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Lucius Walker, 80, American Baptist minister,
New York, September 14, 2010 -- The Rev. Dr. Lucius Walker, 80, a former member of the National Council of Churches staff who became a controversial and beloved activist for human rights in the 1960s and 70s and later founded an organization that sent hundreds of tons of humanitarian aid to Latin America, including Cuba, died September 7 in his home in Demarest, N.J.
"Lucius is one of several NCC staff members whose contributions to justice and faith we honor with pride," said the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, NCC general secretary. "He did not leave the council in 1978 on a happy note, but today we freely acknowledge that he exemplified the highest standards of the council and we are proud of him."
Walker was NCC associate general secretary for Church and Society in 1978 when he was fired by General Secretary Claire Randall. The New York Times reported Monday that Walker was fired "for giving too much money to community organizers."
Randall's decision to fire Walker was bitterly opposed by some NCC member communions, especially Walker's own American Baptist Churches USA. "Lu has paid his dues in the trenches of the Civil Rights movement, and it's wrong to dismiss him so lightly," said the late Rev. William K. Cober, head of American Baptist Home Missions and an NCC governing board member at the time.
But Randall held firm to her decision, despite a noisy rally supporting Walker in Riverside Church, across the street from the NCC offices in The Interchurch Center.
After he left the Council, Walker returned to the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organizations (IFCO), which he directed from the time of its founding in 1967 by a coalition of Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish and civic groups.
Since 1988, Walker had been active in organizing shipments of food, medicine and other humanitarian supplied to Latin America, including Cuba, where his visits violated the U.S. travel embargo countless times. To carry out his mission, he founded an organization of clergy called Pastors for Peace. More than half the organization's 40 missions have been to Cuba, which has been off-limits to U.S. visitors and businesses since the Kennedy Administration.
"Lucius' rhetoric was often radical and I don't suppose all our member communions would approve of it," Kinnamon said. "He frankly regarded U.S. policy in Latin America and Cuba as imperialistic, and he openly violated the embargo rules because he regarded them as unjust and immoral.
"But his credo always was that God anointed Christians to bring good news to the poor, release to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed. He believed we are called to feed the hungry. And these words of Jesus certainly unite the 45 million who relate to NCC member communions."
“It’s a travesty how much churches have said about social justice and how little they have done,” Mr. Walker told The New York Times in 1969. Walker's harsh words were often uttered in a calm, gentle voice.
Like Walker, Kinnamon said, the NCC favors lifting the U.S. embargo against Cuba. Walker and the NCC also pursued the similar goal of arranging for Elian Gonzales to be returned to his family in Cuba in 2000.
Born in Roselle, N.J., in 1930, Walker was a graduate of Shaw University and Andover Newton Theological School. He was ordained in 1958 at Beth Eden Baptist Church, Waltham, Mass, where he served as youth minister.
Under Walker, IFCO became a successful working partnership of national religious agencies and indigenous community groups involved with funding, field services and leadership training. Represented in its membership were African American, Latino and American Indian interests.
Before assuming leadership at IFCO, he was for seven years director of Northcott Neighborhood House in Milwaukee, Wis., an agency established in 1961 by the Methodist Women's Society for Christian Service.
Walker’s wife, the former Mary Johnson, died in 2008. In addition to his daughter Gail, he is survived by two other daughters, Donna and Edith; two sons, Lucius III and Richard; a brother, William; a sister, Lottie Bethea; and three grandchildren.
Mr. Walker last visited Cuba in July, when, as he had done on many occasions, he met with Mr. Castro. In announcing his death, Granma, the Communist Party newspaper in Cuba, said Cubans “don’t want to even think of a world without Lucius Walker.”
See the Baptist Press story at http://www.abpnews.com/content/view/5693/53/
Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has been the leading force for ecumenical cooperation among Christians in the United States. The NCC's 36 member faith groups -- from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches -- include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.
NCC News contact: Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228 (office), 646-853-4212 (cell), firstname.lastname@example.org
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