Ministers Urge Harmony After Trial : Religion: Pastors across the Southland discuss verdicts in the O.J. Simpson case. Defense attorney Cochran addresses one South-Central congregation.


On the seventh day, God rested. But public discourse about the swift and stunning conclusion of the O.J. Simpson murder trial continued unabated at houses of worship across the Southland.

From the San Fernando Valley to south Los Angeles, pastors took to the pulpit to call for increased racial harmony and to urge a better understanding of the criminal justice system. And at one South-Central church, congregant Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. was called forward to briefly discuss the power of prayer and the implications of his courtroom victory in representing the former football great.

"This case transcends just O.J. Simpson," said Cochran, Simpson's chief defense counsel, after receiving a standing ovation from nearly 300 parishioners at Second Baptist Church. "What it talks about is the justice system in America. It talks about how we as Americans see things so differently."

Outside the church, Cochran denied printed reports that Simpson had left Los Angeles for the Dominican Republic to marry girlfriend Paula Barbieri.

"He's not getting married," Cochran told a Times reporter. "He's here [in Los Angeles]. . . . He's getting ready to speak [to the public]."

For the most part Sunday morning, church leaders focused on the need for healing the raw nerve endings exposed by the ever-surprising and seemingly endless trial--which was capped with a flourish last week by the jury's not guilty verdicts after deliberations that lasted little longer than a football game.

"We need patience, as difficult as that may be," said the Rev. Chet B. Gean at the Kirk O'The Valley Presbyterian Church in Reseda, which has a predominantly white congregation. "I sense white Americans are genuinely upset, but they have to demand of themselves more of the patience and endurance they have long observed and admired in black Americans.

"We need to listen--although we may not agree. We must not lose heart, for our understanding should diminish our anger, not our hope."

At the Agape Church of Religious Science in Santa Monica, the Rev. Michael Beckwith listed not only racism but domestic violence as age-old problems spotlighted by the trial. He urged congregants to cleanse themselves of the moral decay that leads to prejudice and spousal abuse.

Other pastors warned that Los Angeles stands at a precarious crossroads as a result of the intense public focus on race hammered at by Cochran, using the now infamous audiotapes containing remarks by former Los Angeles Police Department Detective Mark Fuhrman--and accentuated by the quick findings of the mainly African American jury.

At Parks Chapel AME Church in San Fernando, the Rev. Jordan Davis predicted "a subtle riot" in which tension between whites and blacks increases. Davis urged church members to "stick together" and to pray for "those 12 [jurors] who had the courage to do the right thing."

At the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles, the Rev. Cecil (Chip) Murray warned his congregants not to gloat after a verdict that many whites believe ran counter to the evidence.

"There are people walking around a little highhanded after the verdict," Murray said. "It's understandable. After 300 years, you get something that looks like a break. But we still have a lot of breaks to go."

Murray said the verdict came after a fair trial in which both sides were ably represented by African Americans: Cochran and Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher A. Darden.

"[Yet] many Southern Californians are filled with fear," he said, cautioning that if relations plummet much further, the races will "be fighting."

Meanwhile, a second First AME pastor, the Rev. R.L. Armstrong, touched on interracial tensions emanating from the Simpson trial. First A.M.E. officials met with one of their members--Darden--last week to emphasize that "there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing your best" in having prosecuted Simpson, Armstrong said.

A couple of miles east at the Second Baptist Church, the Rev. William S. Epps introduced his most famous parishioner, defense counsel Cochran.

"I don't know what you thought about the guilt or innocence of O.J., but Johnnie Cochran is our member and he did what he needed to do," said Epps as a beaming Cochran strode forth.

"No one is rejoicing in the death of folks or [endorsing] domestic violence or abuse," the pastor said. "[But] I was upset about the media distorting everything."

In brief remarks made at Epps' request, Cochran emphasized that "there is a problem with racism in America."

"Never before in any case that I have worked on," Cochran said, "has anyone ever been so pre-tried and pre-convicted.

"This jury--it wasn't all black, there were two whites and there was a Hispanic man on this jury--this jury did their job and acquitted this man. People now want to change the system. And that's not right."

Cochran also told parishioners that he had prayed with Simpson several times during the trial, at one point discussing the Book of Job.

Simpson now "understands more about his African American roots than he did certainly before this happened," Cochran said.

As congregants applauded, the attorney added, "You know, trouble will do that for you."

Times staff writers Jose Cardenas, Paul Johnson, Margaret Ramirez and Steve Ryfle contributed to this story.

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