The April-May riots have been called an uprising or a rebellion, but the Rev. Billy G. Ingram says he saw them as "a wake-up call from God."
In response, Ingram, pastor of the Maranatha Community Church in Southwest Los Angeles, brought together Christian leaders and pastors from African-American, Latino and Korean-American churches to form the Southern California Coalition of Religious Leaders.
"For too long we had been making plans so that our paths would not cross," said Ingram, coalition president. But a unity service with his church and a Korean congregation in May was "so powerful we said we have to do this again and we have to do it bigger," he said.
The idea blossomed, more churches and pastors signed up, and last week a multiracial crowd of nearly 4,000 Christians came together at the Shrine Auditorium for the coalition's Los Angeles Unity Service. Among the speakers were David Yonggi Cho, pastor of Yoido Full Gospel Church of South Korea, and Rev. Robert Alvarado of Victory Outreach.
The service was "a visual expression of unity and oneness that goes beyond denominational, ethnic and geographic barriers," said Kenneth Ulmer, pastor of Faithful Central Baptist Church in South-Central and a coalition board member. "We'd like to see this principle carried out on a broader basis."
Pastors and leaders from about 25 churches are the basis of the leadership core, but nearly 200 churches have expressed interest in the coalition's agenda, said Edward A. Smith, pastor of Zoe Christian Fellowship Church in Cerritos and the coalition's treasurer.
In addition to more unity services, the coalition plans economic development projects and wants to train church leaders to provide more educational services for parishioners, Smith said.
Among the economic development projects is a proposed church-based community credit union that would involve churches throughout the region.
"We looked at the needs of the community, and one of the biggest is access to capital," Smith said. "Churches have a tremendous cash flow, and if we work together with Latino and Asian-American churches we can do a better job and be more responsive" than other lending institutions.
The credit union, which the coalition hopes to open in 1993, could provide home and automobile loans and some other limited loans, Smith said. As a first step, the coalition plans to survey the church community's financial needs and resources.
Church representatives can discuss the survey and credit union at 7 p.m. Tuesday when the coalition meets at Maranatha Community Church, 3800 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
"With all the financial resources available in our community, it's time we take care of our own," Ingram said.
Other projects planned by the coalition include entrepreneurship classes for people interested in starting small businesses, a venture capital fund for small businesses and the establishment of an institute to provide education and training in community organizing, languages, parenting skills, intercultural communication, evangelism and other areas.
The coalition also plans an annual unity picnic for youths and an annual march to commemorate the riots. Through its projects, the coalition hopes to help resolve "the issues that the disturbances brought to the surface," according to the group's mission statement.