A national conference of black church leaders reacted with some anger yesterday at the failure of all three presidential candidates to appear before the gathering here of some 400 pastors.
All three candidates sent representatives, but the church leaders nevertheless expressed anger at what many of them viewed as a slight to blacks.
"They (the candidates) overlooked a golden opportunity to come and speak to black leadership of the clergy throughout the United States," said the Rev. Ellis Casson of Santa Monica, Calif., one of the conference leaders. "There is grave concern about that."
D.C. City Council member Jerry A. Moore Jr. (R-At large) fielded generally hostile questions that the church leaders had saved up for Republican candidate Ronald Reagan.
"How does your candidate propose to increase housing opportunities, provide jobs, rebuild the inner cities, provide a conprehensive health program and increase the defense posture of our nation, and at the same time, cut taxes and balance the budget?" was the first question fired at Moore.
The solution, Moore responded, was to "create a better cash flow" and to eliminate waste. "You have to improve your management system and cut out your waste," said Moore, adding, "That's what we're doing here in the District of Columbia."
A hoped-for meeting with President Carter at the White House did not materialize for the conference, which had financial and other support of the National Council of Churches but included participants of some denominations not affiliated with the council. Conference leaders went out of their way to make clear to reporters that the White House had not reneged on a Carter meeting but that arrangements for such an encounter "just didn't work out."
Clinton A. West, a member of Rep. John Anderson's congressional staff, represented the independent candidate, and Robert Maddox, a Southern Baptist pastor who is an aide to President Carter, represented the president. Nearly all the questions were directed at Moore.
The black church leaders, who came from 33 states and 21 denominations, spent half of Thursday at the Capitol in briefings and in lobbying sessions with their members of Congress. Their top priorities, according to conference leaders, were passage of S506 to guarantee fair housing practices, legislation to expand health care for low-income women and children, and support for additional funding for the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act program.
The conference focused on issues rather than endorsing candidates.
Conference leaders, who said they represented more than a half-million black Christians, said that black clergy all over the country have been taking the initiative in voter registration programs. The 2 million-member African Methodist Episcopal Church has set as a priority that every member be registered to vote.
The most impassioned political campaign speech of the conference was delivered by former U.N. ambassador Andrew Young, without once mentioning the name of any candidates. In a skillful and dramatic blend of personal reminiscence and history woven together with Biblical quotations, Young traced the course of black hopes and struggles over the last 20 years.
He acknowledged that all the hopes and aspirations of the civil rights movement have not been realized, but said "In America the hungry are being fed . . . Though many are standing in line for unemployment compensation, standing in line for medical care . . . they are standing in line with basic needs at least cared for," he said.
He praised the resolution of the conflict in Zimbabwe, the SALT II agreement (although "we didn't get two-thirds of the Senate to ratify it"), and the Israeli-Egyptian peace negotiations.
He also accounted for the Iranian hostage crisis as "the sins of our fathers come back to haunt us."
The nearest that Young came to a direct reference to the political campaigns was the statement, alluding to a spiritual that the choir had sung earlier: "If the storm does not pass over and if we can't sing hallelujah on Nov. 5, there will be hell to pay."