He looked like Michelangelo’s Moses standing there—bearded, shoulders tossed back, chest thrown out, fiery eyes threatening judgment on his audience of one thousand. But there were differences. The crusader here was black, his “religious” role less clear, his words forming demands rather than laws.
His name: James Forman, militant proponent of a “Black Manifesto” that has thrown America’s major Protestant denominations into turmoil since early May. His message: that the two-million-member United Church of Christ, meeting in Boston for its Seventh General Synod, should pay $140 million in “reparations” to underwrite such projects as black printing presses, a black university, black radio-TV networks, and a Southern land bank for cooperative farms.
Forman cast a beam or shadow (depending on one’s point of view) over nearly every session of the eight-day synod. Militant Albert Cleage, pastor of Detroit’s UCC Shrine of the Black Madonna, said blacks in the church support Forman’s goals.
“We’re all sinners and as sinners we’re talking about power,” Cleage said. “Nor am I being judgmental. If I had the power, I’d be dead set on keeping it, too. I understand this, but I don’t like it, because I’m powerless. In terms of self-interest you’d better make some changes, because a powerless people is a dangerous people.”
Apparently the predominantly white conference feared just that at first. For the most tense racial debate of the entire synod broke out on opening day, after several of the thirty-six black delegates had asked that the name of the UCC’s Board of World Ministries be removed from a court’s restraining order barring Forman from the Interchurch Center in New York. When the synod appeared ready to delay a response, more than 100 ...1
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