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White churches reach out for minority membership.

NEW YORK -- In a year when cultural diversity has become a guiding principle -- evidence ranging from President Bill Clinton's cabinet appointments to new emphasis on multiethnic programs in public schools -- mainline protestant church leaders are finding that efforts to reach out to minorities sometimes promote ill will as much as understanding.

In the most skeptical interpretation, some black leaders see the "multicultural" programs as opportunistic ventures by mailine churches to gain new, nonwhite members in an era of decline.

The Reverend Calvin Butts, pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York, put it bluntly: "White denominations are dying, except for right-wing evangelical groups. It is not surprising that they now desire minorities to become a part of their congregations."

Despite such resistance, predominantly white churches have been giving more attention to reaching out to minority groups. For example:

* Last summer, Episcopal Bishop Edmond G. Browning took a four-state tour of inner-city churches and social agencies to demonstrate the denomination's commitment to fight racism as a first step toward getting the church to embrace new minority members.

About 400 of 8,500 Episcopal congregations are black -- a mere 5 percent -- and 525 of the 14,868 clergy are black. Minorities make up 10 percent of the 2.4 million-member denomination.

* Last June, about 250 Catholic bishops from across the country traveled to New Orleans for a National Black Catholic Congress, only the second such gathering this century, to endorse the work of the congress and to hear the concerns of black Catholics. In recent years, the bishops also approved a pastoral plan calling for aggressive outreach to blacks and the development of two national offices devoted to blacks in the church.

The 1.8 million black Catholics amount to just over 3 percent of that church's 55 million members in this country, according to statistics released by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies.

* The Southern Baptist Convention formed a multiethnic advisory committee last summer to develop a strategy to "significantly" increase its minority leadership by the year 2000.

Southern Baptists give themselves high marks on the issue of racial diversity, but they say they have not scored so well on the issue of minority leadership. Of the convention's 12.5 million members, about half a million, just over 4 percent, represent minorities. That includes 275,000 blacks, 110,000 Hispanics, 70,000 Asians and 40,000 American Indians.

Convention President H. Edwin Young said, "Now we need to identify ways to include people of all colors in positions of leadership throughout the denomination. Through evangelism and commitment to scriptural principles, the Southern Baptists have become the most racially diverse denomination in America today."

* The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, with 5.2 million members, appointed a Task Force on Race, Ethnicity and Culture last year to prepare a social statement to encourage congregations to study and reflect on racism.

Two years ago, the denomination also established the Multi-Cultural Mission Strategy Group to persuade more minorities to join. The goal is to increase minority membership to 10 percent by 1997 from its current 4 percent, a percentage that some Lutheran leaders say is much too low.
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Title Annotation:major U.S. denominations
Author:Samuel, Yvonne
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Feb 5, 1993
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