Subject: NCC Newsletter: The Struggle for Power

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The Struggle for Power

NCC Newsletter
December 11, 2020
Then and Now
I was active in student government back in my college days. Student government had no power—that was vested in the university administration--but there were countless clubs and activities in which one could be involved and government interested me. It so happened that many of those also participating in it had been or were active in efforts to end the Vietnam War and to support civil rights, environmental justice, the rights of student tenants and of gay and lesbian people and so we found ourselves allied on a variety of issues.

At the end of my junior year we had to organize the next round of student elections, a laborious task no one desired. A young man stepped forth and volunteered. We were grateful for his help and named him head of the election commission. He recruited several friends to serve alongside him. Soon it became apparent he was also organizing his own slate of candidates, an obvious conflict of interest.

After the election, certain anomalies were noted in the results and along with a reporter from the university newspaper and the dean of student affairs several of us examined the ballots. We quickly realized hundreds of ballots had been forged in a clumsy manner and the misdeed was exposed in the newspaper. I observed with some degree of awe how the head of the election commission nonetheless arranged for the fraudulent election results to be affirmed.

There’s much, much more to the story. I often wondered why this young student even bothered to hatch and execute his plot. There was no power to be gained. Upon reflection, I realize it was about the need for status and for access and about a contrasting view of reality.

For many of my generation the justice of the civil rights movement was undeniable and the injustice of the Vietnam War was obvious. This required, we felt, a realignment of power and priorities. I believe those same motivating forces—and others, as well—played a significant role in altering the course of the National Council of Churches.

As I reflect on the student elections of 40 years ago, I now see that there were differing world views involved. The group of which I was a part intentionally created a diverse slate of candidates because we believed power should be shared more widely and fairly and justice should be sought while the other slate was rooted in social clubs and fraternities and was largely composed of white males who were comfortable with the status quo. I do not recall that we ever debated the issues or our differences, but we certainly understood them at the time. 

For many years, I thought of what took place as an interesting but insignificant kerfuffle over meaningless student government matters but I now realize lives and career paths were altered by it, including mine. 

There are many stories in the bible, particularly in 1 and 2 Kings about the struggle for power, for wealth, for lands, for titles. A few kings were good, many were bad. Manasseh erected altars for Baal, made his son pass through fire, practiced soothsaying and augury, and dealt with mediums and wizards. He was so wicked that God said, “I will cast off the remnant of my heritage, and give them into the hand of their enemies; they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies, because they had done what is evil in my sight and have provoked me to anger, since the day their ancestors came out of Egypt even to this day” (2 Kings 21:14, NRSV). In the end, the Babylonians swept into Jerusalem and carried off into exile the elite and powerful.

Today, we see another struggle for power and control unfolding in our land. The results matter not to the losers as they seek every avenue to reverse them and to rule as a minority. If that cannot be accomplished, they intend to poison the well and cast doubt on the legitimacy of the winner. This is a dangerous game that will have unforeseen consequences. 

We still have a need to address inequities and injustices, to work together to limit the catastrophe of the pandemic, and to address climate change. If we cannot reorder our society we, too, will become a prey and spoil to our enemies, but those enemies may be the collapse of social order and a dark future for our children.

Grace and Peace,

Letter on the Situation with Iran
Dear President-Elect Biden and Members of Congress:

We write to you as faith leaders deeply concerned by the escalation of tensions between the United States and Iran. The recent murder of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh and the coterminous movement of US warships to the Gulf region have sharply raised the risk of armed confrontation. Our faith traditions teach us that in times of uncertainty and conflict, the best way forward is through diplomacy and peacemaking, not war or threats of violence.

While the possession of nuclear weapons by any country, including our own, poses a clear and present danger to global human security, the policy of “maximum pressure” against Iran has failed to stem this danger. To the contrary, the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, imposition of crippling economic sanctions, and assassination of General Qassim Soleimani last January have only heightened nuclear challenges. After the United States renounced the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran began to enrich nuclear materials at levels exceeding the caps in the agreement, shortening the amount of time it would take for Iran to build a nuclear weapon, should it decide to do so.

At the same time, U.S. and international sanctions have had a devastating effect on millions of innocent Iranian citizens, who have suffered shortages of critical health and humanitarian supplies even as COVID-19 devastates the country. Rather than prompting change in Iranian foreign policy, coercive economic measures have caused undue hardship for Iran’s civilian population and undermined global efforts to stem the pandemic.

To prevent this situation from deteriorating, we ask you to publicly condemn the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, demonstrate restraint, actively seek the de-escalation of tensions, and support the expeditious return by both sides to the terms of the JCPOA. More threats, sanctions and use of military force will only further destabilize the region and result in the loss of precious human life on all sides. War will impact the most vulnerable, causing irreparable harm and dimming prospects for peace.

During this extremely challenging time for all Americans, we are grateful for your public service to our country. Please know we are lifting you all up in our prayers and that we thank you for the consideration of our request.


