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Centennial Gathering speaks with one
New Orleans, November 18, 2010 -- Representatives from Orthodox, evangelical, mainline Protestant, historic African American and living peace churches were united last week as they spoke out issues concerning peace, justice and human rights.
Delegates to the Centennial Gathering of the National Council of Churches and Church World Service, meeting here November 9-11, adopted resolutions calling for the ratification of New START II, immigration reform, and an end to the violence against Christians and civilians in Iraq.
The delegates called on the U.S. government to lead an investigation of human rights abuses by the military dictatorship in Myanmar, and urged all people of faith to show respect to the faith and worship practices of "religious others."
The National Council of Churches Governing Board, meeting prior to the Centennial Gathering, adopted a resolution calling for an end to the war in Afghanistan.
More than 400 people of faith gathered in New Orleans to celebrate a century of ecumenical engagement and to discuss how the churches might live and work together in an uncertain future.
The Gathering sent an open message to the U.S. Senate declaring that "ratifying the New START II treaty must be a top priority" now that the elections are over. "Now is the time to move beyond the Capitol Hill gridlock, and take another step toward a more peaceful world," the statement said.
"We add that, while START II is important, it is not enough," the delegates added. "We live in a time when the tide is turning worldwide in the direction of complete nuclear disarmament. More than half the world's nations now live in regions classified by the United Nations as Nuclear Weapon Free Zones, and many cities in the United States have declared themselves nuclear free zones as well. The United States as a whole has the chance to contribute to this global movement by shrinking the largest nuclear arsenal in the world -- toward the goal of their total elimination."
The statement was sent to Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.), majority leader of the Senate, and to Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), minority whip, and all U.S. senators, urging passage.
The Gathering, acting as General Assembly of the NCC and CWS, unanimously adopted a "Call to Action on Comprehensive Immigration Reform" that had been passed separately by the NCC and CWS boards.
The resolution calls on the president and Congress "to recommit themselves to the comprehensive, effective, just and humane reform of immigration laws and enforcement structures" and called on churches "to actively engage" political leaders to "insist on immigration reform at every level."
The statement condemned Arizona's anti-immigration act, "SB 1070," which was adopted in April.
The legislation would have mandated local police act as federal immigration officials and encouraged racial profiling by police, social service providers, and community members in an effort to expand apprehension of undocumented immigrants.
"Our immigrant brothers and sisters -- citizens, green card holders, and undocumented immigrants -- live in a state of fear -- fear of exploitation, discrimination, apprehension, detention, and deportation from their families," the resolution said. "While a federal judge blocked the most controversial parts of SB 1070, it sparked a nation-wide conversation which has led to more than 22 states considering similar types of legislation."
The resolution cited a Fremont, Nebraska provision "to require landlords and employers to check immigration status and deny housing and employment to undocumented immigrants has created an atmosphere of dread."
Even more alarming, the resolution said, "are proposals calling for the revocation of the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which has defined citizenship and the rights of citizens since the Civil War. Such proposals have garnered media attention and support, despite the fact that should they be enacted, children of undocumented immigrants born in the U.S. would be stateless persons."
A "Resolution on the Violence in Iraq" expressed "the solidarity of ... member communions with the Christian community of Iraq, and particularly with the community of Our Lady of Deliverance Syriac Catholic Church" that had been bombed by terrorists on October 31.
The resolution called for the protection of Christians and other religious communities "so that they may live and function enjoying all the benefits guaranteed to them by article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."
The resolution expressed solidarity with the Christian community in Iraq, and condemned "all acts of violence, especially those perpetrated against people engaged in the practice of their faith."
This week the staff heads of the National Council of Churches and Church World Service sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to support her encouragement of Iraqi authorities to protect Christians in Iraq.
"No one doubts that this heartbreaking
situation is complicated and challenging," wrote the Rev. Dr.
Michael Kinnamon and the Rev. John L. McCullough. "Please be assured
of our prayers as you and Ambassador Jeffrey apply your good offices
and your best efforts to work with Iraqi officials to restore
stability and safety for all the citizens of "
A "Resolution on Myanmar" said the delegates are "deeply aggrieved at the human costs of the decades of harsh oppression by the military regime" in the former Burma and called upon the U.S. government to "continue to promote an international investigation of human rights abuses" there. The statement called on member communions "to intensify their efforts to support refugees from Myanmar."
In a letter to Secretary Clinton on the situation
in Myanmar, the staff leaders wrote, "Despite the happy development
of the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest – a move we
pray does not endanger her or her supporters – church leaders in the
United States continue to be deeply concerned about the suffering of
the people of Myanmar and its Christian community under the
oppressive rule of the military government."
Dr. Diana Eck, chair of the NCC's Interfaith Relations Commission, introduced a message "Honoring the Sacredness of Religious Others: Reaffirming our Commitment to Positive Interfaith Relations." The message took note of controversies over the building of Islamic houses of worship and "media-hyped threats to burn the Muslim community's sacred scriptures," and condemned "violence committed in the name of any religion."
The message declared "that the Church, as the body of Christ, is to be a transformative presence for building peaceable communities in the world."
In a brief meeting preceding the Centennial Gathering, the National Council of Churches Governing Board adopted a resolution calling for an end to the war in Afghanistan, and unanimously re-elected the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon as NCC general secretary.
The resolution, "A Call to End the War in Afghanistan," calls upon President Obama to negotiate a withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan "to be completed as soon as possible without further endangerment to the lives and welfare of U.S. and NATO troops, Afghan troops and Afghan civilians."
The board urged the president "to monitor the human rights situation in Afghanistan in the context of the United Nations declaration to use all available diplomatic means to protect the population from crimes against humanity, and to employ military means of protection only as a last resort."
The board stated deep commitment "that we must reaffirm our witness to Christ's commandment to love our enemies," and called upon member communions "to articulate to one another and to government authorities the concept of a 'Just Peace' as a proactive strategy for avoiding premature or unnecessary decisions to employ military means of solving conflicts."
The resolution was adopted by a unanimous voice vote.
The Centennial Gathering of the National Council of Churches and Church World Service marked the one hundredth anniversary of the 1910 World Mission Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, an event many church historians regard as the beginning of the modern ecumenical movement.
The theme for the Centennial Gathering is “Witnesses of These Things: Ecumenical Engagement in a New Era.” The theme is taken from Luke 24:48 which is the scriptural theme text for the 2010 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – an additional reminder that there is one, multi-faceted ecumenical movement.
Presiding over the meeting were the Rev. Peg Chemberlin, president of the National Council of Churches, and Bishop Johncy Ittty, chair of the Church World Service board of directors.
A complete schedule and other documents of
the meeting can be found at
A complete schedule and other documents of the meeting can be found at www.ncccusa.org/witnesses2010.
For more information contact: Philip E. Jenks, firstname.lastname@example.org, 212-870-2228
Photo by Kathleen Cameron