More than 80 religious leaders from the Washington area, in an unusual joint statement, have issued an appeal for unity and conscience as the trial of D.C. Mayor Marion Barry comes to an end.

The group of prominent clerics, representing a cross section of faiths and races in the District and its suburbs, said they are responding to a "crisis of integrity," according to a signed statement that appears in a half-page advertisement in the A section of today's Washington Post.

The Washington Post donated free advertising space for the statement after being asked to do so by the religious leaders. The statement, which questions both the motives and actions of the federal government and Mayor Barry, marks the first time during the Barry trial that dozens of religious leaders in the region have spoken collectively.

The idea for the statement was developed at a recent meeting of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, but was not limited to members of the group. About 10 religious leaders were present at the meeting, including Andrew Baker, head of the Washington Board of Rabbis; the Rev. Clark Lobenstine, executive director of the Interfaith Conference, and the Rev. Lewis Anthony of the Varick Memorial AME Zion Church in Northeast Washington.

"As religious leaders, we are very troubled by the confusion concerning issues of justice and ethics surrounding the trial of the mayor of the District of Columbia," the statement said. "We are deeply chagrined that questions of fundamental justice, ethics and morality have been overshadowed by irresponsible rhetoric, questionable journalism and rising polarization."

In the statement, the religious leaders said "widespread reports of private moral compromise by public leaders at all levels of government have knocked the breath out of the public's trust."

" . . . We must consider the integrity of the government of the United States, whose present prosecution raises serious questions of ethics, selective enforcement and fundamental fairness," the statement said.

"Many wonder why in a time when thousands of American children are dying because of drugs smuggled with seeming impunity across our borders, the government of the United States chose to spend millions of dollars to 'sting' a governmental official who was alleged to have used illegal drugs.

"Under federal employment guidelines, persons who come forward admitting use of illegal drugs, in the amount alleged in the case in question, are allowed to enter treatment without penalty through an employee assistance program . . . . "

But at the same time, the religious leaders said, "the responsibility of elected officials and other individuals to hold family life, morality and integrity sacred is an equally important matter of public scrutiny. Integrity is sacrificed, morality abandoned and family life defiled when persons preach against evils which they savor when camera lights and the public eye are absent.

"Irrespective of the office, person or place, we strongly affirm our conviction that we cannot tell our children to just say no when parents, clergy, business and government leaders say yes. Children learn more from what adults do than from what adults say," the statement said.

In the statement, the religious leaders said they have not taken sides by issuing the joint statement, and challenged residents to "decide whether we as a people of this metropolitan area will love or hate, be one or divided, hold integrity and family life sacred or consign such values to history's junk yard. Let us choose wisely."

Several ministers said the statement was prompted by concern among many mainstream religious leaders that their voices were not being heard amid what the Rev. Leon Lipscombe of the Allen-Garfield AME Church in Southeast Washington called the "emotional noise" being made during the Barry trial. Some said they were referring to remarks made Bishop George Augustus Stallings Jr. and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, as well as Barry's own frequent visits to congregations throughout the city.

"We're hoping that it will simply inform the public that the religious leaders who have been speaking publicly on the trial and thereby also discussing moral and ethical issues were not speaking for the total religious community," said the Rev. Ernest R. Gibson, pastor of the First Rising Mount Zion Baptist Church.

The letter is signed by the area bishops of the Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Lutheran and United Methodist churches, as well as the heads of the Presbyterian Church and United Church of Christ in this region and Washington Board of Rabbis. The African American, white, Asian and Hispanic communities are represented on the list of signers, which includes clerics from seven faiths, from the Islamic and Sikh communities to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Since the mayor's arrest, religious groups such as the Council of Churches of Greater Washington and the Interfaith Conference have sought to address racial polarization, which some feel has been heightened by the trial. But the joint statement is one of the few concrete actions that have emerged in the past few months. Ministers say they hope the statement will help bridge the gap of racial mistrust.

"It's trying to put a positive note in the middle of a negative atmosphere," said the Rev. William DeVeaux, pastor of the Metropolitan AME Church in Northwest Washington. "There are two problems: The government was wrong in its pursuit of Barry; but by the same token one cannot say the man did not make any mistake. You cannot lift up a mistake and say it's all right even if it was done by the wrong means."

Rabbi Andrew Baker said: "A lot of voices that came together as a common one have also been speaking separately in various congregations for a good many weeks but not speaking in the courthouse . . . . I hope {the statement} restores some sense of balance in the way the entire community views the trial itself."

The Rev. Michael Kelley, associate pastor at St. Augustine Roman Catholic Church in Northwest Washington, said the statement was designed to strike a balance without condemning the mayor.

