Subject: NCC Newsletter: Mourning the Loss of Civil Rights Leader Rev. C.T. Vivian

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Mourning the Loss of Civil Rights Leader Rev. C.T. Vivian, Changes to Historic Landmark Spark Strong Response

NCC Newsletter
July 17, 2020
National Council of Churches Mourns the Loss of Civil Rights Leader Rev. C.T. Vivian
The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) celebrates the life and ministry of Rev. Cordy Tindell (C.T.) Vivian, who labored tirelessly to bring justice to our nation. As a civil rights leader and fearless advocate of nonviolence, he embraced the peace teachings of his faith tradition. He continued to advocate for racial justice and peace until his death.

“Rev. C.T. Vivian dedicated his life to justice and peace. He was tireless in his efforts and fierce in his pursuits, while upholding his faith and maintaining his belief in nonviolence. We are forever grateful for how his ministry has positively impacted our lives and nation,” said Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer, NCC Governing Board Chair and General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ.

Rev. Vivian’s earliest involvement in peaceful protests began with sit-ins at restaurants in Peoria, Illinois in the 1940s because they would not serve Black people. He later became an important leader in the Civil Rights Movement, serving as one of the lieutenants for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and organizing protests, developing strategies and otherwise pushing the movement forward. He was one of the first Freedom Riders and his actions challenging the sheriff in Selma, Alabama gained national attention, eventually leading to the marches across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. In this incident, Rev. Vivian was hit in the mouth by the sheriff for speaking out against voter discrimination. After being hit, Rev. Vivian stood up and continued calmly advocating for the right to vote. He was hit so hard that his mouth required 11 stitches before arresting officers took him to jail. The incident was captured on film and widely broadcast on national television bringing attention to the brutality of racial discrimination and injustice in the nation.

According to NCC President and General Secretary Jim Winkler, “Rev. Vivian exemplified the kind of courage we all hope to have when it matters the most. He set a high standard with his insistence on nonviolent direct action that is still relevant today. His more than 60 years of ministry and advocating for justice has made our world a better place.”

Christian Ecumenical Groups Roundly Criticize Turkish Government's Change to Hagia Sophia Status for Political Gain

The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA decries the decision of the Turkish Government to convert the Hagia Sophia from its long-term status as a museum to a mosque. It was a political decision made just this past Friday, July 10, by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a decision that was fueled by nationalist zeal that reflects his disregard for religious tolerance, and his cynicism in manipulating the Muslim majority in his country to support him.

The NCC joins the Orthodox Churches worldwide, the Vatican, the World Council of Churches, the Middle East Council of Churches, and people of goodwill everywhere in lamenting this turn of events. The NCC also joins the Islamic Society of North America, one of our Muslim-Christian dialogue partners, in condemning the action as a threat to global Muslim-Christian relations that both communities have nurtured over the last decades in the US and around the world.

The Hagia Sophia, built in the 6th century AD, and the center of world Christianity for nearly 1,000 years, remained a symbol of Christianity after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople (1453) for the next 500 years, and this even though it was used as a mosque during that period. A Byzantine wonder in terms of architecture and art, in 1934, the Turkish government, by now secular, converted the building to a museum to reflect its shared civilizational legacy. We therefore urge President Erdogan to reverse his decision.

While we lament this decision, it is not lost on the NCC that this action coincides on the same weekend, July 11-13, with the world’s commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Genocide committed against Muslims in Bosnia. What occurred in Srebrenica in 1995, when some of our own faithful were likewise compromised by political leaders through nationalistic fervor to commit one of the most horrific atrocities of the 20th century, is forever imprinted on the Christian conscience.

Taken together, these two events recall historic tensions between peoples, tensions that are overcome only through dialogue. It is our prayer that the healing of memory take place, and that such tensions are no longer inflamed through political, nationalistic – and senseless – actions.

Additional Statements:

United Methodist Church Begins Reckoning With Its Racial History
United Methodist historians and other leaders led a livestreamed denominational town hall July 1 to explore their church’s complicated and sometimes suppressed record on race.

Their aim: To help United Methodists turn away from past transgressions and join the denomination’s renewed push against the sin of racism.

“A historical perspective gives us a glimpse into how the church chose to respond at critical inflection points in our history,” Erin Hawkins, the town hall’s moderator, told UM News ahead of the gathering.

“I think it’s important to look at the times when we have risen to the challenge and when we have fallen very short.”

