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Faith voices call for calm, unity and justice in Baltimore
In the aftermath of protests and rioting in the city of Baltimore, Maryland, faith leaders are calling for calm, unity and justice, as well as for society to address core issues of poverty and lack of opportunity. - photo by Mark A. Kellner
In the aftermath of protests and rioting in the city of Baltimore, Maryland, faith leaders are calling for calm, unity and justice, as well as for society to address core issues of poverty and lack of opportunity.

"Jesus said, 'Blessed are the peacemakers.' Our first responsibility is to promote peace," the Rev. Uriel Castrillon, who works with a congregation on the city's west side, told the Baltimore Sun (paywall).

"I think that the role of the pastor ought to be one of lending direction and giving insight to discerning the times," the Rev. Jamal H. Bryant, pastor of the Empowerment Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church, said. "It's about making sure that we see the larger picture."

The Washington Post (paywall) noted a plethora of outreach ministries working after the rioting to calm troubled waters.

"By Wednesday, the intersection of Pennsylvania and North the epicenter of the protests this week looked like a spiritual bazaar. Multiple street preachers with electrical amplification competed for audience. On one corner, Salvation Army ministers in crisp uniforms passed out sandwiches and water. On another sat the huge, gleaming black truck of the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, which housed 11 blue-windbreakered chaplains from around the country," the newspaper said.

The Rev. Frank Reid III, pastor of Bethel AMEl Church, told the Post he at first felt responsible for the situation of Freddie Gray, whose death in police custody sparked nationwide protests, that he felt the church had a role in the young man's loss to the community at large.

"I felt like a failure. We had this young man! How did we lose him?" Reid said in an interview. "But then I realized: It wasnt my failure, or the churchs. It was the failure of the institutions in the United States and in Baltimore. Poor education, no jobs, family issues. It is the failure of the institutions in this city and in this nation to provide opportunities for people who have done nothing wrong but having had the misfortune of being born in the wrong Zip code."

Joel Kurtz, whom the Post described as "a white Southern Baptist from Akron," came to Baltimore in 2008 to open an innercity ministry. Kurtz said people were concerned about the church's seeming lack of involvement in community issues, which in turn prompts dropouts from membership rolls.

"Baltimore is a really 'churched' city everyone was in a church at some point, but now many people are embittered. Not to God, but to the church," Kurtz said.

Fifteen miles away from Baltimore, in the community of Harford, Maryland, Christians united to pray for the city where many work and shop, the Baltimore Sun reported in a separate item.

"Between Edgewood and Fallston, people from around the county gathered for silent vigils and heartfelt worship," the account noted. "Filled with a spirit of purpose and optimism, they expressed hope that the violence, tension and frustration that has torn Baltimore apart in recent days would soon end."

Sandy Moll, of Bel Air, Maryland, told the paper, "I believe in the power of prayer and I came out here for my church, Holy Communion, and I think with a group of people and the power of prayer, God hears us."

According to Religion News Service, the Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, a black Episcopal priest and religion professor at Goucher College in Baltimore, there is a continuing role for churches to play in the community.

"There has to be a conversation that trickles down on every level of our communities in churches locally, in churches nationally, about the injustice that plays out racially. We have to have this conversation so we can begin to change the systems and structures that create the kinds of conditions in which people are forced to live. The church has to take the lead, not follow. It has to begin to be that critical conscience of our country," she said.
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