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NCC Governing Board responds to 'A Common Word,'
New York, September 24, 2008 -- The National Council of Churches Governing Board approved an ecumenical response to the Muslim message, "A Common Word Between Us and You," declaring Christianity and Islam share a love of God and "are compelled to find common ground."
The Governing Board also passed resolutions calling for action in reforming U.S. immigration and naturalization policy, and to bring an effective end to human trafficking.
In an affirmation of Muslim-Christian engagement, the Board welcomed "with gratitude" an October 2007 letter endorsed by more than 200 Muslim scholars and leaders around the world calling for a serious dialogue between Christians and Muslims.
Dr. Diana Eck, professor of comparative religion and Indian studies at Harvard University and chair of the NCC's Interfaith Relations Commission, described "A Common Word" as a "historic document, a kind of a Muslim ecumenical letter, a bold and timely invitation."
Eck said "there is no minimizing our differences, but our greatest commandments to the love of God and neighbor are common to us. Our very souls are at stake if we fail to come together in harmony."
Both Christians and Muslims "realize the urgency of talking with one another," said Dr. Peter Makari, executive for Middle East and Europe for the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
The Ecumenical Response noted that at the heart of "A Common Word," there is "a call for Christians to consider that Muslims are with us, and that this togetherness bears upon the state of the world. The importance of this call should not be underestimated ... We pray, not only for the absence of enmity, but for the nurturing of friendship between our two communities."
Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, president of the Islamic Society of North America, came to the Governing Board meeting to welcome the response.
"We need you to be seriously involved," Syeed said. "When we hear the news in the Muslim world, suicide bombers and the like, we are more pained than you because this is not what Islam represents. We must create models here that we can represent to the rest of the world. American Muslims are what Muslims can be in a democratic, pluralistic society. We need to take those steps together."
The opening sessions of the Governing Board were presided over by Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, NCC President. NCC President Elect, the Rev, Peg Chemberlin, presided over the second day of meetings when Aykazian left for a World Council of Churches meeting in Europe.
The resolution on immigration, passed by unanimous voice vote, called for "action about the issue of immigration from a faithful Biblical perspective."
"Thousands of immigrants have been arrested in mass, indiscriminate raids and hundreds of thousands have been detained or deported, with little or no access to legal council," the resolution said. "Children have been detained in detention centers lacking proper educational or religious services, and at least 83 people have died in such facilities due to inadequate medical treatment."
"Unfortunately," the resolution declares, "polarized sides have blamed immigrants for the nation's problems, rather than uniting to enact policies that are beneficial to all persons."
The resolution calls on the President and the Congress to protect the unity of immigrant families by making family reunification a priority, and to "facilitate generous laws enabling immigration by individuals who seek to work the United States," ensure full protection of rights, and end mass, indiscriminate immigration raids on places of employment.
Churches are called to "pray, study and search our hearts and minds with respect to our own attitudes and preconceptions regarding immigrant peoples."
Trafficking of humans is the third largest criminal industry in the world, the resolution declares. "The involuntary bondage and sale of human beings is a crime against humanity and a sin against God."
The resolution calls upon NCC member communions to educate their congregations about human trafficking and advocate for policies that will bring an end to trafficking.
The resolution also recognizes the 60th anniversary of the Human Rights Declaration on December 10, 2008, and January 11, 2009 as Human Trafficking Awareness Day.
In his report to the Governing Board, NCC General Secretary, the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, said part of the Council's agenda must be to equip people to deal with crippling fear.
Quoting Fareed Zakaria, Kinnamon referred to the fear that is paralyzing millions: "America has become a nation that is consumed by anxiety, worried about terrorists and rogue nations, Muslims and Mexicans (Zakaria writes) ... We are, quite simply, sick with fear."
Kinnamon said, "Our world cries out for a witness to what 1 John calls a 'love that casts out fear'; and the deepest witness we can make to such love us the way we live with one another ... If our well-being is gained at the expense of others, then we will live anxiously. If our status depends on the depreciation of others, then we will live anxiously. If our lifestyle is built on a use of resources that threatens the planet, then we will live anxiously. If our security is based on treating others as enemies, then we will live anxiously. If our sense of community is dependant on exclusion of others, then we will live anxiously. And if our focus is on the survival of “our church” rather than on the one body of Christ and our common witness to God’s coming Reign, then we will live anxiously."
"I hope," Kinnamon said, "we will keep this perspective in mind throughout our discussions at this Governing Board. To put it simply, in an anxious world, our calling as a community of Christian communions is to point beyond ourselves to the One whose love casts out fear, and to demonstrate that love by living it with one another."
NCC News contact: Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228, NCCnews@ncccusa.org
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