Diane Randall, General Secretary, Friends Committee on National Legislation
Rebecca Linder Blachly, Director, Office of Government Relations, Staff of the Presiding Bishop
The Episcopal Church
Jim Winkler, President and General Secretary, National Council of Churches
Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe, General Secretary, General Board of Church and Society, The United Methodist Church
Rev. Jimmie R. Hawkins, Director of the Office of Public Witness, Presbyterian Church (USA)
Rev. Adam Russell Taylor, President, Sojourners
Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer, General Minister and President, United Church of Christ
Rev. Teresa Hord Owens, General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Join Our 40 Days of Prayer to Transform
Beginning tomorrow, December 12, 2020, and moving daily through January 20th, members of the National Council of Churches and our communion partners will offer prays for hope, unity, and healing. Please join us n us in “40 Days of Prayer to Transform: A Journey to Newness.” During this Advent/Christmas season and into the New Year we put our hope in the ability and desire of God, through Jesus Christ, to heal and transform hearts and minds. We look for the Holy Spirit to breathe God’s newness into individual lives, faith communities, the soul of our nation, indeed, the whole world. Sign up to receive a daily prayer email. The prayers will also be published on our website.

This Week's Faith & Fire Conversation
This week's session, “The World House: Mutual Inclusion for Beloved Community” included:
Dr. Dennis Edwards, New Testament at North Park Seminary, author: “Might from the Margins”;
Christian Brooks, MDiv, MSPPM, Representative for Domestic Issues, Presbyterian Church (USA) Office of Public Witness;
Sara Benitez, Vice President of Organizing and Campaigns, Faith in Public Life; and
Rev. Noel Anderson, United Church of Christ, and Grassroots Coordinator for Church World Service.

This honest and thoughtful conversation emphasized that Americans think there's a limited "piece of the pie" as we have been "duped" into thinking there's limited power, but we know we can all flourish without taking from anyone else because God's love is abundant. Listen to hear their ideas on how to go forward and change attitudes and actions.
Register for Next Wednesday's Faith & Fire Conversation
“Where Are We Going: Beloved Community through Bethlehem (Pt. 1)” 
Wednesday, December 16, 2020 at 1 p.m. ET
With panelists:
Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, Dean of United Theological Seminary at Columbia University; and
Rev. Stacey Cole Wilson, Executive Minister of Justice and Service for the Baltimore-Washington Conference of The United Methodist Church
The Faith & Fire Conversation will be broadcast at 7 p.m. ET on our YouTube channel and our Facebook page.
(Free webinar. A Zoom link will be sent after registration and will allow access to comment and participate in the Q & A portion of the Conversation at 1pm ET.)
Two More Sessions! 
The United Church of Christ and the National Council of Churches have joined forces to offer faith-based organizing training to the wider church and beyond.

You can register for the series or pay a $25 fee for each session separately. This week's session is on Communication & Accompaniment, including:
  • Nonviolent communication
  • Somatic Work (Integrating your body and communication)
  • Communicating with loved ones, on social media, in the field, with the press
  • Secure and Encrypted Communication
  • Finding Local Organizers & Sources to Trust
  • Creating a Rapid Response Accompaniment Team
Call for Advocacy for COVID-19 Relief
Over the past few weeks before the 116th Congress goes into end of year recess, NCC has been fervently working with leading faith and advocacy organizations calling upon Congress to pass a robust COVID-19 relief bill. As of today, December 11th it would be 261 days since Congress passed a COVID19 Relief Package. American’s cannot wait any longer.

We see our nation suffering. More Americans have died from the coronavirus than in the Vietnam War. The numbers are even worse for people of color. Millions of people are unemployed, and the enhanced unemployment benefits that carried them through expired months ago. Eight million kids are in a home behind on rent, and 9 to 17 million kids are in food insecure households. Meanwhile, state and local governments are facing enormous budget shortfalls, and the essential services they provide are being cut. In short, COVID-19 has produced the perfect storm of suffering, and without a COVID-19 relief package, that storm will continue to grow.

We call on all our NCC communions to join us in taking action, calling on Congressional leaders to ACT NOW in any of the following ways:

Advocacy Alert on Yemen from the Presbyterian Church (USA) Office of Public Witness
The war in Yemen, now in its sixth year, has caused incredible devastation to the country and its people. The conflict between the Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, and the Yemeni government, backed by Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E., continues to escalate with no path towards peace. A blockade enforced by the Saudi-led coalition, as well as indiscriminate and unlawful airstrikes, have caused thousands of civilian deaths from famine and violence. In recent years, reduced funding for humanitarian aid programs, decreased international financial support, and natural disasters exacerbated already dire conditions. The United States has done little to decrease the plight of the Yemeni people; rather, U.S. decisions have aided the Saudi-led coalition in causing destruction. Despite widespread pressure on the U.S. to relieve the humanitarian crisis, the Trump administration is planning to go forward with further support for the Saudi-led coalition.
Contact your members of Congress and urge them to support H.Con.Res.123 to end US military support for the Saudi-led coalition, H.J.Res.103, and S.J.Res.77, 78, 79, and 80 to disapprove the sale of advanced weapons to the U.A.E.

