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General Assembly OKs war message,
human biotech policy, climate resolutions

Speakers challenge NCC to greater witness, healing role

Edgar calls for 'Season of Healing' after the election
General Assembly okays war message

Voters seen choosing honesty, integrity, truth and justice
General Assembly meets for the Healing of the Nations

Orlando, Nov. 9, 2006 The General Assembly of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) and Church World Service took on the issues of the world in the name of the gospel of Jesus Christ at its annual meeting that concluded today in Florida. 

Among the work of the 248 delegates from 35 member Christian denominations was passage of a pastoral message on the war, a new policy on human biotechnology, and resolutions banning human reproductive cloning, bio-warfare oversight and combating global warming.

The three day gathering also heard from several speakers each issuing unique challenges to the oldest Christian ecumenical organization in America.

"America is back," said the Rev. Dr. James Forbes in the closing keynote conversation with delegates. "The people's voice will speak the truth and the government will hear," said Forbes, who recently announced his retirement as the senior minister of The Riverside Church, New York City.  He thanked the Rev. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the NCC, for calling him in 2004 to help start the Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign to address the needs of the poor.

"We can't take all the credit," he said of the Election Day clean sweep of six states where ballot initiatives voted to raise the minimum wage.  "But in partnership we will discover a difference in the days ahead," he said on the news of a possible coming vote in Congress to raise the federal minimum wage for the first time since 1997.  In retirement Forbes says he will devote his time to the "spiritual healing" of the nation.

A statement of the General Assembly on the election acknowledged the NCC's "strong support for raising the minimum wage."  The statement, passed Wednesday, expressed a "real sense of joy and thanksgiving" at the six states voting to help raise workers out of poverty "acknowledging that such public policy is good for business as well as workers."

The theme of the General Assembly meeting was "For the Healing of the Nations" based on Revelation 22:1-2.  Healing was on the minds of many speakers as well the NCC general secretary who reacted to Tuesday's voting results by calling for a "season of healing" among our national elected officials.

NCC President, the Rev. Michael Livingston, urged the representatives of 45 million Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican, historic African American and traditional "peace" churches to claim their leadership by asserting greater national influence.

"In a society that values volume over substance, so much greater is the need to be a 'national' council of churches," said Livingston, a Presbyterian who is executive director of the International Council of Community Churches.

"Simple cooperation is not enough to bear the weight of the witness our times demand," Livingston said. "Being a national council means that we bear witness together, stand and testify together, that we become the exclamation points--like the cross stabbed into the ground on Calvary."

Renowned theologian Robert M. Franklin Jr. told the delegates that churches must become "social therapists" in order to help the nation heal from deep political, economic, global religious and racial wounds.

"In our time therapy and healing have become privatized and pathology has become personalized," Franklin said.  The theological educator and administrator, who has served the University of Chicago and Harvard divinity schools, Colgate-Rochester Divinity School and the Candler School of Theology and Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, said, "We need to rediscover the gospel of Jesus Christ as a means to both personal and social transformation, to practice Christian ethics as a social therapeutic."

Women delegates to the annual Assembly have been meeting in caucus sessions for 25 years.  Yesterday they heard from Helen LaKelly Hunt, Ph.D., author of "Faith and Feminism: A Holy Alliance."  Dr. Hunt said "every woman has a story" and urged her audience to tell theirs.  She shared parts of her own story about being told "feminism was a bad word" and how she came to reconcile it in her own faith journey.

On the Iraq war, delegates voted overwhelmingly to approve a pastoral message that calls for "an immediate phased withdrawal of American and coalition forces from Iraq." The withdrawal plan is linked to "benchmarks for rebuilding Iraqi society."  It will be sent to the Bush administration, Members of Congress and is also addressed to people of faith and all people of goodwill.

"As men and women of faith, we believe that freedom, along with genuine security, is based in God, and is served by the recognition of humanity's interdependence," said the message, "and by working with partners to bring about community, development, and reconciliation for all, and that such freedom and security is not served by this war in Iraq."

Of the nearly 250 delegates voting, only two abstentions and one 'no' vote were heard.

The Assembly also adopted a new policy on human biotechnologies entitled, "Fearfully and Wonderfully Made."

The policy proclaims the sanctity of all human life as God's creation and condemns human reproductive cloning. But it acknowledges differences exist among the 35 different member communions regarding stem cell research. The policy was presented to the delegates by Clare Chapman, chair of the drafting committee.

The new policy was the basis for two resolutions based on the biotechnologies policy. One calls for a worldwide ban on human reproductive cloning. A second, "Biotechnology and National Security," calls for more oversight of government and private sector laboratories developing bio-warfare weapons. The resolution calls for creation of a National Science Advisory Board for Bio-defense within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It would have "powers of regulation and oversight" of government and private bio-defense projects. Both passed unanimously.

Neither was there any dissent over a resolution to protect God's creation. 

"Global warming threatens the very fabric of God's creation and will hit those who are least able to adapt--both human and nonhuman--the hardest," says the resolution in part.  It calls on "all Christians, people of faith and people of good will the world over to...individually and in community, quickly reduce...their green house gas emissions."

The 2007 General Assembly meeting will be held in New York City.


Jerry Van Marter, PCUSA News Service, contributed to this report.

NCC News contact: Dan Webster, dwebster@ncccusa.org, 212.870.2252, 646.491.1056.
Latest NCC News at councilofchurches.org.

Photos by Kathleen Cameron

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