One hundred eighteen D.C. ministers, many of whom endorsed Mayor Marion Barry's opponents in the 1978 Democratic primary for mayor, yesterday endorsed the mayor for reelection.
The support of the ministers--long seen as influential, but not decisive--gave Barry the endorsement of most of the leaders of a group that shunned him four years ago.
Bishop Smallwood E. Williams, pastor of Bible Way Church and one of the church leaders with the longest history of involvement in local politics, praised Barry yesterday as a mayor who has "not created the millenium, but brought some help and hope to the District of Columbia."
The announcement gave Barry the support of most, but not all, the city's prominent clergy. Bishop Walter McCullough of the United House of Prayer for All People, the Rev. Henry C. Gregory of Shiloh Baptist Church and the Rev. Andrew Fowler of Capital View Baptist Church--executive secretary of the Committee of One Hundred Ministers--are uncommitted. Archbishop James Hickey and Episcopal Bishop John Walker have not announced support for any candidate either.
The Rev. A. Knighton Stanley of Peoples Congregational Church, meanwhile, has endorsed Barry's leading opponent in the polls, Patricia Roberts Harris. Harris held a breakfast meeting yesterday with about 30 ministers, including Stanley.
After the announcement of the ministers' support for Barry, made at Bible Way Church on New Jersey Avenue NW, Williams said Barry has changed his attitude toward churches since 1978, when Williams endorsed Sterling Tucker for mayor in the Democratic primary. Williams later endorsed Barry in the general election.
"In 1978, Marion Barry had to prove he was not any longer hostile to the church community," Williams said. "He has grown in that attitude, I think. We've had some problems with him, but we elected him mayor of the city, not vicar."
"I am coming straight down the line for what I think is best for the city," Stanley said of his support for Harris. "I have two very fine children who need the best social and political environment to grow up in and I'm going for Pat Harris. The future of the city is at stake and if we make the wrong decision we are in for it."
A spokesman for McCullough said the bishop had not decided whom he will endorse, and added that unlike 1978, when he endorsed Walter Washington, McCullough may remain neutral in this election. Gregory could not be reached for comment.
Fowler has been critical of Barry for his support of gay rights, legalized gambling in the city and support of decriminalizing marijuana, earlier this year released a statement from the Committee of One Hundred Ministers and the Baptist Ministers Conference detailing a set of criteria for the next mayor of the city.
The statement said the mayor should be of "high moral standards," and should be "a person who can define the responsibilities of the mayor." Yesterday Barry said he was still hopeful of getting Fowler's endorsement.
Barry's political victory brought out the preacher in him at yesterday's luncheon announcing the endorsement. Barry said seeing the preachers there brought him "to the summit of joy, where I breathe the thin air of gratitude."
Barry went on, "There was one born to shepherds in Bethlehem who God raised to be king of the people of Israel with the wisdom to guide that nation to peace and prosperity. I come here in the same spirit, born the son of two sharecroppers in the bosom of the South, to become mayor of this great city."
John Ray, an at-large City Council member who is also challenging Barry, said he has recieved the endorsements of many of the ministers Barry is claiming as supporters. Two ministers on Barry's list are actively working with Ray's campaign, Ray said.
The best-known minister endorsing Ray thus far is the Rev. Thomas Jennings of 10th Street Baptist Church.
"I think a lot of it is that the ministers just put their names there on that list because he is the mayor," Ray said. "A lot of it was done out of respect for the office of mayor, not for Barry."
"Many churches depend on the government's help to support nonprofit housing development and other church sponosred activities," said council member and mayoral candidate Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4). "The support of the ministers is the ministers supporting their congregation's needs and not necessarily supporting the mayor."
Jarvis said she is trying to assemble a group of ministers in support of her candidacy.
"A significant number of the preachers live here in D.C.," said Barry, "so I'm sure to get their votes and their family members. But more important, as leaders of their congregation, people ask them what they think. . . . they influence some people to a limited extent. So it helps me with the undecideds. They can have me visit their churches and when I come they can say nice things about me."
Barry said yesterday that the ministers' past aversion to his campaigns and their battles with him over legalizing gambling in the city and gay rights had been muted by his message that he is "mayor of all the people and this city is multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural."
The Rev. John Wheeler of the Vermont Avenue Baptist Church supported Barry's view of how he captured much of the church community's endorsement.
"There may have been questions about some of the things he has done," Wheeler said, "but he is the mayor of everybody. I know him as the mayor and I'm supporting him as mayor."