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Acknowledging that their repentance came 30 years too late, leaders of 21 white Pentecostal groups gathered in Memphis to close the racial rift with their African-American brethren.

After three days of meetings in October, African Americans and whites were embracing one another, washing each other's feet, and joining forces in a new ministerial organization sans color barrier.

"Racism in the Pentecostal-charismatic community must be eradicated," B. E. Underwood, head of the Pentecostal Holiness denomination, declared as the conference opened. "What a difference it would have made during the civil rights movement in America if all the children of the Pentecostal revival had stood together," Underwood said.

Throughout the meetings, sponsored by the 46-year-old Pentecostal Fellowship of North America (PFNA), white leaders expressed regrets that their history has been tainted by openly racist attitudes. One historian, Cecil Robeck of Fuller Theological Seminary, presented a 71-page paper describing, among other prejudices, how an Assemblies of God presbyter justified segregation in the South by teaching that God intended the races to live separately. The "father of American Pentecostalism," Charles Parham, continued to endorse the Ku Klux Klan as late as 1927, Robeck said.

Breaking with the past: PFNA board members demonstrated their change of heart and mind by dissolving their organization. Then they formed a new interracial group, the Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches of North America, or PCCNA. Its founders include top bishops of the largest African-American Pentecostal denomination in the United States, the 5 million-member Church of God in Christ (COGIC), based in Memphis.

COGIC Bishop Ithiel Clemmons of Brooklyn, New York, was ...

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In the Magazine

December 12, 1994

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