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Coalition Of Religious Leaders Opens Campaign To End Racism

A multiracial coalition of Protestant, Jewish and Baha'i religious leaders affirmed their commitment yesterday to dismantling racism and "white privilege," opening a yearlong campaign to change hearts and minds in the Northwest.

"We don't even know we are being racist, and we are," the Rev. Boyd Stockdale, executive presbyter of the Presbyterian Church USA, said at a news conference.

"We've got to admit Seattle is racist, Presbyterians are racist. ... It's going to take each one of us as human beings, as persons, to face the racism within ourselves - and maybe then we have a chance."

Speakers lamented the persistence of racism in America decades after the civil rights movement. Some called for less talk and more action.

"I'm embarrassed to be here in 2001 dealing with the same issues we were dealing with in the '60s," said Bishop Vincent Warner of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, who entered the seminary in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. It is time to "once again take to the streets" to demonstrate a passionate concern about racism, he said.

Speakers detailed few specific initiatives being contemplated as part of the undertaking. A news release mentioned teach-ins, faith-based dialogues, speeches and discussions of films and books, with a culminating conference planned for September 2002. Yesterday's announcement was preceded by a closed-door discussion among the religious leaders.

The program originated in the Commission for Racial Justice of the interdenominational Church Council of Greater Seattle. The commission, whose roots go back to the early 1990s, developed the idea last spring, partly in response to the racially tinged Mardi Gras rioting in Pioneer Square and to the resulting news media coverage.

The mission gained urgency in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of a black man by police in the Central Area in May, an alleged case of racial profiling involving jaywalking charges against a group of Asian American teens in Seattle in July, and the fatal shooting of a Hispanic man by police in Bellevue in August, commission co-Chairwoman Joy Shigaki said.

Yesterday was selected as the starting date for the coalition's "Year of Action Against Racism and White Privilege" to coincide with the United Nations World Conference in South Africa.

The Rev. Jack Sullivan Jr., regional minister of the Disciples of Christ, warned against hoping for a quick fix. "We've got to gear up for a long run," he said.

Sullivan also urged his fellow religious leaders to promote "God's vision for humanity, without apology" - a vision that includes racial justice, integrity and love.

"As much as we can talk about software, we can talk about faith," Sullivan said.

P-I reporter Gregory Roberts can be reached at 206-448-8022

©Copyright 2001, Seattle Post - Intelligencer

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