WASHINGTON — Leaders of the United Church of Christ, declaring that it is time "to resist the slaughter of innocents in Central America," have called on the faithful to actively oppose President Reagan's policies in the region.
In a rare pastoral letter issued Wednesday to the church's 6,000 congregations, the denomination's 39 regional leaders--called conference ministers--branded the U.S.-backed contras as terrorists and called on church members to work to defeat Reagan's proposal to provide more money for the guerrillas seeking to topple the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.
The church leaders also voiced strong support for the sanctuary movement sheltering refugees from Central America.
"The time has come for the church in North America to resist the slaughter of the innocents taking place in Central America," the letter said. "It is a matter of the truth of our message and the integrity of our witness that Jesus Christ is Lord."
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The letter said pastors should "urge members of your congregations to exercise their democratic privlege, contacting their elected representatives. . . . Ask them to speak up in their community and in the press to demand an end to U.S. government, corporate and private funding of further terrorism against the Nicaraguan people."
"This is literally a matter of life or death," the letter said.
The letter also urged that congregations in the 1.7-million-member denomination consider participating in the "sanctuary movement."
"There are now estimates of 1.5 million to 3 million people seeking refugee from the violence in Central America," the letter said. "Support with your prayers and, if possible, with your deeds and your gifts, congregations and individuals engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience (and) those who risk penalties by offering shelter, refuge and a home to the victims."
The pastoral letter was prompted by a January visit to Central America by a delegation of 15 United Church of Christ executives, including the church's president, Avery Post.
The United Church of Christ was the second major Protestant denomination in which opposition was expressed to U.S. funding for the contras.
Earlier, the United Methodist Church made public a report by three bishops calling on the church's Council of Bishops to rally the church's 9.4 million members "to express a strong protest" against U.S. support for the rebels.
The report, which said the contras are responsible for "bringing torture, terror and death to many innocent civilians" in Nicaragua, was prepared for the bishops' meeting scheduled for April in Seattle.
The three bishops visited Nicaragua in January. Their report was released early because congressional action on the Administration's request for funding for the contras could come before the meeting.
"We urge the Council of Bishops to express a strong protest against any United States support of contra activity which is now bringing torture, terror and death to many innocent civilians, and to call upon the President of the United States and the Congress to stop all efforts to destabilize and cause the collapse of the government of Nicaragua," the bishops' report said.
"Our experiences in Nicaragua . . . have convinced us that the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church must express with greatest urgency its concern about the highly volatile situation which is emerging from the rapidly growing tension between the United States of America and Nicaragua."
The three bishops who led the nine-member delegation to Nicaragua were C. P. Minnick of the Raleigh, N.C., area, Ernest T. Dixon, San Antonio area, and Kenneth W. Hicks, Kansas East area.