Historic Harlem church reacts to Zimmerman verdict

In Harlem, a historic church turns to their faith for solace and direction in the wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal.

The Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem is known the world over for its work in the areas of civil and human rights. It was as pastor of Abyssinian that Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., representing Harlem, acted as a driving force for much of the civil rights legislation of the 1960s. That legacy continues on today.

Early on the first Sunday after George Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, Abyssinian’s congregation murmured, awaiting a word from their pastor.

The sermon was delivered by Assistant Minister Nicholas S. Richards who, after the choir sang the hymn “We’ve Come this Far By Faith,” encouraged the church to pray for the Martin family and for the community to “respond to this tragedy in a way that pleases God.”

The minister took his message from the book of Romans, the ninth chapter and twenty-second verse.

“What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath–prepared for destruction?” it reads. “What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory.”

Passionately, Richards spoke on the injustice of Martin’s death and Zimmerman’s subsequent acquittal as an evil that is “a part of God’s overarching story of salvation.”

“Every generation has it’s own kind of evil,” Richards warned. “Our evil has taken on new form. It has new names. It has a different shape. It is less about a person and more about a system. The evils that we face are systems, for we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against powers, principalities and spiritual wickedness in high places.”

“What do we see when we see the verdict that just came down?” Richards asked the congregation. “How do we respond to this news? Protests are fine. Pickets are fine but how will we commit ourselves to something more than just one day of frustration. The value in seeing this evil is that we can commit ourselves to change.”

The church’s large congregation took to their feet in ovation.

Coincidentally, the service fell on the second Sunday of the month, an occasion when the church blesses infants. One by one, the pastor held the children up before the congregation to thank God for them, to pray for their health, strength and protection.

Follow Donovan X. Ramsey at @iDXR