For more than 30 years the organization once known as Mecklenburg Ministries has been working to promote interfaith understanding and community relations in the Charlotte area. Today the group goes simply by the name MeckMIN, or officially Mecklenburg Metropolitan Interfaith Network. MeckMIN includes representatives from more than 100 congregations and over a dozen faith traditions. Imam John Ederer of the Muslim Community Center of Charlotte is the current president of MeckMIN. All Things Considered host, Mark Rumsey, spoke with him about his vision for MeckMIN and for interfaith relations in the Charlotte area.
Imam John Ederer: One of the things that MeckMIN would like to do is to establish a monthly, on the table discussion between different faith communities whether they be differing Christian denominations or Jewish and Hindu, Baha’i and so forth. We want to build that human connection. We want to bring people together to break bread. We've been doing it on a small scale. We'd like to be a little bit more robust in building the congregational connection to interfaith collaboration and understanding so that we can build that compassion and then stand up for each other and work for a good healthy society that appreciates the dignity of everyone and works for the best interests of everyone.
Mark Rumsey: Back in September of 2017, I believe you attended an event marking the first anniversary of the fatal police shooting in Charlotte of an African-American man, Keith Lamont Scott. You were quoted at the time as saying, "Our hearts are broken. Our hearts are stained from years of oppression in this land." Do you recall specifically what was on your mind and your heart at that time?
Imam John Ederer: As a Muslim, because I've lived now for the last 20 years around people of the black and brown community, I've come to get to know them and see them where they're at and what they've been through. And I think a lot of times people don't appreciate the concept of white privilege and how dangerous that can be where we become complacent in our understanding of our role in society, just basically through the comfort that we've lived in as white people. So I think faith addresses humanity and loving and caring for everybody and taking care of those who are mistreated and otherwise and marginalized. It starts with understanding, then we can now feel people's pain and have compassion. Once we have compassion and we're working for them then there's justice to establish a standard of society that does not allow institutionalized systemic oppression, which we see here in Charlotte and across the country.We need to get to that place where the faith community is not being regulated in their values and morals by politicized thought processes, but rather through the richness of their own tradition of scriptural values and their connection to God as servants of God. We need to be out there working on the frontlines to make sure that we make our society a free, equal opportunity healthy place of justice and freedom.
Rumsey: The institutionalized or systemic oppression or racism that I hear you referring to in the community, where do you think that is most evident?
Imam John Ederer: I think obviously here in Charlotte, you know, the segregation and the historical gerrymandering and gentrification in politics and you know it's beautiful what we've done with uptown. But I think a lot of people are neglecting what's happened to people who were living here before the beautification of the buildings and so forth uptown. So I think it's important for us to address affordable housing issues, the segregation of schools which is still there and the funding of schools and how schools that are majority African-American have a different value or a lesser value than schools that are majority white. And now we have the uptick in all the charter schools which funding is going there so there's a lot of discussions to be had that faith would drive the morals of a healthy discussion and then hopefully move our politicians and our local government to make decisions that are not influenced by more of a corporate interest or of money tag interests but more of a human interest.
Rumsey: And Imam Ederer I think over the years there's been some perception that this organization has appealed more strongly to faith groups and congregations that are relatively progressive in their thinking, liberal some might say. Do you agree with that perception?
Imam John Ederer: That perception is very true, but one thing that we'd like to do is have the audacity to build bridges and connections with people from more evangelical or Baptist or conservative backgrounds because we should not allow political affiliation to decide for us how we identify with faith connection, because if we study the Koran or the Bible or the other scriptures the mention of Democrat and Republican, Conservative, Liberal -- these are terms that don't exist in there. So, I think it's important for us to really start to see spirituality through a connection to God and scripture and humanity coming from there up. Affecting through that influence, the relationships of people rather than political ideology and divisiveness trickling down into the churches and the mosques and so forth dividing people and controlling them in that way. So that's definitely a stumbling block that we hope to address in the next five to 10 years.