"It's like we often do in church," Kelley said. "We don't condemn the person, but we often challenge the action. The statement is trying to show concern for Marion Barry as a person and that it be a fair trial, but we're also saying that it's important to have integrity and leadership, the whole idea of a role model."

The joint statement appeared as hundreds of clerics in the Washington area were receiving a request in their mail from Mayor Barry.

In an official letter, dated July 31, the mayor thanked the ministers for their prayers, and asked them to pray for him and his family this Sunday. Barry also likened himself to Job, the biblical figure who felt unfairly victimized. " . . . Just like Job, no matter what happens, 'I'll wait 'til my change comes.' I, too, 'know that my redeemer liveth,' and because he lives I can face tomorrow," the mayor's letter said.

Although some ministers interviewed said the mayor already was in their prayers, others questioned the appropriateness of his request.

"To ask the religious community to put it numero uno on the liturgical agenda and devote this entire Sunday worship upon his plight is, I think, inappropriate," said the Rev. John Steinbruck, pastor of the Luther Place Memorial Church.

Text of Clerics' Appeal for Unity

Below is the text of the statement by area clerics:

A CRISIS OF INTEGRITY ... AN APPEAL TO CONSCIENCE

In a time when our beloved Nation's capital and the people of this metropolitan area are experiencing numbing carnage in the streets; widening racial and ethnic polarization; disquieting indifference to homelessness, poverty, and divisiveness; and real confusion over the meaning of right and wrong, many hearts ache and ears yearn for a prophetic voice.

As religious leaders, we are very troubled by the confusion concerning issues of justice and ethics surrounding the trial of the Mayor of the District of Columbia. We are deeply chagrined that questions of fundamental justice, ethics, and morality have been overshadowed by irresponsible rhetoric, questionable journalism and rising polarization.

A CRISIS OF INTEGRITY

At issue here is a crisis of integrity. This crisis is the parent of Watergate, Irangate, pulpit disgrace, the S & L scandal and Wall Street theft. Widespread reports of private moral compromise by public leaders at all levels of government have knocked the breath out of the public's trust. It is the meaning of integrity that deserves more intensive reflection.

On the one hand, we must consider the integrity of the government of the United States, whose present prosecution raises serious questions of ethics, selective enforcement and fundamental fairness. Many wonder why, in a time when thousands of American children are dying because of drugs smuggled with seeming impunity across our borders, the government of the United States chose to spend millions of dollars to "sting" a governmental official, who under federal guidelines for the quantity of drugs allegedly used, would have been permitted to go into treatment without penalty, under an employee assistance program. This and other questionable actions attending this proceeding raise serious concerns about the motives of our government's action.

It is a shameful fact that in the 400 years of African presence in this country and the 214 years of American independence, African Americans have hardly known judicial, legislative and electoral rights until the last three decades. The blindfold of the goddess of justice has not always been stationary nor her scales balanced for the sons and daughters of ebony hue.

On the other hand, the responsibility of elected officials and other individuals to hold family life, morality and integrity sacred is an equally important matter of public scrutiny. Integrity is sacrificed, morality abandoned and family life defiled when persons preach against evils which they savor when camera lights and the public eye are absent. Irrespective of the office, person or place, we strongly reaffirm our conviction that we cannot tell our children to just say no when parents, clergy and governmental leaders say yes. Children learn more from what adults do than from what adults say.

No nation, family, society or religion can long endure when honesty, trust, and integrity are conveniently reduced in importance to make way for our misguided pleasures. Sin is still sin. Neither politics nor circumstance can change this fact. While we rejoice with the miracle of grace, renewal and freedom which comes from repentance, we cannot betray our prophetic duty and let immoral behavior or moral relativism assassinate basic decency, family life and integrity.

AN APPEAL TO CONSCIENCE

We do not issue this statement to take sides. The verdict of the guilt or innocence of Marion Barry is committed to a sequestered jury whose eyes will not see what we have written. Instead this appeal to conscience is given to each person in our community who, in the days and years ahead, will help determine whether principle, integrity, morality, family life and racial equality will live or die.

We, the undersigned, pledge our resolve, resources, and commitment to work together with other persons of conscience to hasten the time when homelessness, poverty, drug abuse and violence, injustice, division and racial and ethnic strife will have neither voice, place or power among us. We solicit your active participation in the fulfillment of this vision by your personal involvement and sacrifice.

You and we, the members of a public jury, not the jury of the United States District Court, must decide whether we as the people of this metropolitan area will love or hate, be one or divided, hold integrity and family life sacred or consign such values to history's junk yard. Let us choose wisely.