Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) joined 65 Baltimore area faith and community leaders last Friday morning, Sept. 8, at the headquarters of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore for a “Conversation on Improving Community Unity.”
“We have seen a rise in hate in our community and around the world,” Cardin said. “We have seen a rise in anti-Semitism, a rise in anti-Muslim activities, a rise in discriminatory policing that includes racial and religious profiling, and a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment.”
In particular, Cardin criticized President Donald J. Trump for not offering strong leadership against hatred and bigotry, particularly in the aftermath of a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., last month.
“We are not seeing the types of protections we need from our national leadership. We do not have the support of federal government leaders,” Cardin said. “Instead, the president’s comments about Charlottesville gave comfort to those who espouse hate. So we must stand up for America’s values.
“The reason I called this meeting is to understand what we can do, individually and collectively. Not to just have a one-time meeting but to recognize the strength of our values.”
Among those in attendance were Associated President Marc B. Terrill; Baltimore Jewish Council Executive Director Howard Libit; Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg of Beth Am Congregation; Rabbi Steven Fink of Temple Oheb Shalom; Raees Khan, executive director of the Greater Baltimore Muslim Council; Dr. Faheem Younus of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community; Diane Bell McKoy, president and CEO of Associated Black Charities; and LaTrelle Miller Easterling, bishop of the United Methodist Church.
“We must embrace diversity, stand up for those people who have been persecuted and provide them a safe haven. These are American values,” Cardin said. “It is not our economy and not our military that make American great. Our values make this country great.”
Dr. Sheridan Todd Yeary, senior pastor of the Douglas Memorial Community Church, also criticized the federal government and what he views as indifference and even hostility toward minorities.
“We have all been offended by our government,” he said. “For example, we are re-militarizing our police departments. Also, it’s offensive when a mosque is desecrated and there is no comment by the president. Check the morality of the budget our president is putting forward. Identify and contact staff at the district levels for discussion around particular policies.”
Khan said discrimination and bigotry must be condemned at all levels by Jews, Christians and Muslims.
“We are all children of Abraham. We must all condemn any kind of hate crime,” Khan said. “We must all care about DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals]. We are a nation of immigrants. We must all agree on our humanity and work together because when you look at it, we’re just different shades of skin. We’re not colors, we’re just shades.”
Rabbi Fink agreed. “We may not remain indifferent. So we as religious leaders must mobilize the religious community and all good people,” he said.
Alluding to the justice-seeking protagonist in Harper Lee’s classic book, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Younus said, “We all must be Atticus Finch. One way to do that is to come visit our new mosque.”
Rabbi Berg agreed that individuals from different faith communities need to interact more frequently and meaningfully. “Engage our community. By that, I mean white Jews, black people, Hispanics, all of our neighbors,” he said. “Involve young people to build leaders.”
Cardin urged faith leaders to continue striving for racial and religious coexistence. “Stay focused on getting things done so you don’t get distracted from your passion,” he said. “Don’t pay attention to the president’s rabbit holes, to his manipulation to change issues.”
After the gathering, Terrill said he was pleased with the event’s message and outcome.
“I don’t want to overstate the significance of the get-together, but I do believe that the meeting held incredible importance,” he said. “The fact that a broad, eclectic, formidable group of Baltimore leaders got together to call out the scourge of hate-speak and acts of intolerance with an eye toward working decisively together was both encouraging and uplifting.”
Peter Arnold is an Olney, Md.-based freelance writer.
Top Photo: Sen. Ben Cardin talks to faith leaders at The Associated about the need to refute racism and hatred while uniting communities.
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