A Manhattan pastor took to the pulpit Sunday to argue that the fatal shooting of an unarmed black Florida teenager demands secular action from the faithful, since Jesus was a Jewish rabbi who challenged the rule of the Romans in Palestine.
"Jesus was political!" insisted the Rev. Jacqueline Lewis, pastor of the Middle Collegiate Church. "Jesus' faith was faith about all of life."
She wore a fuchsia hooded sweatshirt, joining dozens of other worshippers who covered their heads with "hoodies" to remember Trayvon Martin. He was shot to death by a crime watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla., last month while wearing one.
Hoodies in a range of colors dotted pews packed with several hundred spirited faithful of the church that started as a Protestant congregation in the 1600s. It's now a multiracial, interfaith house of worship with an activist agenda.
On Sunday, worshippers gave their pastor a standing, roaring ovation after she said that race must not be "a reason for hatred - not on our watch."
Lewis urged them to take action in the Martin case - by sending packages of Skittles to police in Sanford because Martin was shot while returning home from buying the popular, multicolored candy; signing an online petition for a quick arrest and prosecution of the case; and attending an April conference on building multiracial congregations sponsored by Middle Collegiate.
A printed program for the late-morning service included a special insert that read in bold black letters: "We are not dangerous. Racism is." Congregants were encouraged to take photos of themselves and their friends and tweet them to (hash)TrayvonMartin.
Martin's death has set off a nationwide furor over race and justice. Crime watch volunteer George Zimmerman, whose father is white and mother is Hispanic, claimed self-defense and has not been arrested. State and federal authorities are investigating.
In her sermon, Lewis said in a trembling voice that America's "epidemic" of racism must be stopped - by everyone, including members of her church. "We're sick of it; we don't want to keep burying our babies."
However, she noted, black Americans are not the only targets of racism. The pastor said there have been instances of people of color bullying or attacking whites in acts of reverse racism.
Elise Gardella, an artist wearing a black hoodie, said she was not a church member but came in the wake of the shooting because the East Village church leaders "intertwine justice with faith."
She has signed the petition and was shipping Skittles to Florida.
"I have sons and they were not subjugated to the kind of scrutiny black youths face - they had a kind of privilege because they're white," she said.