Faiths in Detroit unite to grieve over S.C. massacre
Bloomfield Hills — As an Episcopal churchgoer, Wilma McKinney wouldn't ordinarily sit among Jewish worshippers at Temple Beth El, hearing prayers in Hebrew as the evening sun sets.
But on Friday, the Southfield resident participated in an occasion spurred by the deadly South Carolina church shootings this week. The community was invited to hear Rev. Kenneth Flowers, pastor of Greater New Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit, deliver a rousing sermon there instead of a rabbi.
"What happened just highlighted that we've got to do this and continue doing this," said McKinney. "It's just so imperative that we do whatever we need to do."
On Sunday, synagogue Rabbi Mark Miller will return the favor and deliver remarks at Flowers' church, where members of the temple are invited.
"Hatred begets more hate. Violence begets more violence," Flowers told the crowd. "I believe today that love begets more love. Nonviolence begets more nonviolence. People don't come into this world filled with hatred and bitterness; they are taught this."
As the Wednesday attack on a historic black house of worship sparks debate nationwide about lingering racial divisions, the two local leaders are striving to unite their congregants as well as offer an interfaith model for strengthening communities.
More than 200 guests gathered at Temple Beth El for the special service, some two days after the tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina. Nine people were killed in the gunfire at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Dylann Roof, 21, has been charged in the slayings.
As dusk descended and a cool breeze stirred nearby trees, Flowers' voice boomed across the synagogue courtyard.
"Once again, bigotry in its ugliest form has raised its head to kill innocent people who had come to church to learn more about God and the love of Jesus the Christ," he said. "Yet, while they lovingly embraced young Dylann Roof, he was dastardly plotting to kill them simply because of the color of their skin. That is evil in its purest form."
In the wake of rising hate crimes reported nationwide, Flowers said, bridging differences through an interfaith exchange is even more significant. "There is a group of us that will not bitterness divide us or come between us. And we will stand together, we will fight together and pray together."
The words moved attendees such as Karen Lowen, a longtime synagogue member who plans to visit Greater New Mt. Moriah on Sunday with her husband.
"We have to do both," she said afterward. "There should be so much more."
Bruce Plisner of Farmington Hills, another member, said he hoped the event would prove to be "an excellent model to show that we all come from the same place and should be supportive of each other, not trying to tear down each other."
Local Jewish officials also have condemned the Charleston attack.
"Murdering people at prayer in a house of worship is especially heinous and cowardly," Richard Krugel, president at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Metropolitan Detroit, said in a statement. "While the police investigation will focus on the shooter and his motive, we will struggle — especially with our black friends and neighbors in Metro Detroit — to understand what we can do in our own community to confront the racism that divides us and too often leads to violence and injustice."
Outrage over the tragedy spurred Miller and Flowers to come together.
The rabbi and pastor already had a connection through the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit. Their worship centers also shared a longstanding relationship — including uniting to bring Coretta Scott King, wife of the slain civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., to Metro Detroit in 2000, Flowers said.
Since African-Americans and Jews have historically united during the civil rights movement, he said, "it's only fitting that we stand together" now.
"Even though what happened in South Carolina is miles from us, we're still interconnected and dependent on each other," Flowers said. "We have to … let people understand that we are one family: the human family. We come from one blood. We need to recognize that whether you're white, black, yellow or brown, all of our blood is the same color: red."
Among the crowd Friday night was Bishop Iona Locke of Abyssinia Christ Centered Ministries in Southfield, who described the event as necessary to "pray and destroy the concept of racism between us as faith believers. We don't want the rage to break out here. We want peace."
Members of the synagogue — considered the oldest Jewish congregation in Michigan — also are invited to attend the Sunday morning service at the Detroit church, where civil rights leader and longtime NAACP executive director Rev. Benjamin Hooks had once preached, IFLC officials said.
The goal of the congregational interchange is to "build relationship and building a stronger connection so that in the future we won't have these things coming up as much," Miller said. "If we only do this when there's something in the news, then we're just reacting. We're not building something better."
The effort is admirable and can help guide the future, said Bob Bruttell, chairman of the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit.
"We may not be able to turn our tears into dancing at this time, but faith and friendship are a powerful antidote to hatred and fear," he said. "The example of these two congregations is a model for how to build solidarity in the face of alarming malice."