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Published: Monday, 10/17/2005

Likening splintered area to a family, pastors call for love to overcome hate

BY JENNI LAIDMAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The Rev. John W. Williams emphasizes the strength of Jesus, obedience of children, and the need to fight hate with love during services at Eastern Star Missionary Baptist Church in Toledo. The Rev. John W. Williams emphasizes the strength of Jesus, obedience of children, and the need to fight hate with love during services at Eastern Star Missionary Baptist Church in Toledo.
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Just down the block from where rioters threw rocks and started fires Saturday, the Rev. John W. Williams exhorted his flock at the Eastern Star Missionary Baptist Church yesterday like a man worried about his family.

"We have members in this church that live right in the midst of all of that. I was concerned about them, and not only with them, but with our young people,'' Mr. Williams said to his congregation.

"Something is wrong when children will not hear their parents' voice and obey them,'' he said.

In a message before the main sermon that returned again and again to the themes of the strength of Jesus, the importance of obedient children, and the need to fight hate with love, the minister embraced the troubled neighborhood.

"When we destroy our community, we are destroying ourselves,'' Mr. Williams said.

"Let's not lay the blame on other folks,'' he said. "We have not done all we could do.

"If Johnny doesn't respect the law at home, it would be impossible to respect the laws of this country."

Paraphrasing the words of John F. Kennedy, Mr. Williams prayed: "Now we are not asking what our city can do for us, but what we can do for our city.''

In churches throughout the community yesterday, ministers spoke against Saturday's violence, expressed concern about what lay behind it, and decried the hate-fueled philosophy of the neo-Nazi group that was to walk through the North Toledo neighborhood just before the violence erupted Saturday.

At the First Unitarian Church of Toledo on Colling-wood Boulevard, the congregation joined with other community members, including the United Jewish Council of Greater Toledo, to take up brooms in a symbolic sweep against hatred.

"We're sweeping up the racism, the anti-Semitism, the homophobia,'' the Rev. Gary Blaine, the Unitarian pastor, said in an interview.

"We're also sweeping the anger that's within the community, the violence. The National Socialists stirred up violence. There must have been some violence to stir up," he said.

"We're sweeping away the filth and the hatred that the neo-Nazis brought yesterday," said Joel S. Beren, chief executive of the United Jewish Council.

"The work that [faith-based organizations] do day-in and day-out is overshadowed by one weekend when a bunch of nuts visit Toledo," Mr. Beren said.

"Unfortunately, the neo-Nazis were given exactly what they wanted,'' Mr. Beren said. "It will be a difficult thing for our community to recover from. ... In the end, it is the people of the north end [who] will suffer the most."

In an interview yesterday, Bishop Leonard Blair of the Toledo Catholic Diocese said, "We certainly have to condemn any attempt to cause division among people."

He added: "What happened also makes us realize the importance of strengthening the local community and neighborhood.

"When all is said and done, we have to look at the root causes and try to address them,'' the bishop said.

The Rev. Christopher Vasko, chaplain at St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church on West Bancroft Street, told parishioners that loving people despite differences, and trying to understand them, is the key to preventing violence.

If people practiced love and understanding, "we wouldn't see people do silly things like traveling all the way to Toledo to start trouble," Father Vasko said.

"We also wouldn't see people do silly things like picking up stones to throw at the people who are there to serve and protect," he said.

For people in the north end neighborhood, the violence Saturday was in many ways a family tragedy.

"It was sad, really,'' said Denise Law, a member of the Eastern Star congregation. She lives in the neighborhood.

"Those children came out of somebody's home. That's where my heart went. Where are the parents?"

Staff writers Clyde Hughes and Mike Sigov contributed to this story.

Contact Jenni Laidman at: jenni@theblade.com or 419-724-6507.



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