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Pentecostal denominations move toward racial unity

With prayer and washing of feet, Pentecostals from across the country took a major step Wednesday toward ending the racial division that has split their religion for some 70 years. "It's a decisive turning point in the history of the Pentecostal movement," said Vincent Synan, a Pentecostal historian. "The tide has turned back toward the original movement. We've come back to our beginnings." The Pentecostal movement, focused on a belief in tangible manifestations of the Holy Spirit and "talking in tongues," began in the early 1900s as a multiracial Christian revival. But by the mid-1920s it had largely split into separate churches for blacks and whites. Capping a three-day meeting in Memphis, leaders of major Pentecostal denominations voted to set up a new alliance open to all followers of the faith. To make way for the racial unification, leaders of the all-white Pentecostal Fellowship of North America, a union of 21 white Pentecostal denominations, voted Tuesday to disband their group. The new group, with an executive committee of six whites and six blacks, is called the Pentecostal-Charismatic Churches of North America. At a meeting of church leaders prior to setting up the new organization, participants were moved to tears when a white pastor stepped forward unexpectedly to wash a black bishop's feet. A black pastor then washed the feet of a white pastor. The new association includes members of the largest white Pentecostal denominations, the Assemblies of God, the Pentecostal Holiness Church and the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, as well as predominantly black denominations such as the United Holy Church and the Church of God in Christ. There are some 18-million Pentecostals in the United States.

Mormon feminist is handed

probation by church board

PROVO, Utah _ A Mormon woman who wrote that God's equal partner in heaven is a woman was put on probation by her local church board. In the first such case since selection of a new church president raised hopes of a truce with the faith's critics, the board could have excommunicated Janice Allred at the 8{-hour disciplinary hearing. Instead, Allred said, the leaders placed her on probation while they consider other action over the next couple of weeks. No date was set for another hearing. In her essay, called "Toward a Mormon Theology of God the Mother" and published in the journal Dialogue, she said there is a "heavenly mother" who is God's partner in heaven. Church leaders say the existence of a heavenly mother is a logical and reasonable doctrine, but doctrine does not say if she is God's equal.

Panel says U.S. racism is an international human rights issue

WASHINGTON _ A panelist of nine eminent international religious leaders and human rights lawyers Wednesday ended a 10-day, seven-city plunge into America's economic and social underside, looking for racism. Not surprisingly, they found it _ enough to suggest the United States is in violation of international law. But the panelists, headed by political scientist Aaron Tolen of Cameroon, a president of the World Council of Churches, said they did not come to the United States as a tribunal to sit in judgment on the nation. "We know that this is a democracy," said Kempton Makamure, a human-rights lawyer and law professor at the University of Zimbabwe. "One of the issues is to challenge U.S. society to be that." Still, the nine _ from South Africa, Malaysia, Fiji, Barbados, Tonga, Jamaica and Argentina as well as Cameroon and Zimbabwe _ expressed surprise at the depth and extent of what Tolen called "the gravity of what we have seen." And, they said in a statement released Wednesday at a concluding news conference, "There is widespread evidence of gross and consistent patterns of racism throughout the fabric of U.S. society."

Missions school named for Graham

LOUISVILLE, Ky. _ The dedication of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth is being hailed as a historic moment at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The school is the first in the Southern Baptist Convention dedicated to the study of missions, evangelism and church growth and is one of only a handful of its kind in the country. The school was dedicated last week. The school will offer master of divinity, master of theology, doctor of ministry and doctor of philosophy degrees.

_ Compiled from Times wires