Saturday, July 20, 2002

Congregations oppose council's boycott support




By Steve Kemme, skemme@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Twenty-four local congregations of the United Church of Christ have come out in opposition to their national executive council's support of the economic boycott against downtown Cincinnati.

        The churches took out a half-page ad in Friday's Enquirer, strongly criticizing the executive council for announcing last month its resolution supporting the boycott without consulting local congregations.

        In the ad the churches cite their commitment to racial justice but say the boycott is the wrong way to try to achieve it.

        Of the 39 Greater Cincinnati area churches, 27 voted in favor of the consensus statement. Of those, 24 agreed to be named in newspaper ads.

        “A boycott seems to be more hurtful than it is helpful,” said the Rev. Dr. Kim Katterheinrich, pastor of the Redeemer United Church of Christ in Hamilton. “My first response to the executive council's resolution was, "Oh, no. I wish they would not have done that.' ”

        In April the United Church of Christ's executive council, a group of 76 to 78 clergy and lay persons from different parts of the country, approved a resolution supporting the boycott. The church's national office issued a press release announcing the resolution on June 4.

        Unlike many church organizations, the United Church of Christ allows each congregation to be autonomous. As a result, the church's national executive council speaks for itself, not for the individual congregations.

        But congregations in Greater Cincinnati feared the general public would assume that all congregations shared the executive council's support of the boycott.

        “All the churches get kind of lumped together when a statement like that goes out,” the Rev. Dr. Katterheinrich said. “We were very disappointed that the national office didn't talk to the local pastors.”

        The Rev. Virginia Duffy, senior pastor of Philippus United Church of Christ in Over-the-Rhine, said the executive council “did not do its homework” and caused special problems for her church because of its location.

        Her church has few black members. But many black Over-the-Rhine residents participate in the church's recreational and social service programs. The church also tries to be on friendly terms with the businesses in Over-the-Rhine, some of which have been hurt by the boycott, the Rev. Ms. Duffy said.

        “The executive council put us in a very awkward position,” she said. “It's hard enough for the businesses in Over-the-Rhine to make it without having an economic boycott. But we don't want to give the impression that we're not for racial justice.”

        Ron Buford, spokesman for the United Church of Christ's national office in Cleveland, said the executive council and the national office had consulted with some local people through the regional level.

        “But it's clear we did not do a good enough job in that area,” he said. “That's a valid criticism.”

        Local United Church of Christ clergy reacted swiftly when the executive council's resolution was released June 4. After three meetings, they formed a steering committee that drafted a statement opposing the executive council's support of the boycott.

        Individual congregations passed out copies of the statement opposing the boycott to their members and asked for their reactions. The pastors then informed the Southwest Ohio Northern Kentucky Association of the United Church of Christ in Dayton whether their congregations supported or opposed the statement.

        Mr. Buford said the newspaper ad didn't bother him.

        “It's not unusual for us to be at different places on issues,” he said. “We can live with differences of opinion, but we want to remain in dialogue with one another.”

       



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