Hawkins is the top executive of the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race, which in this time of COVID-19 helped organize the virtual town hall across five locations. Other organizers include the Council of Bishops, the Board of Church and Society, the Commission on Archives and History, United Methodist Women and other United Methodist agencies.

The virtual town hall is part of the denomination’s anti-racism efforts spurred by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other African Americans at police officers’ hands.
Churches in Wisconsin Advocate for Vulnerable During COVID-19 Pandemic

Concerned about the lack of an effective statewide response to COVID-19, Wisconsin religious leaders sent a letter today calling on the state legislature to work across political divisions to protect the people of Wisconsin.

The letter was addressed to Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and signed by members of the Wisconsin Council of Churches, including 34 bishops, executive leaders, and pastors from Lutheran, United Methodist, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian, Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal, Orthodox and other Christian traditions.

“We write to you with grave concerns for the health and well-being of the residents of our state, and appeal to you to take immediate action,” the letter begins.

“Over time, we have watched caution and prudent decision-making informed by medical science and love for neighbor be overridden by politicization, pressure, and problematic behavior around the state,” it continues.
Noting the recent alarming increase in COVID-19 cases, the religious leaders say that “the lack of a coordinated statewide response to COVID has left clergy and churches in an untenable position.”

After statewide emergency orders were struck down in Legislature v Palm, some local jurisdictions issued their own safer-at-home instructions and other emergency orders. Many of these have been rescinded over fear of litigation, while others are being challenged in court. Under these conditions, public health experts are not in a position to issue clear guidance. This results in confusion, distributes the negative tone of political disagreements far beyond their origin, and compromises the fabric of Wisconsin’s communities. Pastors regularly hear of individuals who choose to wear masks and avoid large gatherings being screamed at, mocked, and threatened. Ministers have had to become experts in public health when medical information is constantly being updated. Clergy are under intense pressure to reopen church buildings, even when the infrastructure does not exist to do so safely.

The letter concludes by calling on the Legislature to overcome partisan and other divisions in order to fulfill its policymaking role: “We pray that you will examine your conscience and find a course of action which will allow you to work across political and other differences to meet these critical needs.”
Churches for Middle East Peace Supports Efforts by U.S. Senators to Block Israel Annexation of West Bank

Last week, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (MD) introduced an amendment to the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to prohibit Israel from using U.S. Security Assistance Funds to unilaterally annex Palestinian territory in the West Bank. Senator Van Hollen was joined by twelve other Senators--Patrick Leahy (VT), Elizabeth Warren (MA), Chris Murphy (CT), Tom Udall (NM), Brian Schatz (HI), Martin Heinrich (NM), Bernie Sanders (VT), Tom Carper (DE), Tammy Baldwin (WI), Jeff Merkley (OR.), Tim Kaine (VA), and Sherrod Brown (OH).

With formal annexation of significant parts of the West Bank still on the table, this amendment is a significant and a proactive step forward by ensuring that the US does not financially support annexation and further enable oppression. The United States should neither foot the bill, nor provide diplomatic cover for annexation.

Annexation would entrench inequalities and abuses of Palestinians’ human rights for the foreseeable future. This amendment from Senator Van Hollen is a positive first step in ensuring the U.S. does not offer material support for annexation and instead can contribute to a just future for Israelis and Palestinians.

NCC Collection of Resources on COVID-19 for Churches

NCC has collected numerous resources put out by its member communions and other groups including the CDC to help provide guidance for churches as the try to decide when to restart meeting in person. Click below to view these helpful resources.
Job Announcement: NCC Hiring Director of Communications and Development

NCC is hiring!  The Director of Communications and Development is responsible for managing the public relations work and fundraising efforts of the NCC. This position will be located in the NCC’s Washington, DC offices. Some key functions include managing the Council’s public relations, brand and reputation, create and distribute press releases, action alerts, and marketing campaigns (including this newsletter!). The position is also responsible for continuing to build NCC's development and fundraising program including the creation of a development plan and providing creative leadership regarding fundraising opportunities and objectives.
Pennsylvania Council of Churches Seeks Executive Director
The Pennsylvania Council of Churches (PCC), with offices in Harrisburg, PA, seeks full-time Executive Director to lead the PCC in addressing the issues facing the Christian community. The successful candidate will be a skilled and committed ecumenist combining broad scriptural/theological scholarship, passion for and demonstrated experience in ecumenism with strong leadership and relationship-building skills.
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