BY PAUL BRINKLEY ROGERS
Adversity has always dogged the Rev. Dr. Robert W. Edgar -- from
earliest years as the son of a General Electric assembly line worker who
never owned a car through his tenure as a much-maligned Democratic
congressman from a GOP stronghold in Pennsylvania.
Better known as ''Bob,'' Edgar is the general secretary of the
National Council of Churches -- and now, one of the most controversial
figures in the Elian Gonzalez custody clash.
But the Elian affair is a simple matter to Edgar, a bespectacled
man of principle
who has been a United Methodist minister since he was 19 years old. The boy
belongs with his father, he believes ardently.
And he will do whatever it takes to return Elian to his toys,
his parrot and his
classmates in Cuba. He laughs when he hears lawyers for Elian's Miami relatives
and others say he made a pact with the devil: Fidel Castro. Edgar said on
Tuesday he has never even met the man.
''I'm not denying there has been the involvement of our government
Cuban] government,'' Edgar said, asked about criticism that he is no more than
an errand boy for Cuba's communist leaders.
Edgar, who was director of the Committee for National Security,
an arms control
group, from 1988 to 1990, sees in the turmoil surrounding Elian's fate the
possibility of positive things.
''As long as we keep Fidel as the evil enemy,'' he says, ''beautiful
people in Cuba
like these grandmothers are going to be victimized by politics.''
Edgar says he believes that if America can reestablish diplomatic
Hanoi after the long and bitter Vietnam War, and if Washington can grant Beijing
most-favored nation status even after the massacre at Tienanmen Square, it can
normalize ties with Cuba.
What keeps that from happening, he says, is diehard ''hatred''
Cuban-American community, money and politics. And plenty of political money is
raised in Miami, he added.
''Money talks,'' he said. ''Democrats and Republicans -- they
all rely on this
money. How many presidential candidates have you heard discuss the issue of
Elian who are brave enough to say, 'Send him home.' ''
Edgar, who was a congressman from 1978 to 1986, found a niche
as a lawmaker,
perfect for a man open to alternative ways of thinking: he was chair of the
Congressional Clearinghouse on the Future, a bipartisan effort to encourage
lawmakers to think.
Anthropologist Margaret Mead and other intellectual powerhouses
lectures and fed ideas.
As one of 12 members of the Select Committee on Assassinations,
investigated the death of his personal hero, Dr. Martin Luther King. Edgar met
King five weeks before the civil rights leader was killed in Memphis.
''Martin Luther King had a great personal impact in terms of his
vision,'' he said.
He said he was especially influenced by King's book, Where Do We Go From
Here: Chaos and Community.
The select committee also looked at the assassination of John
F. Kennedy and
the possible involvement of Castro.
Since 1990, Edgar has been president of the Claremont School of
Los Angeles. The school was plagued by embezzlement, poor morale and
plunging endowment when he took the job against the advice of colleagues.
It was the kind of mountain Edgar likes to climb. He quintupled
the endowment to
$22 million, increased minority involvement to 40 percent, and made Claremont
the premier United Methodist seminary. He also threw open the campus to a wide
array of other denominations and founded the Center for Sexuality in Christian
Life, a high-risk venture that drew criticism.
Edgar, who is married and is a grandfather, is resigning the Claremont
to devote himself full time to the National Council of Churches. He was elected
NCC general secretary in November 1999.
He relishes the task as NCC leader. It is part of his life mission
of comforting the
needy and rooting out injustices.
Already, he said, there have been special moments.
''Juan Miguel Gonzalez came to my hotel room [in Havana] the week
the plane that brought the grandmothers from Cuba to New York, and he told me,
'I trust you.' He said, 'I place in your hands my mother, and my mother-in-law.
Help us please,' '' Edgar said. ''This is what I am doing.''
Copyright 2000 Miami Herald