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NCC, WCC Launch Year-Long Effort to Overcome Violence in the U.S.
at January 12 Service Honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Click here for more on the U.S. DOV focus

January 13, 2004, NEW YORK CITY - (WCC) Representatives from Christian faith communities around the globe launched a year-long effort to confront and overcome violence in the United States during a worship service commemorating the life and ministry of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The service, held January 12 in the Chapel of The Interchurch Center in New York City, marked the opening of a year dedicated to strengthening and resourcing churches and movements working for peace in the United States.

Under the theme "The Power and Promise of Peace," the focus on the United States in 2004 is part of the World Council of Churches' (WCC) Ecumenical Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV).  The U.S. focus is being coordinated by the U.S. DOV Committee under the auspices of the U.S. Office of the World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches U.S.A.  The U.S. DOV Committee, made up of U.S. denominational representatives, is meeting in New York January 12-13.

"We are gathered as peacemakers from various regions of the world to launch this year-long focus in the United States by lifting up the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., whose work and ministry has inspired peacemakers around the globe," said Very Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky, archpriest, Orthodox Church in America, and moderator, U.S. Conference of the WCC, in opening remarks at the service.

In a multimedia presentation, members of the congregation watched graphic images of violence, destruction, and war on a large screen as the DOV's coordinator, the Rev. Hansulrich Gerber, presented the goals of the Decade to Overcome Violence, which is to be one of "Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace."

NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE

"It is a contradiction of life to put peace ahead of justice," said the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr., the pastor of the Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio, in his sermon. "There will be no international peace until there is international justice," he said, quoting Israel's first prime minister, David Ben Gurion.

Dr. Moss, a friend and associate of the Rev. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., urged members of the congregation never to forget the lessons of history as they pursue both peace and justice. "To forget is exile," he said, "to remember is redemption."  Dr. Moss warned the congregation to never forget "the moans and groans of countless millions of human beings" who were imprisoned on slave ships and "who were fed to sharks if they died on passage, or served up to slave masters if they survived."

Yet Dr. Moss also cited some redemptive historical developments during the past half-century, including the passage of the GI Bill in 1944 that opened educational and career opportunities to millions of disadvantaged veterans. In addition, he said that the establishment of the United Nations and the World Council of Churches were important international milestones on the way to universal peace and justice.

Dr. Moss also pointed to national and international liberation movements - beginning with the independence of India in 1947 - as redemptive signs. "When India gained independence, the British Empire had a nervous breakdown and the rest of western colonialism had a heart attack," Dr. Moss said.

All of these significant historic developments, Dr. Moss said, were the context in which Dr. King found his prophetic vocation.

FOLLOWING IN DR. KING'S FOOTSTEPS

"What can we do to follow in Dr. King's footsteps?" Dr. Moss asked. "We must be about the business of building a new generation of prophets of justice.  We must be disciples of love, apostles of liberation, teachers of nonviolence, and ambassadors of reconciliation."

Such endeavors, Dr. Moss said, "will not come automatically, nor without institutional and individual risks." And, he added, efforts to make peace would require leaders who "have the courage to lead, to mold consensus, and to act despite the risk of being persecuted." Quoting Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Dr. Moss described King's life and ministry as "a vision, a voice, and a way." He urged his listeners to "share his vision, hearken to his voice, and follow in his way."

"WAR IS OBSOLETE"

Citing the anti-war sentiments of several former generals in the U.S. military, Dr. Moss asked: "If generals of the army had that kind of insight, then what is the excuse at the White House, or your house, or my house if the occupants of those homes do not oppose war?  We must join with those former generals and declare that 'War is obsolete,'" he added.

And in a reference to the war in Iraq, Dr. Moss chided the Bush administration for its search for weapons of mass destruction there, when there are such weapons in the United States.

"Where are the weapons of mass destruction?" he asked. "Look around: AIDS is a weapon of mass destruction," he said. "So is hunger, the denial of health care to the poor, illiterate and uneducated minds, tobacco and tobacco-related illnesses, uncared-for children." All these and many other weapons destroy the fabric of the nation, Dr. Moss contended.

Efforts to pursue peace must originate "in our commitment to break the bonds of injustice, and to bring justice and peace into our homes, and into our collective house - the White House," Dr. Moss concluded. "When we break the bonds of injustice and oppression, then we become God's peacemakers."

At the January 12 service, the Rev. Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker, senior pastor and chief executive officer of Canaan Baptist Church of Christ, Harlem, N.Y., who served as Dr. King's chief of staff, was honored for his lifetime commitment to seeking reconciliation and peace. Dr. Bernice Powell Jackson of the United Church of and Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos of the National Council of Churches U.S.A. presented awards from the WCC and NCC, respectively.  The Rev. Dr. Victor Allen Brown, a Staten Island, N.Y., pastor, received the awards for Dr. Walker, who is recovering following a stroke.

MORE INFORMATION ON THE DECADE TO OVERCOME VIOLENCE

After launching the Decade to Overcome Violence in 2001, the WCC focused its efforts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2002, and on Sudan and Africa in 2003.

The DOV's goals:

* Addressing holistically the wide varieties of violence, both direct and structural, in homes, communities, and in international arenas and learning from the local and regional analyses of violence and ways to overcome violence.

* Challenging the churches to overcome the spirit, logic and practice of violence; to relinquish any theological justification of violence; and to affirm anew the spirituality of reconciliation and active nonviolence.

* Creating a new understanding of security in terms of cooperation and community, instead of in terms of domination and competition.

* Learning from the spirituality and resources for peace-building of other faiths to work with communities of other faiths in the pursuit of peace and to challenge the churches to reflect on the misuse of religious and ethnic identities in pluralistic societies. 

* Challenging the growing militarization of our world, especially the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.

Information on the Decade to Overcome Violence is available at: www.wcc-coe.org/dov   Photos of the service are available at: www.wcc-coe.org/wcc/press_corner/us-focus.html

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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 342, in more than 120 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions.  The National Council of Churches U.S.A. is the nation's leading ecumenical organization.  Its 36 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican member denominations count 50 million adherents in 140,000 local congregations nationwide.

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