"Racism is a problem of the heart and an evil that must beeradicated from the institutional structures that shape our daily livesincluding our houses of worship," said the one-page statement releasedat a news conference Wednesday at Washington National Cathedral.
It has been endorsed by representatives of Christian, Jewish,Muslim, Native American and Hindu-Jain organizations. The statement,along with other anti-racism initiatives, is part of ongoing work thatbegan in 1998 when President Clinton sought the help of religiousleaders in racial reconciliation efforts.
"Simply stated, an affirmation of this statement represents onestep in our efforts to live out our conviction that people of faith mustnot allow racism to persist," said the Rev. Welton Gaddy, executivedirector of The Interfaith Alliance and the chair of the task force thatdrafted the statement.
The latest efforts complete about half of the initiatives thatreligious leaders pledged to work on during a gathering at the WhiteHouse in March, said Sanford Cloud, president of the National Conferencefor Community and Justice, the New York-based human rights organizationspearheading the efforts by religious groups.
He said the new initiatives are "grounded in the concept thatracism is incompatible with God's intention for humanity."
The statement includes pledges that individuals will reflect on andresolve their own biases and work to be "consciously inclusive" ofothers. Other promises are to demonstrate repentance for racism, adesire for reconciliation and a commitment to promote understandingamong different racial, ethnic and cultural groups.
Leaders, including Roman Catholics, Jews, Muslims and NativeAmericans, often quoting Scripture from their own traditions, voicedtheir agreement with the statement.
"Racism's truly a wrongdoing that divides the nation and this boldinitiative brings the nation together," said Imam Mujahid Ramadan,former president of the American Muslim Council. "The idea of racism is...in direct opposition to the unity of God."
"I think we need to say it's a sin," said Land, who is also a Beliefnet columnist.
In response, Gaddy said: "We were working on a statement that wouldbring a lot of different traditions with different vocabularies in thedenouncement of racism."
In addition to the statement, the NCCJ has printed a "Directory ofFaith-Based Promising Practices for Racial Unity and Justice." The44-page document--designed to serve as a catalyst for future effortsto build racial reconciliation--highlights examples of Baha'i,Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Unitarian and interfaith programs that havefostered dialogue and action on race-related issues. Among the programsare racism and ethnic sensitivity workshops established in theArchdiocese of Detroit and an annual conference in New Orleans thatpromotes black-Jewish relations.
The faith leaders' initiatives also include what they called actionsteps for greater inclusivity in the country, guidelines for holdinginterfaith forums on racial justice and reconciliation, and a"Congregational Diversity Evaluation."
The congregational evaluation suggests members of houses of worshipspend two hours reviewing their congregation's commitments to reducingracism through diversity initiatives, leadership positions in thecongregation, employment recruitment and religious education curricula. Christian Methodist Episcopal Bishop Thomas L. Hoyt of Shreveport,La., said he hopes the statement will lead to additional steps, such asacts of repentance and forgiveness.
He said he expects some houses of worship will "shy away" fromdirect steps such as a congregational evaluation, but he hopes religiousleaders who are already sensitive to racial issues might be able toencourage such additional work.
Leaders of the NCCJ and a range of faith groups plan to continuetheir efforts by issuing a booklet of theological statements regardingracism next spring and holding a national summit at an undetermined datein the future.
Sullivan Robinson, executive director of the Congress of NationalBlack Churches, said it was "vitally important" for the range offaiths to come together to address racism and she hopes their resolvewill become "infectious" to others.
"It's going to make this a better nation," she predicted.
Chief Jack Swamp, leader of the Wolf Clan of the Mohawk Nation, whoconcluded the news conference with a prayer in his native language, saidthe process of drafting the statement gave him hope.
"All my life I've heard different faiths fighting one another overwho is right, whose religion is more right," he said. "By bringingtogether these faith leaders, there was an indication that maybe theworld's people are coming together."