- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 14, 2000

The religious wing of President Clinton's 1997-98 race relations initiative yesterday issued a statement by American faith groups that racism is a "sin" to be expelled from hearts and institutions.

The group had no immediate solution to what some call the racial polarization caused by the 2000 presidential election, but it hopes that churches, mosques and temples will be places of reconciliation.

"Racism is a problem of the heart and an evil that must be eradicated from the institutional structures that shape our lives including our houses of worship," said the statement, two years in the making. It was backed by 31 religious groups and 38 faith leaders.

The religious initiative, which Mr. Clinton asked the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ) to lead in 1998, outlined several anti-racism "tools" at a Washington National Cathedral news conference.

They include the statement's seven-point pledge to end racism, 10 action projects, a "congregational diversity evaluation" test and a booklet with 27 examples of interracial cooperation.

Leaders of the efforts said projects still in the pipeline include clergy "training" against prejudice, theological stances against racism, a curriculum for houses of worship and "policy initiatives."

The "tools" released yesterday may help reduce racial tension after the election, said Sanford Cloud Jr., president of the NCCJ, founded in 1927 as the National Conference of Christians and Jews.

"It is indeed a moment of great opportunity," he said when asked about race and the election.

Ninety percent of black voters who came out in record numbers supported Vice President Al Gore, despite Texas Gov. George W. Bush's efforts to reach out to minorities.

Strong minority support for Mr. Gore was spurred partly by a national television ad sponsored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People linking Mr. Bush to a brutal race murder in Texas. This week, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said a Bush victory would lead to a "civil rights explosion" in which blacks would "take to the streets."

The Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, head of the Interfaith Alliance and chairman for drafting the joint statement, said the causes of racism can be addressed no matter who is in the White House.

"We have seen, sadly enough, the specter of racism raised in this election," the Baptist minister said.

There now is "a huge responsibility on the part of the faith community" to find the causes and solutions to racism, he said. "We have to do that regardless of who is in the White House …."

Mr. Clinton's race initiative was led by an advisory board that held public hearings, and in 1998 recommended a permanent commission on race, like a Council of Economic Advisers, to head a "Mar-

shall Plan" of economic opportunity for minorities.

Instead, the White House established a four-member office on race to continue promoting legislative and legal solutions to minority grievances.

Mr. Cloud, the NCCJ's first black leader, said he began the religious branch of the race initiative with an October 1998 gathering of religious leaders at the White House.

In March, 150 faith leaders met with Mr. Clinton. Mr. Cloud said the meeting renewed "enthusiasm and dedication" to fight for a more inclusive America.

Speakers yesterday echoed that resolve.

"Despite the immense gains we have made, there is still much to do," said Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. "We believe in repentance and redemption."

The Rev. Richard Land of the Ethics and Religious Liberty office of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) signed the joint statement and said "it has the same spirit" of a 1995 SBC resolution repenting of racism.

But he rejected the idea that race polarized the election, saying most Americans chose candidates they believed would fight racism.

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