LOS ANGELES -- The World Council of Churches' Program to Combat Racism has called on American church groups to rekindle their commitment to fighting racism, a commitment the international ecumenical body said had waned substantially.
"The God of justice calls us to be advocates for the poor, the disenfranchised," said the Rev. Yvonne Delk, director of the United Church of Christ's Office for Church and Society and chairwoman of the racism program's International Consultation of Racism and Racial Justice held here last week.
"It is clear to some of us that ground we once gained is slipping away in the current conservative climate," Delk said.
About 160 program commissioners and staff members, denomination officials and representatives of civil rights and liberation groups from around the world attended the meeting, the first held by the program in the United States. The majority of those attending were blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, Asians and Pacific Islanders.
A backlash among white church members was blamed for what was said to be a decline in denominational support for antiracism causes.
"What the church has done is allow overt racism to go unchallenged in a forceful and dramatic way," said the Rev. Peggy Owen Clark, Christian Church (Disciplies of Christ) Pacific-Southwest regional minister. "We need the same focus as existed 25 years ago."
The international consultation summed up its views in a nine-page statement that urged denominational executives to take the lead in the struggle against racism and to increase contributions to the special fund.
The statement asked for pledges of $150,000 during 1988, as compared with the less than $10,000 that was collected in 1987.
The statement, which mostly addressed racism in general terms, also urged the National Council of Churches' Racial Justice Working Group to cooperate closely with the racism program and urged church support for a Palestinian homeland and the end of apartheid in South Africa.
The statement also called upon the church "to engage in issues of redress and reparation for the centuries of racism and racial injustice," particularly in regard to land-rights issues involving American Indians and other indigenous peoples.
The statement did not address the question of violent tactics used by some liberation groups supported by the program, particularly in South Africa and Namibia, which had been the subject of media reports criticial of the program and the council in general.
The Rev. Donald Fancher, a Church of the Brethren representative, said his denomination, a "peace church" that has traditionally stressed nonviolence, "took a lot of flak" from conservative members after such reports and that he hoped the statement would have clarified the issue.