SAN DIEGO — Denouncing racist beliefs and actions as “blasphemies” against God, Bishop Robert W. McElroy joined with several local interfaith leaders to speak out against bigotry.
The San Diego Organizing Project (SDOP) brought together dozens of interfaith leaders, including Bishop McElroy, for a press conference Aug. 18 in the courtyard of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral.
The event was held in response to what had taken place Aug. 11-12 in Charlottesville, Virginia, where hundreds of white supremacists had staged a rally against the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee; the rally ultimately turned violent, leaving one counter-protester dead and more than 30 other people injured. Two state troopers also died in a helicopter crash, while headed to the scene of the rally.
In her opening remarks, Kathleen Owens of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego said the interfaith gathering was intended “to send a clear message that the faith community of San Diego will not be silent in the face of racism, bigotry and hatred.” Before delivering the opening prayer, the Very Rev. Penny Bridges, dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, described the event as a “declaration of our united and unconditional condemnation of racism and white supremacy.”
Beginning with Auxiliary Bishop John P. Dolan and concluding with Bishop McElroy, several speakers took to the stage outside St. Paul’s Cathedral to reflect on the Charlottesville rally and its aftermath. Speakers included Imam Taha Hassane, Islamic Center of San Diego; Bishop George McKinney, 2nd Jurisdiction Church of God in Christ; Pastor Tania Marquez, First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego; Rev. Mary Sue Brookshire, Pioneer Ocean View United Church of Christ; Rabbi Devorah Marcus, Temple Emanu-El of San Diego; and Bishop Cornelius Bowser, Charity Apostolic Church.
In his own remarks, Bishop Dolan contrasted the assembled faith leaders, whose message is one of communion, with many in the world who seem to be “hell-bent on a mission toward division.”
“We cannot allow division to be a part of this nation that God has blessed,” Bishop Dolan said. “Let us remember that communion is the only reason for us being together today … Our communion is the only reason for our desire to be one people under one God.”
In especially poignant remarks, Rabbi Marcus reflected on how it felt as a Jewish person “to see Nazi flags being waved proudly, without embarrassment or shame, on our American streets,” and Bishop McKinney, who is African-American, recalled having grown up in the South during “a dark period in the history of our nation” and stressed the important role of prayer in overcoming racism.
“While we fight for justice, and righteousness, and peace,” Bishop McKinney said, “we must also remember that this is our Father’s world, and we must remember to join together across denominational and faith lines in praying that God would direct our steps and that God would bless America.”
A recurring theme in the speeches was that religious leaders themselves have not done enough to address racism.
“For too long, too many of us, especially white people, especially white clergy … have done too little,” said Rev. Brookshire. “We have fallen asleep, dreaming that our world is better than it is. We must wake up, we must stand up, and we must speak up against hatred in all its forms. But we must do so in a spirit of love, lest we become like those we oppose.”