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Southern California File

March 18, 1995|ROSANNE KEYNAN

"Since (the Los Angeles riots in) 1992, there has been an increasing interest among congregations in the prevention of all aspects of community violence," observes the Rev. Ginny Wagener, executive director of the South Coast Ecumenical Council. Increasingly, she and others say, anti-violence organizations are turning to churches for support.

Two diverse programs at Southland churches illustrate the growing readiness of congregations to grapple with violence and the toll it takes on their communities.

The Clothesline Project is holding an exhibit and survivors' shirt-painting bee from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. today at First Missionary Baptist Church in the Antelope Valley. Airing society's dirty laundry in public, as it were, the Clothesline Project encourages survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse to paint messages on T-shirts, which it strings up on clotheslines for display in public places. Not unlike the AIDS quilt project, this grass-roots secular organization uses political art to help heal victims and educate the public.

Survivors color-code their shirts according to the kinds of violence they have endured. (Families of dead victims are invited to memorialize loved ones on shirts.) More than 15,000 shirts have been painted in the United States. The first national Clothesline Project exhibit--5,600 T-shirts--will be held on the mall between the Washington and Lincoln memorials in Washington, D.C., April 8 and 9.

Taking a more buttoned-down approach to spreading the word about violence, the "Not Even One" Project is inviting clergy and laity to a symposium at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 26, at the Bay Shore Community Congregational Church in Long Beach. Conceived at the Carter Center in Atlanta as part of its interfaith health program, the project tailors scientific methodology to individual communities trying to end gun deaths of children and youths. The project takes its name from the center's consensus that "Not even one child's death from firearms is acceptable or inevitable."

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Local religious leaders such as the Rev. Romie Lilly, who has worked with the Carter Center on the project, see houses of worship as appropriate places to mobilize against violence. "The Bible says, 'Blessed are the peace makers, for they shall be called the children of God.' It's as simple as that," he declares. "The faith community needs to be in the leadership of campaigns against all kinds of violence."

Lilly is the executive director of the Southern Area Clergy Council. "Up to now," he says, (minority) communities have not had a voice in how information on the death of children by firearms is collected and reported. We're proposing a multidisciplinary public health model of investigation. We hope to empower our communities to make decisions that will stem the epidemic of violence."

Besides Lilly, the Rev. Fred Smith of the Carter Center will speak at the symposium.

In contrast to that interfaith project, the Clothesline Project didn't originally plan to organize through churches. Nevertheless, according to Jean Morrison, a coordinator of the fledgling Los Angeles-San Fernando Valley connection to the "international clothesline," the link is a natural one.

In the greater Los Angeles area, Morrison said, "we have concentrated our efforts in shelters for battered women, trauma centers and women's groups. Our kickoff event in Antelope Valley is the first one in a church. But," she added, "we have received tremendous support from churches in other parts of the country--especially from the Unitarian Universalist and Lutheran Churches, which have specific mandates to work on issues of violence against women.

"With proper handling by trained clergy and lay people, a church can be a very supportive place to work out these problems--in cases where they can be worked out," she said.

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The Rev. Henry Hearns is enthusiastic about his church hosting the project. "People really need to know that the church is no longer a place where everybody needs to come in 'right,' " he said. "You can come in any kind of way and walk out right. We have a special kind of healing to offer the victim of violence and the person who is violent. We want them both."

First Missionary Baptist Church is located at 37721 N. 100th Street East, Littlerock. Shirts painted or brought there today will be part of the Washington, D.C., Clothesline Project exhibit. For information, phone (310) 212-7766 or (805) 265-7389. Bay Shore Community Congregational Church is located at 5100 The Toledo , Long Beach. For information about the symposium or "Not Even One" phone (310) 595-0268.

SPEAKERS

* The Rev. Jesse Jackson will speak on "America's Conservative Shift" at 11 a.m. Friday at the School of Theology at Claremont, sponsored by the Pan African Students Association and the Office of Black Students Affairs. Admission is free. (800) 626-7821, ext. 291.

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