TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (BP) -- Noting that "emotions are running high," and less than 24 hours after meeting with protestors camped outside his state capitol office, Gov. Rick Scott issued a statewide "Day of Prayer for Unity in Florida" for July 21 as a response to the George Zimmerman verdict in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
Scott met with student protestors who have occupied his office during the day and slept in the hallways of the statehouse by night since July 17 after Zimmerman's July 13 acquittal of a second-degree murder charge.
Protestors told Scott they wanted a special legislative session to address Florida's "stand your ground law." Scott responded by issuing the proclamation acknowledging Martin's death "is a tragedy; and the Martin family, the family of George Zimmerman, and all those affected by Trayvon's death remain in our thoughts and prayers.
After issuing the proclamation, Scott held a telephone conference call with faith leaders from throughout Florida to promote the Day of Prayer for Unity.
Craig Culbreth, lead strategist for the Florida Baptist Convention's missional support group, joined in the call with more than 50 other participants, including Florida Baptists Spike Hogan, pastor of Chets Creek Church in Jacksonville; Tom Bozzuto, director of quality assurance for the Florida Baptist Children's Homes; Bill Shiell, pastor of First Baptist Church in Tallahassee; and Bill Bunkley, president of the Florida Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
"I commend our governor for considering prayer as one of the options to help our state. Of course, as church leaders, we should make it a first option," Culbreth said. "I encourage our churches to have a time of prayer for unity in the state of Florida -- obviously, it's a very divisive time. Prayer for unity is a good thing."
Shiell said that as a pastor and parent, he will join with people of faith across the state Sunday to pray that the vision of Isaiah 58 will be fulfilled in Tallahassee.
"My prayer is that we will 'loose the chains of injustice, set the oppressed free, and break every yoke.' That we will call, and the Lord will answer. That our light will break forth like the dawn, and our healing will quickly appear and that we 'will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings' (Isaiah 58:6-12)."
Rick Shephard, team strategist for the Florida convention's prayer/spiritual awakening team, said Scripture calls us to a "humble compassion and a word of hope" in light of current events.
"Compassion and concern marked the ministry of Jesus, even in His words on the cross. We are praying for unity in our state," Shepherd told the Florida Baptist Witness. "True unity is found in looking to, listening to and obeying Jesus, imitating His forgiveness and showing His care for one another. We need to pray to Him as the God of all comfort, the God of mercy."
Citing 2 Chronicles 6:29-30, Shepherd said Scripture "calls each person, knowing his own grief and pain, to cry out to the Lord who knows the heart of every person. To any troubled heart, God our Father can give 'eternal comfort and good hope by grace' (2 Thessalonians 2:16) and bring unity.
"To any who do not know Jesus, we can tell of His love and care," Shepherd said. "We can pray comfort for now and for eternity."
Scott, out of town for all but one of the past seven days, told student protestors at the capitol he had met with Trayvon's mother, Sybrina Fulton, earlier in the evening to "again give my condolences on the loss of her son and let her know that she and her family remain in our thoughts and prayers."
Of the meeting with the students, Scott said in a statement he reminded the protestors of "their right to share their views with their state legislators and let them know their opinions on the law."
The full text of the proclamation reads:
"WHEREAS, the people of Florida are strong and optimistic people who band together in times of crisis; and
"WHEREAS, Florida has faced many challenges before -- including natural disasters -- with a spirit of unity and perseverance; and
"WHEREAS, the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin is a tragedy; and the Martin family, the family of George Zimmerman, and all those affected by Trayvon's death remain in our thoughts and prayers; and
"WHEREAS, emotions are running high as we continue to grieve the loss of Trayvon and the toll that the tragic events surrounding his death have taken on the community of Sanford, Florida, and other communities across our state; and
"WHEREAS, tragic events compel us to a time of deep reflection and prayer to find strength and peace in uncertainty; and
"WHEREAS, Floridians are unified in not only their resilience, but also in being a people of great humility, kindness, and compassion;
"NOW, THEREFORE, I, Rick Scott, Governor of the State of Florida, do hereby declare Sunday, July 21, 2013, as a STATEWIDE DAY OF PRAYER FOR UNITY IN FLORIDA."
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness (www.gofbw.com), newsjournal of the Florida Baptist State Convention.
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