. Zimmerman failed to love his neighbor.
Zimmerman essentially claims that he has been attempting to love his neighbors by policing the neighborhood for crime- to which I say, great. That night, however he killed his neighbor instead of loving him.
Scripture defines love as something that is patient, and kind. Zimmerman was neither of those things. Instead, he impatiently chased down a child who was attempting to reach the safety of home. This resulted in an altercation, at which point Zimmerman took out his weapon, and extinguished a life.
Call me a heretic, but I’m pretty sure loving your neighbor means that you shouldn’t chase them down and shoot them.
As this case continues to spark national discussion on the appropriateness of “stand your ground” laws, I hope that you’ll consider the issue in light of the teachings of Jesus and realize that you can’t support George Zimmerman and also follow the nonviolent Jesus revealed in the Bible.