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See related story: Discussion of Controversial Issues Important, Says NCC/CWS Team to United Nations World Conference Against Racism

           August 23, 2001, NEW YORK CITY – To make connections, to learn and to bring a religious voice to the political process are among the goals of the National Council of Churches/Church World Service team going to the United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.

            As a participating non-governmental organization, the NCC/CWS team will take part in the August 28-September 1 “NGO Forum,” then observe the August 31-September 7 conference of government delegations.

            The team is organizing a workshop on “Racism in U.S. Churches: Past Practices and Current Solutions,” to be offered August 30, and will participate in a worship service and candlelight march set for August 31.  The service is being organized by the Durban-based Diakonia Council of Churches at the request of the South African Council of Churches, and co-sponsored by the World Council of Churches.

            The Rev. John L. McCullough, CWS Executive Director and the team’s leader, also has accepted an invitation to participate in a September 2 panel on religious tolerance, organized by the National Religious Leaders Forum of South Africa.

            Many religious non-governmental organizations are sending representatives to the conference, including a number of the NCC’s 36 member communions – for example, the United Church of Christ, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), The Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Reformed Church in America and Quaker groups.  The World Council of Churches has requested a meeting space and plans daily briefings for the wider ecumenical community.

            “The NCC/CWS team recognizes itself as part of the wider ecumenical movement and thus expects to participate in and support WCC positions and activities during the conference,” noted Kathy Todd of Church World Service’s Office for Education and Advocacy for International Justice and Human Rights, staffing the team.   “At the same time, we come with a particular perspective as a U.S. ecumenical body.”

Since their founding more than 50 years ago, the National Council of Churches and its Church World Service ministry have opposed racism as a violation of God’s will and purpose for humanity.    They cite their biblically based beliefs in the unity of  creation, the dignity and worth of each person as a child of God, the equality of all races and peoples, and the vision of a world bound together in intentional community dedicated to the well being of all people and all creation.

            Wishing the NCC/CWS team well as it heads for Durban, the Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, NCC General Secretary, expressed his appreciation for team members’ “organizational and personal commitment to the goal of eliminating racism in all the world’s societies in the 21st century.”

            Dr. Edgar noted that “here at home, through NCC programs of education and advocacy, we regularly challenge racism in our own society.  And Church World Service, through its program of emergency response, development and refugee assistance, targets the most vulnerable, putting into practical terms our conviction of God’s universal care for humanity and the biblical teaching that ‘From one ancestor He made all nations to inhabit the whole earth.’”

            More about the NCC/CWS team going to the conference:

The Rev. McCullough, a United Methodist minister, welcomed the U.N. World Conference Against Racism as an important opportunity to develop strategies to combat racism globally, nationally and locally.  “We’ll look at the progress that’s been made, recognize the persistence of racism and tackle the challenges still before us,” he said.

Ms. Sammy Toineeta, NCC Racial Justice Director, will carry particular concern for Indigenous Peoples’ rights to the conference.  A Lakota, she is accredited to the conference through the American Indian Law Alliance.

“This is the highest I have seen Indigenous Peoples’ concerns on the agenda of any United Nations conference in the past 30 years,” she commented.  “350 million Indigenous Peoples worldwide want our lands, language and spirituality back.”

More generally, she continued, “conferences like this one help shed light on the issues.  They are important places to make connections.  But more important than what happens before or during the conference and more important than the governments’ joint declaration is what happens afterward – that’s when the real work must get done.  Our team especially will be watching for what Christians in the United States need to do.”

Dr. Sallie Cuffee, a pastoral assistant at First Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, N.Y., who is serving as consultant to the NCC/CWS team to the conference, said that, “As much as possible, we want the religious voice to be part of this political process.”  In addition to her participation in the NCC/CWS team, she is co-convenor of the Religious and Spiritual Caucus and among facilitators of the Religious Intolerance Commission, which will take testimony from victims of religious intolerance.

“The religious community needs to publicly acknowledge its participation in racism, and how its theology has been used to perpetuate racism,” she said.   “We also need to work together across faiths to be part of the solution.”

Dr. Loretta Williams, Director of the Gustavus Myers Program for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights in Boston, Mass., and a member and former Convenor of the NCC Racial Justice Working Group, commented that she was eager to learn about “best practices” from around the world in fighting racism, and to hear the perspectives of other people from around the world on racism.

“Americans too often limit their understanding of racism to simple ‘prejudice,’ but it’s much more than that,” she commented.  “We need to understand the structural issues.  Racism plays out differently in different countries and in different parts of the globe.”

While in South Africa, Dr. Williams also will participate in the September 3-7 U.N. Research Institute for Social Development in Durban, and in educational opportunities being offered by South African groups to expose U.N. conference participants to the realities of life in post-apartheid South Africa.

Czerny Brasuell, Director of Multicultural Affairs at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, and Co-Convenor of the NCC Racial Justice Working Group, said she looks forward to following up on the connections she made during the Americas and European preparatory committee meetings with global African and African-descendant non-governmental organizations working on reparations and related issues.

“Reparations as a principle of law must be affirmed, and the principle of self-determination requires that each affected group be allowed to define and devise for itself the form of reparations that best responds to its particular condition,” she said.

In addition, she noted that the universality of racism requires groups like the NCC’s Racial Justice Working Group to be in ever closer contact and solidarity with similar groups around the world.

“Given the range of issues and communities of color with which we are concerned,” she said, “the World Conference Against Racism provides an incredible opportunity for us to hear directly from those who are working at the forefront of the anti-racism movement inside and outside of the United States.”

Judith Pierre-Okerson, Director of the Church World Service Miami, Fla., Office, a United Methodist, brings particular concern for the rights of refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers.  

“I’m concerned at reports that the issue of refugee protection has been taken off the agenda of the U.N. World Conference Against Racism,” she said.  “I hope that will be reconsidered.

“So many refugees are fleeing racism, ethnic intolerance and xenophobia – remember what happened to the Kosavar not long ago?” she said.  “And they are so often targets of racism in countries of refuge – Proposition 187 in California is such an example. 

“Church World Service puts high priority on refugee protection and assistance, and we’ll be pressing for reinstatement of refugee protection to the conference’s agenda,” she said.

The NCC/CWS team to the conference also includes Anne Marshall, Associate General Secretary of the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns of the United Methodist Church, New York City, Chair of the NCC Ecumenical Networks Commission and member of the Council’s Executive Board.


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