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Beyond Tolerance


It is a sign of the times that the board of Baltimore Clergy and Laity Concerned (CALC) is considering changing that respected name to Baltimore Clergy and Laity Committed to Racial Harmony.

There are two reasons:

First, it is not enough any longer to be concerned, to be interested, to worry about the continuing rise of racial tensions. It is urgently necessary to do something about it, as CALC is doing with its program of Congregations Pairing and Caring, bringing together diverse congregations -- white and black, Christian, Muslim and Jewish, upper- and moderate-income. Such activities include the Walk Against Hunger in Africa, dialogues, retreats and social events including an interracial, inter-denominational Seder at Passover and a shared observance of Martin Luther King's birthday.

In these expanding activities, CALC is showing more than concern. It is solemnly committing each of its members, as individuals, to energetic participation in its grass-roots campaign to keep this one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all.

Second, 1990, the year of the last census, was not 1790, the year of the first. Today's massive melting pot has no resemblance to the tiny teapot of post-colonial America, when the white population was 3,172,000 and the black (mostly slaves) 752,000 -- together less than the present population of Maryland alone.

Two hundred years later, we are 208,704,000 whites, 30,483,000 blacks, 7,458,000 Asians and Pacific Islanders and 22,354,000 Hispanics.

With all their prophetic wisdom, how could Thomas Jefferson and the founding fathers have envisaged the maddening complexities and massive weight of conflicting interests that have been piled onto their delicate framework of constitutional checks and balances?

Can we pretend that we have fulfilled Jefferson's goals of establishing justice and insuring domestic tranquility? Have we promoted the general welfare, and secured "the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity"?

Can we continue to drive on superhighways through our simmering inner cities until they command our attention by boiling over?

Can we go on turning away or changing the subject when attention is called to the fact of nearly 56 percent unemployment among black youngsters?

Can we dismiss, shrugging that "life isn't fair," the waste of millions of black children on drugs, ignorance, malnutrition and disease, while we spend billions to build jails instead of treatment centers, schools and job programs?

Can we ignore the widening gap between haves and have-nots, between open doors for whites and closed doors for blacks?

Because we have come a long way in race relations, can we not admit that racism still lurks in our hearts?

CALC is addressing these issues -- indirectly by bringing people together in shared experiences, and directly by clergy and laity in religious and social action, dialogues and retreats for honest confrontation of differences and misunderstandings.

One of the misperceptions scheduled for early consideration pertains to crimes of violence. Blacks, not whites, are the major victims of black crimes. The proportion of black households victimized by crime is about 40 percent higher than that of white households. Of the homicides in Baltimore in the first five months of 1992, eight victims were white, 116 non-white.

No wonder the non-white citizens of Baltimore are more concerned than whites about violent crime and the carnage with guns. CALC is addressing that, too, by joining in a vigorous campaign to persuade people to turn in their guns, which kill more innocent children than criminals.

"The name change, adding 'Committed to Racial Harmony,' would be important for two reasons," notes John Springer, director of CALC. "First, it tells what we do, and, second, it tells what we believe the nation must do. It is what holds our pluralistic society together. We seek not just tolerance, which means only enduring, suffering, putting up with each other. CALC encourages respect, support and, yes, love for each other."

In that spirit, CALC has scheduled the first get-together for members of all 50 congregations in the Pairing and Caring Program, a family fellowship picnic on the grounds of the Martin Luther King Memorial United Methodist Church, Saturday, August 21, 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. at Forest Park Avenue and Windsor Mill Road. There is no charge and the public is invited. (Call 962-8333 for information.)

No member of the CALC board is so foolish as to believe that this interracial picnic, or its interracial Seder, or walks or dialogues or retreats are cures for racism, any more than radiation always is a cure for cancer. But its program of Congregations Pairing and Caring for racial harmony does help to arrest and ameliorate the ravages of racism with the medicine of decency, good will and, at least, civility.

Jack L. Levin is a Baltimore businessman.

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