c. 2005 Religion News Service
Civil Rights Group `On Our Way Back,’ Leader Says
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (RNS) The head of the civil rights organization founded by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said the group is back on its feet, with new international centers dedicated to conflict resolution.
Southern Christian Leadership Conference President Charles Steele Jr. formally extended the organization’s hand of friendship Sunday (July 31) to a host of groups and nations just a year after many believed it might be near death.
A crowd estimated at more than 700 packed Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church to hear Steele tell them that the group’s recent bad days are behind it. Steele didn’t sugar-coat just how close the organization came to dying.
“On November 12 … we were broke. Dr. Martin Luther King’s organization was broke,” Steele told the crowd. The headquarters in Atlanta saw its power cut off after it could not pay its bill.
But Steele said the dark days are over. “Now we’re on our way back and God did that,” Steele said to shouts of joy and thundering applause.
Steele, a former state senator from Tuscaloosa, Ala., was named SCLC president nine months ago. During his speech, he lashed out at continuing inequality and racism that blacks face.
“As African-Americans, the fight for equality and justice never ends,” said Steele, so “we are still marching, still demonstrating, still raising hell saying we want to be free like everybody else.”
After an overture to the Nation of Islam, Steele said he will also seek to extend SCLC’s reach to Hispanics. He said the organization will begin creating conflict resolution centers in Africa, Israel, China and Cuba.
Founded by King and others in 1957, the SCLC appeared to be coming apart at the seams just a year ago. Financial problems threatened to drive it into bankruptcy. Internal bickering erupted into open hostilities between warring camps that grew so bad at last year’s convention that police had to be called to keep the peace.
But all that is now part of the past, Steele told delegates Sunday.
“SCLC is on the rise, on the move, on the way toward a new day, a new way,” Steele shouted repeatedly as the crowd picked up the chant.
_ Charles J. Dean
Los Angeles Won’t Pay to Name Intersection After Prominent Minister
(RNS) The Los Angeles City Council has declined to pay for a ceremony naming an intersection after a local pastor who is an opponent of gay rights, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Bill Rosendahl, a gay member of the city council, persuaded his colleagues not to waive the fees for the official dedication of “Dr. Frederick K.C. Price Square.”
Price is a televangelist who presides over the 10,000-seat Faithdome in South Los Angeles.
“I’ll vote against this today to show that homophobia will not be supported by the city of Los Angeles,” Rosendahl said, according to the newspaper. “It goes with the territory _ I’m the elected official here who is gay. I’m now the point person on these issues and it’s part of my portfolio. I accept it.”
Price was quoted in a 2004 San Francisco Chronicle interview as saying that he has “nothing against homosexual individuals,” but said the Bible says that “homosexuality is an abomination.”
In May, the City Council unanimously approved a motion by Councilman Bernard Parks to name the intersection of Vermont and 79th Street after Price. Parks said he had questions about the council’s decision not to waive the ceremony fee.
“Theoretically, I don’t know if what we did today was legal,” Parks said the day the motion passed. “The fact that we withdrew a fee waiver for an event because someone disagreed with someone else’s First Amendment rights _ I’m sure that’s something that the city attorney will look at.”
_ Hugh S. Moore
Georgia Priest Causes Stir With Apology for Nagasaki
(RNS) A Roman Catholic priest in Augusta, Ga., is causing controversy in his hometown with a planned visit to Nagasaki, Japan, to deliver a letter of apology for the United States’ use of nuclear force at the end of World War II.
The Rev. Bob Cushing plans to visit Nagasaki on Aug. 9, the 60th anniversary of the nuclear bombing that killed at least 35,000 people and effectively ended the war. He says that his inspiration for the visit is to reunite with a Nagasaki survivor he met 20 years ago in Georgia.
In addition to delivering a letter of apology, Cushing will present the people of Nagasaki with 1,000 white paper cranes, a Japanese peace symbol. Cushing is the local coordinator for Pax Christi, a Catholic peace group.
A debate over Cushing’s trip has played out in the pages of his local paper, the Augusta Chronicle.
Cushing’s bishop, J. Kevin Boland, told the newspaper that Cushing would not lose his job over the visit, though he was not representing the parish or diocese while in Japan.
