Protestant, Catholic and Jewish leaders here have called for an end to "racial polarization" in the debate to change Philadelphia's city charter, which limits the mayor's term of office to two terms.

Mayor Frank Rizzo is pressing for a charter change to enable him to seek a third term. He has evoked widespread controvery by a campaign call to "vote white."

An interfaith statement calling for an end to "all derogatory references on the basis of race and ethnic background" was issued at a press conference here at the Friend's Center.

The Statement did not specifically mention Mayor Rizzo but was intended to apply to him and "anyone else who would use polarizing statements," according to William L. Johnston, chairman of the Metropolitan Christian Council of Philadelphia.

The council represents 12 major Protestant denominations and the Greek Orthodox Church. The statement also was endorsed by Catholic and Jewish leaders.

"We are compelled by our faith to speak our when this debate [charter change] engenders racial polarization and deteriorates into personal abuse and vilification," the statement said.

"Such rhetoric poisons the atmosphere, setting group against group. It threatens to divide future generations along racial lines long after the question of the charter change is resolved . . . The present atmosphere of acrimony and dissension perils the successful solution of other pressing issues facing our city."

Reacting to the interfaith statement, Rizzo contended that the news media, not he, had injected race in the campaign. He said he supports and has support from blacks as well as whites "who think like me."