'The challenge is to persevere as problems -- possibilities -- arise'

Paul Sherry, a United Church of Christ minister, says he believes that a national policy of full employment - with ample economic and political muscle behind it - is vital to stemming the tide of rising poverty, joblessness, and racial injustice in inner cities.

''I'm not an advocate of throwing federal money at problems, and I think the private and voluntary sector should play a major role,'' explains Dr. Sherry, who since January has been executive director of the Community Renewal Society, an urban mission group committed to reducing poverty and racial injustice in Chicago's inner city.

''But with an administration that continues to think that less government is better government, we will, in my opinion, not get the leadership required to turn the situation around. Until we understand the appropriate role of the public sector, people will continue to suffer,'' he says.

Many other Americans have sharply differing views on that controversial subject. And that's exactly the way Sherry thinks it should be.

As a religious leader, he says he feels an obligation to speak out on a number of political issues. In the process he expects criticism: ''It's healthy - it makes you constantly reevaluate your position.

''Religious convictions can provide the inspiration for political judgments, but it's very important to understand that politics and religion are two separate disciplines,'' he insists during an interview in his CRS office.

''Religious people can come out very honestly on two sides of a given issue. . . . Who am I to say that my position on El Salvador, for instance, is 'the' religious position? . . . That's idolatry at the highest level.

'' We should take our positions as judiciously as possible, but be aware that differences of opinion abound and that there are other legitimate stances. We sometimes think we have some particular bit of wisdom from the Almighty that isn't accessible or given to anyone else.''

The CRS executive director, who has a PhD from Union Theological Seminary in New York City, says he thinks strong government leadership and a willingness to work cooperatively in setting priorities is vital to solving inner-city problems. Is Chicago's Mayor Harold Washington doing his part?

''On balance I think he's doing a good job and providing a sense of new direction for the city,'' says Sherry. ''There's a vitality about him which this city needs and I'm hopeful.''

As one who is constantly looking at inner-city problems, Sherry says he is heartened by the occasional victories won but sees the job of agencies like his as unending.

''The human condition seems to be such that one's task is never done. Great strides can be made, but as certain problems are dealt with, others inevitably surface.''

Still, he insists he is not discouraged.

''The challenge is constantly to persevere as new problems - we like to call them possibilities - arise. There is an integrity about the universe which we call God . . . that calls out to one that at the heart of the universe there is decency even when we see no evidence of it.

''That abiding trust, God reaching out to us in our extremity, provides the strength to proceed when one is tempted to despair. . . . Too much of religion is seen as our reaching out to God. The real strength to endure in the face of great difficulty comes from the knowledge that even in one's darkest hour God reaches out to provide us with the strength we need.''

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