Martin Luther King Jr. was a man with many friends who didn't look like him.
On the front of the program for Sunday night's 25th annual community church service honoring King was a picture of the civil rights leader with his arms interlocked with a black man on his right and a white man on his left.
The white man was a rabbi and just out of the photo's frame was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Rabbi Daniel Roberts told the more than 450 people who attended the interdenominational service Sunday at Central Christian Church. Heschel was scheduled to celebrate Passover with King just days after King was assassinated in April 1968.
Roberts said the two men — a Jew and a Baptist — shared the conviction that fighting racism and injustice was based on the teachings of the Bible.
"Racism was not simply wrong, it was evil," Roberts said of King and Heschels' beliefs. Roberts is the rabbi of Temple Adath Israel.
Friendship between people who don't look, pray or believe the same way is key to overcoming racial indifference in America, said the Rev. Frank Thomas, the keynote speaker Sunday and a professor at the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis.
Thomas said the annual interdenominational church service was a start. Sunday was the 25th year for the service that included participants from 28 different churches and faith communities. The Disciples for the Dream Committee, composed of members of Central Christian, Crestwood Christian, Maxwell Street Presbyterian, Main Street Baptist, Phillips Memorial CME Church and South Elkhorn Church, plan the annual event.
Thomas said he was startled by statistics in a recent series of columns by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that white people thought that the media gave too much attention to the protests in Ferguson, Mo., and in New York. In his columns, Kristof pointed out that the divide between black and white families in America is worse than it was in South Africa prior to apartheid.
According to the 2011 census data, the average net worth of a black household was $6,314 compared with $110,000 for the average white house.
"Whites in America on average own almost 18 times as much as blacks," Thomas said. In South Africa in 1970, white people owned 15 times as much as blacks.
The economic gap between whites and blacks has only grown since King's assassination, Thomas said.
"The gap now is 40 percent more than it was 1967," he said.
Silence and indifference to the plight of African-Americans or to people who are not white is just as wrong as the overt racism of the 1960s, he said.
Thomas said other studies have shown that the older people are, the less likely they are to make friends with people who are not in their social circle. They become closed off.
The key to fighting indifference is understanding. And understanding comes from knowing and being friends with people who aren't like you, Thomas said in his sermon entitled, "Can we be friends?"
The Rev. David Shirey, the senior minister at Central Christian Church, reminded Sunday's attendees that this year they hoped to continue conversations about race and injustice.
Inside attendee's programs was a sign-up sheet for more community conversations about race.
Thomas urged everyone to sign up.
"I want you to sign your name and write somewhere on there 'Can we be friends?'" Thomas said.