On the heels of church bombings that killed several hundred in Sri Lanka and the burning in West Ashley of a multicolored flag commonly associated with LGBTQ pride, local faith and community leaders said there's more work that needs to be done to address discrimination.

Nearly 200 people attended an event Wednesday that aimed to shed light on discrimination and discuss steps towards reconciliation. The event, Illuminate Charleston: An Interfaith Dialogue on Discrimination, was part of the city of Charleston's Illumination project, a local effort to strengthen ties between police and residents.

Hosted by the Mayor's Clergy Advisory Council at the Central Mosque of Charleston on King Street, law enforcement, city officials and leaders from various faith communities told personal testimonies of discrimination and methods for addressing the problem.

Rabbi Greg Kanter, with Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, said Charleston isn't immune to antisemitism. Jewish children have been told they were going to hell by classmates, Kanter said. He added Christian-based holidays currently dominate public schools.

"Charleston is wonderful in some ways," he said. "It's way ahead of other places, but we can't rest on our laurels. We have to keep doing the work."

So far, that work for faith groups has included acts to build bridges with groups who often face discrimination.

Following the West Ashley flag-burning incident, a multi-colored flag was hung from a window at St. Stephen Episcopal Church. The Rev. Adam Shoemaker said his congregation, who has seen a recent influx of LGTBQ parishioners, wanted to stand in solidarity with members of the LGBTQ community. 

"We try to combat that by creating a community where everyone feels welcomed, loved and included," Shoemaker said. "We emphasize that all of us are beloved children of God. There's nothing that can take that away."

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Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg listens to comments from the audience at the “Illuminate Charleston: An Interfaith Dialogue on Discrimination” panel discussion Wednesday, April 24, 2019 at the Central Mosque of Charleston. Wade Spees/Staff

Charleston City Council passed a hate crime ordinance in November, making it a crime for anyone to intimidate someone "in whole or in part because of the actual or perceived race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical or mental disability, or national origin."

Police Chief Luther Reynolds said Wednesday he would like to see the law passed on a state level.

"It's extremely important that we protect every member of our community," Reynolds said. "We have to talk about it. We have to build bridges. We have to build trust."

Attendees included members from various faiths' cultural backgrounds. Some addressed that reconciliation should be combated within one's own faith group.

George Skirven, with the Heathen Hall of the Lowcountry, said Wednesday that the discussion assumed all attendees worshiped one god. Heathen Hall members follow many gods, including including Thor, Odin, and Loki.  

Skirven received applause Wednesday after admitting it was his first time speaking publicly about his faith.

"I'm actually proud for the first time in my life," he said.

Follow Rickey Dennis on Twitter @RCDJunior.

Rickey Dennis covers North Charleston and faith & values for the Post and Courier.

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