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Religious Leaders' Network Will Set a Common Agenda for Peace

May 16, 1986|KATHLEEN HENDRIX | Times Staff Writer

In a meeting on the nuclear arms race and peace, prominent religious leaders from Southern California's Christian and Jewish communities, joined for the first time by Archbishop Roger Mahony of the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese, reached consensus on support of a comprehensive test ban treaty and agreed to form a network to develop a common agenda.

Four of them--Mahony, Bishop Jack Tuell of the United Methodist Church's California-Pacific Conference, Rabbi Leonard Beerman of Temple Leo Baeck in West Los Angeles and the Rev. George Regas of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena--agreed to act as the network's four conveners to draw up a statement and develop an agenda.

Although they stopped short of issuing a formal statement at Wednesday's meeting at USC, largely because of time constraints, they agreed on their support of a moratorium on nuclear testing and a test ban treaty.

Of the treaty, Mahony commented, "That particular issue is probably more ripe for a collective approach. It's one that is so obvious to ordinary people. I think it would be a very positive step personally."

Rabbi Leonard Thal, executive director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations Pacific Southwest Council, observed that the magnitude of the recent nuclear disaster at Chernobyl has provided "a teachable moment . . . a strategic moment."

The meeting adjourned, the leaders walked to a banquet at the Town and Gown where a sellout crowd of 800 had come to hear Mahony speak on "Making Peace Our Priority," his first major address as archbishop on the subject.

Regas informed those assembled of the hours-old network, announcing that their goal was to work with each other and their own congregations to demand that President Reagan "sign that treaty, and if he does not respond, we'll use our influence to get Congress to cut off the funds for those tests." Recalling the late Pope Paul VI's condemnation of the arms race as a "criminal mismanagement of the world's resources," Regas said "without firing a shot, the arms race is killing people . . . A comprehensive test ban treaty and a federal budget with justice for the poor--let that be our focus."

The meeting and dinner were part of a one-day conference sponsored by the Interfaith Center to Reverse the Arms Race, of which Regas and Beerman are two of the founders. Designed to mobilize the leadership of the religious, educational and peace movement groups, the conference, "Breaking the Cycle of Violence: Empowering for Peace in the Nuclear Age," drew more than 1,000 people.

A Delightful Dilemma

At the opening plenary session, the Rev. Tony Wolfe, the center director, apologized to those 100 or so who had been unable to obtain tickets to the banquet, admitting, "We're delighted with the problem. This is the first time we've had to turn people away."

In his address, Mahony called for "a genuine theology of peace, a new way of thinking about who we are and what we are about as a human community."

His remarks did not so much establish new ground for the church as signal the importance he intends to give peace in his work as religious leader.

He cited the Chernobyl disaster and the three recent disasters in America's space program, especially the explosion of the Challenger Jan. 28 with seven people on board, as evidence of a sense of false security that high technology has given us. He said the disasters provide a "context for a moment here in our own country for concerns about the nuclear enslavery proliferating in the world . . . All of us have become tremendously humbled and far more human."

He spoke of the arms race in the deeper context of peace, a word he seldom spoke separately from justice.

"We are so caught up in this East-West struggle, this polemic which so distracts us from the realities of the more urgent struggle, the North-South struggle," he warned, saying the the former struggle was causing the nations of the North to ignore or fail to understand how their consumption of the Earth's resources was harming the underdeveloped nations of the South.

He called for a synthesis between the "ministries of peace and healing," and said that in terms of the Catholic community, "I see ourselves speaking much more out loud about the relationship" between peace and justice, peace and healing. "There is a deepening call for us to become doers of justice and makers of peace."

The earlier, smaller meeting had been described as "a dialogue with Archbishop Roger Mahony." About 20 religious and several lay board members of the Interfaith Center attended, including Bishop Stanley Olson of the Lutheran Chuch in America Pacific Southwest Synod; Suffragen Bishop Oliver Garver Jr. of the Episcopal Diocese; Dr. Fred Beebe, executive of the Presbyterian Synod of Southern California and Hawaii, and the Rev. James Lawson, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Los Angeles.

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