Black members of Congress have wholeheartedly endorsed President Clinton's harsh condemnation of a wave of fires at black churches and said poor race relations were mostly to blame for the arson blazes.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus met Clinton at the White House Thursday to express concern about the burnings as well as about a recent Supreme Court decision that ruled unconstitutional the gerrymandering of congressional districts to carve out black majorities. They also urged Clinton to retain affirmative action policies designed to help minorities gain equality in America.Some Republicans had accused Clinton of an election-year campaign stunt for visiting the site of a burned church in Greeleyville, S.C., last week. Clinton met governors of seven states, both Republican and Democratic, Wednesday to map out a national strategy for dealing with fires at more than three dozen mostly black churches over the past 18 months.
"We believe that these burnings are acts of bigotry, acts of racism, acts of intolerance and acts of violence," said Rep. Ron Dellums, D-Calif., said after the meeting with Clinton. "And we think the president has both the right and the responsiblity to assume the bully pulpit to take the moral high ground and assert leadership in this regard," he said.
Caucus chairman Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., said the group also discussed the impact of talk radio, which he said was resulting in "a lot of venom being spewed out. Hate is being spread on the airwaves."
Dellums added: "We want the president to stay on the moral high ground. We want him to continue to be involved and assert leadership in this regard. America is a tinderbox, and the burning of these churches is only symptomatic of a much more systemic problem that is manifesting itself in America."
Earlier this week, the Christian Coalition said it would ask 100,000 churches nationwide to help raise $1 million for religious sanctuaries that have been burned or bombed in recent months.
The conservative political group announced a "Save the Churches Fund" to provide financial assistance under what it called a campaign against bigotry. The money would be used to help rebuild damaged church buildings and to pay for motion detectors, floodlights and smoke alarms in churches that could become targets, whether their congregations are black or white.
The coalition, based in Virginia Beach, Va., said it would ask the churches on its mailing list to hold a special collection on Sunday, July 14, which it named "Racial Reconciliation Sunday."