Havre de Grace church takes public stand against hate

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It was neither a single incident or episode, nor last weekend’s NFL players kneeling controversy, but rather just the general troubling, turbulent times of recent weeks and months that prompted leaders of one Harford County church to make a public declaration against hate.

“I felt that we needed to speak positive words in a negative situation,” the Rev. Norman Obenshain, pastor of the Havre de Grace United Methodist Church, said about a resolution taking a stand against racism and violence.

The resolution was passed by the church’s 15-member council that is the governing body for the church’s various ministries, Obenshain said.

The church pastor said he encouraged the council to adopt the resolution in response to clashes between white supremacists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Va. last month, in which three people died and many others were injured, as well as “other incidents around the country,” he said Wednesday.

The resolution says, in part:

“Resolved, that we strongly denounce and oppose the manifest intimidation, violent terrorism, xenophobic biases, and bigoted ideologies being promoted and executed by multiple groups across this country,” the resolution states.

Obenshain said the church’s resolution was inspired by a resolution passed by the Illinois State Senate on Aug. 14 condemning white supremacist and neo-Nazi organizations and urging law enforcement to go after them in the same manner as officials go after terrorist groups.

The document has not gone out to the full congregation yet, according to Obenshain.

“[There] was overwhelming support by the church council, which speaks for the congregation and represents a cross section of the congregation, so I feel they’ll be supportive,” he said.

Sunday’s silent protests by NFL players, including Baltimore Ravens players, who took a knee during the playing of the national anthem were not a factor in crafting the resolution, Obenshain said.

The players were kneeling in solidarity after President Donald Trump called for players to be fired if they followed the example of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has been taking a knee during the anthem to protest racism and police brutaility.

Church leaders started working on the resolution about a month ago, Obenshain said.

The church resolution includes a passage calling for law enforcement “where appropriate, to recognize these groups as terrorist organizations, and to pursue the criminal elements of these organizations in the same manner and with the same fervor used to protect the United States from other manifestations of terrorism.”

An Aug. 14 vigil organized by Together We Will — Harford County Upper Chesapeake and held in Rockfield Park in Bel Air in honor of the victims of the violence in Charlottesville, was another inspiration, Obenshain said.

More than 200 people attended that vigil, according to organizers.

“We wanted to be supportive of those who are pushing back against hatred and hate speech,” Obenshain said.

The resolution calls for copies to be sent to President Trump, all members of Congress, Gov. Larry Hogan and all members of the Maryland General Assembly.

Church officials plan to post the resolution on their Facebook page and their website, plus reach out to local elected leaders, Obenshain said.

“It’s our hope that our sister congregations in Harford County that feel threatened will feel supported by this, whether it’s persons of color or those who are Islamic or who are Jews or Roman Catholic, we want them to feel supported,” he said.

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