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June 05, 1993|ROSANNE KEYNAN

The United Church of Christ, known for its activism on civil rights, advocacy for the poor and environmental issues, will vote next weekend at the annual meeting of its Southern California Conference on whether to broaden its definition of ecumenism to include non-Christians.

A resolution proposed by the Rev. Richard E. Kuykendall of Bethel Congregational Church in Ontario calls for members of the mainline Protestant denomination to acknowledge people of non-Christian faiths, as well as of other Christian denominations, as God's children and to deepen their commitment to ecumenism by pledging to learn from other religious traditions.

The resolution requests resources and encouragement from the conference for churches choosing to educate their members about other faiths.

Asked what motivated him, Kuykendall quoted Catholic theologian Hans Kung: "Peace among the religions is the prerequisite for peace among the nations."

He also cited life-changing experiences he and his former congregants in Tehachapi shared with Buddhists and other non-Christian members of the mountain community who were invited to teach in their church.

"I thought it was time to make that experience a reality in our denomination as a whole," he said.

The author of two books, "Liturgies of the Earth" and "Prophetess of the Earth," Kuykendall said that his "greatest theological concerns are ecology and deep ecumenism (his term for interfaith dialogue). I don't see religions as diametrically opposed. Whereas Billy Graham might want to convert a million people to Christianity, I want to build bridges to people of all faiths and learn to live with them.

"We can remain committed to our Christian roots and still be able to acknowledge the fact that there is truth we can learn from in all faiths. The only alternative is to be extremely arrogant--to say that God has only spoken to us. That God does not speak to the Buddhist, the Hindu, the Taoist," he said.

Kuykendall claims support from within his denomination and from prominent members of other Christian denominations, including John Cobb, the Claremont-based Protestant who founded Process Theology, and Marie Devlin, an associate of eco-theologian Matthew Fox.

Kuykendall said he anticipates opposition from delegates whose churches are affiliated with the Biblical Witness Fellowship, a national group with limited representation in several regions.

One such delegate, the Rev. Joseph Ramientos of Faith Bible Church of Los Angeles in North Hollywood, quotes from the New Testament to explain his opposition to the resolution: "Jesus said: 'I am the way, the truth, and the life: No man comes to the Father except by me.' " And so, Ramientos added, "Buddha is not the way, Mohammed is not the truth, Confucius is not the life. . . . My Christian faith tells me that any other faith would run contrary to what the Lord Jesus Christ himself has propagated and therefore is not acceptable."

Kuykendall said that if the resolution is adopted, he will put it before the denomination's General Synod for consideration in July, 1995.

The annual meeting of the Southern California Conference of the United Church of Christ takes place June 11-13 at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont. The Rev. Edwin Ayala, secretary for Latino church development, is the keynote speaker. For information, call (818) 449-6026.


* The Buddhist Sangha Council of Southern California and the American Buddhist Congress hold their first joint seminar from 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Saturday, June 12, at Wat Thai Temple. Abby Bloom, a professor at Swarthmore College, and Terri Nakawatasi, Dharma schoolteacher, will speak. Tuition is $15. 12909 Cantara St., North Hollywood.

* The Vietnamese Buddhist community hosts the Vesak celebration outdoors at Golden West College in Huntington Park on Sunday, June 13. A religious ceremony, featuring chanting by different ethnic groups, will take place from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Afternoon activities include multicultural music, dance, food and entertainment, and gift booths. For information on the seminar or the celebration, call (213) 739-1270.

* A coalition of Pasadena Methodists will try to reclaim gang- and crime-ridden La Pintoresca Park by holding a "Celebrate the Park" rally and picnic from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 12. Mayor Rick Cole and City Council members Chris Holden and Isaac Richards will speak. There will be tables offering voter registration and guncontrol petitions. The park is on Washington Boulevard between Fair Oaks and Raymond avenues. (818) 796-0157.

* "The Power of the Jewish Story: Exploring, Sharing and Telling Jewish Stories" will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday, June 13, at the University of Judaism. It will be taught by Peninnah Schram, storyteller, author and associate professor of speech and drama at Yeshiva University in New York. The $75 tuition includes lunch, materials and registration. 15600 Mulholland Dr., Los Angeles, (310) 476-9777.

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