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Pastor Walks ‘Thin Line’ on South African Symposium

A prominent pastor in Los Angeles says he is not crossing a “thin line” of good judgment by co-sponsoring an upcoming symposium on South Africa with an anti-communist group linked to the Unification Church.

The Rev. Cecil L. Murray, pastor of First African Methodist Episcopal Church, said he has received “10 written statements” criticizing the symposium underwritten by the Causa Ministerial Alliance, a group supported by the sectarian church organization headed by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

“There is a thin line between the good that comes from a project and the linkup with those who may be dissimilar in theology and mind-set,” Murray said. “We need to sensitize the community of conscience to South Africa’s problems,” he said, referring to church people. “I think this will benefit all parties, otherwise I would not be a part of it.”

The symposium Monday and Tuesday at the USC Davidson Conference Center features several academicians, political analysts and ministers. The Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, president emeritus of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, is the banquet speaker.

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Other speakers include Phillip V. Sanchez, an ambassador to Central America in the Gerald R. Ford Administration and now Causa president in Washington, and Eldridge Cleaver, the one-time Black Panther leader who later become involved in conservative political and religious causes.

The Unification Church, through a variety of auxiliary organizations and well-financed religious conferences, has sought to gain some acceptance in mainstream American religious circles by inviting opinion leaders to participate, according to critics of the movement.

One professor on the program said he has steered away from Unification Church conferences in the past because the purposes seemed designed to lend credibility to the sponsor. But after “talking this over with my colleagues” and wanting to show “solidarity with the black ministers participating,” he said he decided to take part. He explained his reasons in an interview on condition that he not be identified.

In addition to Causa, the symposium is sponsored by two recently merged black clergy groups--the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and The Gathering. Invitations to clergy arrived on stationery from Murray and the First AME Church, whose best known member is Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley. The Unification Church is not mentioned on the program schedule or invitations.

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The Rev. Patrick Hickey, a Unification minister who is regional coordinator for Causa, said there was no attempt at subterfuge because he said there is no intent to spread Unification theology.

“People involved in the program certainly know of the relationship and I don’t think it will be any surprise to any persons coming,” he said. People who received the invitations have had several previous mailings from Causa over the last year, he said.

Hickey said the overall budget for the conference is about $25,000, which will be offset only slightly by the nominal $10 registration fee, which covers all meals and break-time refreshments.

More than 8,000 women are expected to attend the four-day United Methodist Women’s Assembly at the Anaheim Convention Center starting Thursday .

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Although the churchwomen’s organization focuses on ministries to women and children in its 28,000 church-based units, the quadrennial gathering will hear and discuss a range of issues typical of the concerns of the ecumenical denomination. Workshop topics include global debt crises, human sexuality, the refugee sanctuary movement, health-care problems, ministry to women in prison and many others.

In connection with the meeting, two Los Angeles Methodists will be honored as among the outstanding 100 “Women in Mission” for this century, 38 of whom are still living. The two are: Mildred M. Hutchinson, an active women’s leader in the Southern California-Arizona Conference and first president of the Los Angeles Interfaith Hunger Coalition, and Nancy G. Abrams, executive director of the Rowe Memorial Child Care and Development Center in Los Angeles.

Santa Monica’s unorthodox Church in Ocean Park found it could not make a straight-face appeal to its members for nearly $3,500 to repair a collapsed sewer line from the church to the street.

So, members of the United Methodist congregation this week received mail from the Church in Ocean Park “Relief Fund.” The envelope had a cartoon showing people in line and words saying that “a longstanding problem at the church has come to a head.”

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It’s not funny being unable to go to the bathroom at church, said the enclosed letter written by Don Girard, who chairs the relief fund. But at the behest of the church board, he tried a humorous plea for money filled with toilet euphemisms, one four-letter word and plays on words.

Tongue in cheek, Girard wrote that a “benefit sit-in” and “I flushed for Jesus” pledge cards were rejected by church officials as fund-raising ideas.

“We’ve already lost one of our members,” Girard continued. “I understand he found one of those churches that offers piped-in music in the bathrooms, and he goes there now.”

“But for myself and the rest of us left behind, we share the same imperative: Give now, or never go again.”

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Pastor Jim Conn said it was too early to judge reactions to the letter, but he indicated that the church reflects “the eclectic, artistic and politically active beach community” it serves and might not draw objections.


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