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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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