Essay on Sanford: A Letter to the First, UMC Sanford in the Wake of Trayvon Martin's Death
November 30, 2020
By Rev. David L. Charlton
When Trayvon Martin’s tragic murder occurred, I was serving as the solo-pastor at First United Methodist Church of Sanford (FUMC Sanford). Like everyone else, I was shocked. Then, as I learned the details, I became horrified and upset. It was clear to me that Trayvon was killed because he was black. If Trayvon had been a white kid walking down the road with skittles and Arizona ice tea, I doubt he would have looked suspicious enough to be followed and killed.
Soon after Trayvon’s death, a representative from the Allen Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) called me and asked if they could use FUMC Sanford as a base of operations for the upcoming march. The march was to begin in front of FUMC Sanford which made the church building an ideal place for a base of operations. In the Methodist tradition, the UMC and AME are close kin. I felt that it was family asking me for help. So, I said yes.
As I reflected on this, I realized I would need to explain my decision to my predominately white, conservative congregation. So, I wrote a letter to the congregation theologically explaining why I said yes to the Allen Chapel AME Church. The following is that letter.
Pastor David Charlton’s statement to the First United Methodist Church of Sanford
concerning the shooting of Trayvon Martin that occurred February 26, 2012
21 March 2012
Brothers and sisters,
I suspect most of you are familiar with the tragic shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. I have reviewed many of the newspaper articles, listened to the 911 recordings, and watched a TV interview of one of the eye witnesses, Mary Cutcher. I’m now prepared to make a Scripturally-based statement concerning this evil incident.
It is my opinion that a severe miscarriage of justice has occurred. All the evidence indicates that the shooter, George Zimmerman, initiated the confrontation that led to Trayvon’s death. The evidence also indicates that Trayvon was not doing anything wrong when George saw him walking from a store towards his father’s fiancé’s house. Despite this preponderance of evidence, George has not been arrested and charged with a crime.
While on patrol as a neighborhood watch volunteer, George spotted Trayvon walking down the street. He then called 911 to report a suspicious looking person. The 911 recordings demonstrate that the 911 dispatcher told George to stop following Trayvon and wait for the police. George disobeyed the 911 dispatcher and proceeded to follow Trayvon.
The 911 recordings and a cell phone conversation between Trayvon and his girlfriend indicate that when Trayvon saw George, he started to walk in a different direction, attempting to avoid a confrontation. Obviously, a confrontation was not avoided. The confrontation ended with George shooting Trayvon with a gun that he shouldn’t have had. (I’m assuming that neighborhood watch volunteers are supposed to be unarmed.)
The Sanford police department has not provided an adequate explanation as to why George Zimmerman has not been arrested and charged with a crime. There are also serious questions as to the thoroughness of the police investigation. This is a miscarriage of justice. People are understandably outraged. These two questions must be asked: “Why has George Zimmerman not been charged?” and “If Trayvon was white, would the police have conducted a more thorough investigation?”
The following links will take you to some of the articles and videos that support my assessment of the situation.
Now that I’ve explained my assessment of what happened, let me provide a Scripturally-based response to this situation. In Matthew 5:44, our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ states, “Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.” In Romans 12: 17-21, the Apostle Paul exhorts us to, “…not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
With this in mind, we should pray for Trayvon Martin’s family. We should pray for comfort, peace, and healing to descend on this family. We should also pray for God to enable the family to forgive George. I say this not for George’s benefit but for the family’s benefit. Holding on to anger, bitterness and hatred destroys a person’s spirit. We should pray that this does not happen to Trayvon’s family.
We also need to pray for God to bring George Zimmerman to repentance. Yes, in accordance with the Scripture quoted above, we need to pray for George’s salvation. As hard as it is for us to concede this, God loves George just as much as He loves Trayvon.
In addition to praying for the family and George, we need to pray for the Holy Spirit to work in the Sanford police department and the State Attorney’s office. We need to pray for the Holy Spirit to put a deep longing for justice and love in the hearts of the Sanford law enforcement community.
Although prayer is the most powerful response we can make, it should not be our only response. Our prayers need to be accompanied by loving action. It is our duty to question the Sanford law enforcement community and expect them to perform their duties in a professional manner. I have great respect and appreciation for the men and women who risk their lives to protect us. But, for the good of the community, they must be held to a high standard.
As Christians, we are expected to love our enemies and not seek revenge. In order for us to do this, we must be able to depend on the government to seek justice on our behalf. Romans 13:4 states, “For he [government] is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He [government] is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” In other words, God institutes governments in order to implement justice. When governments fail to do this, we, as Christians, should feel compelled to ask why. We should ask the Sanford criminal justice community, “Why are you not implementing justice?”
It is right for us to demand, in a forceful yet non-violent and loving way, an answer as to why the city of Sanford has failed to implement justice. That is happening. On Friday, March 23 at 7 p.m. there will be a one-hour prayer vigil at Allen Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church (1203 Olive Avenue, Sanford, Florida). Then, on Monday, March 26 at 4 p.m. there will be a march and rally for justice. It will start at First United Methodist Church (419 Park Ave., Sanford, Florida.) and end at the Sanford City Hall. I will attend both events. I encourage you to attend these events.
May God’s grace overshadow this situation and use it for the advancement of the Kingdom of God.
David L. Charlton
First United Methodist Church of Sanford