But letters to the editor and an editorial by the newspaper’s staff criticized Cushing’s assessment of World War II as an “unjust” conflict.
James A. Wilde wrote to the paper that parishioners have walked out of church during some recent sermons by Cushing because of “the blatantly political subject matter.”
Cushing “does not speak for our congregation when he states that U.S. participation in World War II was unjust, or that we owe an apology to the citizens of Nagasaki,” Wilde wrote.
Another letter writer, the Rev. Miguel Grave de Peralta, wrote an apology to World War II veterans who are “insulted or confused” by his fellow Catholic priest Cushing.
_ Holly Lebowitz Rossi
Orthodox Jews Ramp Up Pressure on Israel to Stop `Disengagement’
JERUSALEM (RNS) Orthodox Jews this week stepped up their campaign against the government’s planned withdrawal of troops and settlers from Gaza and the northern West Bank, which is slated to begin in less than two weeks.
On Tuesday (Aug. 2), thousands of Israelis _ the vast majority of them Orthodox Jews _ marched to towns bordering the Gaza Strip to demand that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon cancel the so-called disengagement, which will uproot about 8,000 Jewish settlers. Gaza is also home to more than 1 million Palestinians.
Activists called on every Jew in the world to simultaneously read the first lines of the prayer known as Shema _ “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one” _ on Wednesday (Aug. 3).
According to an e-mail circulated worldwide by the Israeli radio station Arutz 7, the prayer “is intended to ask for divine help to prevent violence toward the planned expulsion of Jewish residents from Gaza and northern Samaria, and for divine intervention to cancel the plan.”
The prayer is being organized under the motto “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.”
The prayer was set to be recited at the Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem at 9 p.m. Wednesday, or 2 p.m. EDT.
Children around the world were also asked to pray together the night of Aug. 4 (at 7:30 p.m. in Israel, 12:30 p.m. EDT), one day before the beginning of the new Hebrew month of Av, when Jews traditionally mourn the destruction of the biblical Temples and other calamities in Jewish history.
Former Chief Rabbi of Israel Mordechai Eliyahu is expected to lead Thursday night’s prayer at the Western Wall, Arutz 7 said.
Representatives for the Chabad movement of Hasidic Jews said they expected more than 20,000 children to attend Thursday’s prayer rally at the Western Wall.
_ Michele Chabin
Lutherans Report Slight Decline in Members, Income
(RNS) The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has announced a slight decline in both baptized membership and the rate of growth in church income last year compared with previous years.
The ELCA’s income rose 1.79 percent, to $2.6 billion in 2004, according to a report issued by the church, down from the 2003 income increase of 2.45 percent.
In 2004 the ELCA’s membership decreased about 1 percent to 4,930,429 members in 10,585 congregations.
The report released by the ELCA attributes the losses to “a decrease in the number of new members, the disbanding of 40 congregations, and `roll cleaning’ in many remaining congregations.”
“Roll cleaning” _ deleting the names of inactive members who indicate no interest in continued participation from congregation lists _ accounted for a loss of 192,825 ELCA members last year, according to the report.
ELCA spokesman John Brooks said the slight downward trend has been an issue since the church’s formation through merger in 1987. “That line is almost flat,” Brooks said, referring to the number of congregation members.
He emphasized that the ELCA is aggressively pursuing new members. “We have a strong evangelism strategy that began in 2003,” Brooks said. He said that implementing new strategies would be a key issue at the upcoming Churchwide Assembly, a conference of church members that begins next week in Orlando, Fla.
“We’re beginning outreach strategies to encourage more ethnic members,” Brooks said. “We’re hoping to focus on the immigrant community.”
_ Hugh S. Moore
Quote of the Day: Former Sen. George McGovern
(RNS) “I’m not casting doubt on the power of prayer, although I’ve never been sure I was getting through. But if God told President Bush to send American troops to Iraq, he sent an entirely different message to the pope.”
_ Former Sen. George McGovern, D-S.D., speaking at the Missoula (Mont.) World Affairs Council on President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq. After launching the war, Bush said he had consulted with “a higher father” about invading Iraq.
KRE/PH END RNS