WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 (RNS) -- A group of theologically conservative black clergysent a letter Monday to President George W. Bush, urging himto take action on such issues as African debt cancellation, universalhealth care and racial profiling.

The Pan African Charismatic Evangelical Congress, headed by Churchof God in Christ Bishop Charles E. Blake of Los Angeles and the Rev.Eugene Rivers of Boston, hopes to help Bush in "bridging our racialdivide," in contrast to other African-American leaders who haveprotested his administration.

"We have concluded since the presidential election that the mostproductive strategy is not protest," Blake, chairman of thecongress' steering committee and pastor of the prominent West AngelesChurch of God in Christ, said at a Washington news conference.

"Mr. George Bush is the president and there is an urgent need toenter into dialogue so that there can be significant policy and programresults that focus on the needs of our community."

The letter notes "legitimate" anger on the part of African-Americansconcerning the outcome of the election and adds, "It is important not toinflame the debate over Cabinet nominees with facile charges of racism."

It then turns to areas of "potential agreement" that the Bushadministration could address that would affect blacks in the UnitedStates and abroad. The letter suggests further debt relief in Africacould be tied to efforts to prevent and treat people affected by AIDS.It also seeks expanded child care through welfare reform measures aswell as efforts to reduce crime and prison growth.

"We think that prompt action by your administration with the newCongress on these proposals will go far to allay the fears of many inour community concerning the meaning of `compassionate conservatism,"'the letter reads.

Rivers, the general secretary of the congress -- who said he votedfor former Vice President Al Gore in the presidential election -- andBlake were among the religious leaders who participated in a Dec. 20meeting with Bush in Austin, Texas.

The congress, which includes ministers from Church of God in Christ,Baptist and independent charismatic and evangelical churches, isheadquartered at the same Boston address as Rivers' National TenPointLeadership Foundation, but Rivers said it is a separate entity. It alsoissued a letter in December 1999 urging black religious and politicalleaders to address the AIDS crisis in Africa.

Washington-based civil rights activist Lawrence Guyot, who attendedthe news conference, said the issues the group is raising would besupported by a majority of African-Americans, but he criticized thegroup for not focusing more on race.

"The concern about the conservative complexion and deep-rootedcommitment to conservatism by this group, in my humble opinion, willsimply sharpen the polarization and not allow the kind of open and frankdiscussion on race and racism that is utterly necessary," he said.

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