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NEWS STORY: Pentecostals report slow progress in healing racial divisions

c. 1997 Religion News Service FORT WASHINGTON, Md. _ It’s been three years since the nation’s largest African-American and white Pentecostal denominations decided to end decades of racial division and seek to overcome the barriers of sex and class in their churches. In October 1994 in Memphis, Tenn., the world watched as white and black […]

c. 1997 Religion News Service

FORT WASHINGTON, Md. _ It’s been three years since the nation’s largest African-American and white Pentecostal denominations decided to end decades of racial division and seek to overcome the barriers of sex and class in their churches.

In October 1994 in Memphis, Tenn., the world watched as white and black Pentecostal believers linked arms, repented and performed a biblically-based foot washing. But beyond that dramatic symbolism, leaders of the two groups acknowledge, there has been little progress. Prayer and meetings have continued, but few visible signs point to their unification.

Taking action takes time and”getting to know each other,”said Ronald Williams, a spokesman for the newly-formed Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches of North America (PCCNA) and an organizer of the historic meeting in Memphis.”The first step to true reconciliation is to have a relationship with each other,”Williams added.”That’s why we’ve chosen to gather together to dialogue, and to get to know each other .” Leaders from more than 23 denominations gathered here Oct. 1-3, for the third conference of the PCCNA since its formation three years ago.”It may not seem like we have done anything, but you have to realize that these denominations have been divided for more than eight decades along racial lines,”Williams said.

The executive committee of the PCCNA plans to meet in December to set a strategic plan for the organization moving it past the words of reconciliation.”The question we want to answer with this type of strategic plan is `How can we take reconciliation to the grass-roots level and out to every single church?'”Williams said.

The PCCNA was born from the merger of the Pentecostal Fellowship of North America (PFNA), a largely white group of churches including the Assemblies of God, the Pentecostal Holiness Church and 19 other denominations, and black denominations including the nation’s largest black Pentecostal denomination, the Church of God in Christ.

In 1994, the PFNA dissolved as Pentecostal and charismatic believers gathered in Memphis to overcome racial and cultural divisions. That gathering has come to be called”The Memphis Miracle”by those who attended.

During the three-day conference held here at the National Church of God, PCCNA leaders also announced plans to shift the focus of the association from meetings to social and moral action.”The issues of our world and our community are too important to waste with insignificant meetings,”said Pastor T.L. Lowery, local PCCNA chairman and head of the National Church of God.

To date, organizers said the PCCNA has not passed resolutions or taken a stand on such thorny racial issues as affirmative action or the proposal by Rep. Tony P. Hall, D-Ohio, to offer a national apology for slavery.

The PCCNA counts efforts to respond to the needs of its members, especially African-American churches, as the direction in which leaders want to take the reconciled organization.

In his Oct. 2 address on justice, Bishop George D. McKinney, a Church of God in Christ leader from San Diego, Calif., told more than 800 participants gathered here how some members of the PCCNA stepped in, pressured a local California bank and helped him secure thousands of dollars in capital improvement and other church loans. Despite the church’s good credit rating and debt-free status, they had previously been denied loans by the bank. He did not disclose the name of the bank.

McKinney, in a call to action, said the PCCNA must begin to print position papers from various points of view to educate members, foster more dialogues such as the annual conference, and ensure Pentecostal and charismatic leaders align with one one another in what they say and do.

PCCNA organizers also announced plans to launch”Reconciliation,”a 32-page scholarly journal aimed at pastors. The journal, the brainchild of outgoing PCCNA chairman, Bishop Ithiel Clemmons, would serve as the official publication of the organization.

Although the PCCNA has plans to expand its focus, it currently operates and does business without a staff or central office. A handful of member denominations, including the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, to which Williams belongs, have created offices devoted to the work of the PCCNA. Williams said,”until we set up an agenda, there is no need for a national paid staff.” During the annual business meeting of the PCCNA, Bishop Gilbert Patterson, of Memphis, Tenn., a Church of God in Christ leader, and the Rev. Thomas Trask, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, were elected co-chairmen. The PCCNA’s next annual meeting will be held Oct. 19-21, 1998, in Virginia Beach, Va.

END HAWKINS