Defense of the Black Church and Liberation Theology
The Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, who was the guest preacher at NCC’s 2020 Christian Unity Gathering and serves as senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, has written a piece in The Washington Post defending the Black Church and liberation theology stating, “This tradition holds that all human beings are children of God, and therefore endowed with inherent worth and dignity. Racism is a sin that corrupts the human personality and prevents equitable relationships. Love and justice are the prerequisites for creating what Martin Luther King, Jr. labeled a 'Beloved Community'.”

Dr. Moss wrote in defense of Black liberation theology and the Black Church because of recent criticisms against it. Emphasizing that, “poverty, racism and militarism were the triple evils that threatened America’s democratic ideals,” he wrote that both Jesus and King said that “people of faith must serve God with all our heart, mind and soul — and that placing service to a government above the embodiment of love is an act of idolatry. Far from being new or extremist, this belief has been preached from pulpits and hush harbors since Black people began worshiping in this country without the infringement of White overseers.”

He goes on to explain that enslaved Blacks in America asked, “How could a person be a Christian, love Jesus and argue for the sale of other human beings?” Then, he reframes this question for today asking, “How could a person be a Christian, love Jesus and argue that his fellow human beings should be denied the vote, kept in poverty, refused health care and unjustly imprisoned because of their race?”

We share this article as a point of information and education, not as an endorsement of any candidate.
Christmas Dispatches
Lament and rejoice this Christmas
from The Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer, General Minister and President, United Church of Christ; and General Minister and President of the NCC Governing Board
Dear Friends in Christ,

As Christmas 2020 approaches, I begin my letter to the church with lament.

So many of the rich traditions that have made this holiday celebration so meaningful to me through the years will have to be abandoned this year. No visit to California to spend some time with my daughter and her spouse. No drive to Chicago to visit with my son, his spouse and our two beautiful grandchildren. The days we spend with both of them are the highlight of our Christmas celebrations.

There will be no candlelight service on Christmas Eve at our home church. I will not hear that powerful soprano voice sing “O, Holy Night.” I will not hold aloft my candle in the dimly lit sanctuary while singing “Silent Night” with my faith family. I will not gather in the fellowship hall for eggnog and cookies before heading home to set out the presents and fill the stockings.

I will sit at our Christmas table with my wife and our son who lives with us, while missing the raucous laughter of cousins and uncles and aunts and nieces and nephews, and Mom.

I lament all of that.

And then I remember another disappointment. In the time of her delivery, Mary birthed Jesus in an animal shelter. There was no room at the inn. The humble maiden wrapped him in swaddling clothes. This was her Christmas. Alone with her husband, the time of her birthing came while on the move from threatening forces. We tend to romanticize that – but it was less than ideal. What gives us license to romanticize it was this: on that night, Jesus came. What followed would make that moment precious to us all.

But we can’t forget his own coming was fraught with vulnerability. His coming was the emblematic representation of simple and humble circumstances.

This Christmas will be a bit like that for all of us. Less than ideal circumstances will challenge us to find the joy in the coming of the Christ child. Like Mary, we will have to do with rejoicing in what we have, forgoing the comforts to which we have grown accustomed, and experiencing the joy of the moment in spite of present challenges.

We can do that which Mary found the courage to do. We can rejoice in Christ’s coming no matter what. Deprive us of time with family; deprive us of the choirs of angels; deprive us of the comforts of certainty and expected health – and yet we will rejoice. There is power in knowing that the incarnation of love not only wasn’t impeded by the circumstances, but thrived in the midst of the pain, sorrow and suffering of humanity.

The Christ child whom we worship this year in albeit less than ideal circumstances will be as ever present to us as he has been in past years when circumstances warranted happier occasions. But our love for Him, and for each other, will not be diminished. It is that love, after all is said and done, that is the cause of our delight.

Let the lament in this time of loss turn to the worship of incarnated love known to us in Jesus and present to us in all circumstances. I may be singing it alone this year rather than with the chorus of believers surrounding me in the sanctuary on Christmas Eve, but with no less enthusiasm will this be my song:

Joyful, Joyful we adore thee,
God of glory, Lord of love
Hearts unfold like flowers before thee,
Opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness,
Drive the dark of doubt away.
Giver of immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day.
Happy Christmas,

Christmas Message 
from The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, Presiding Bishop and Primate, The Episcopal Church
Does Christmas have roots in pagan beliefs?

The United Methodist Church has an informative response to this often-asked question. "The assertion that Christmas is merely a "Christianized" pagan holiday simply isn't true."

From Our Partners
Celebrating 150 Years

The National Council of Churches honors The Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in reaching a sesquicentennial milestone, celebrating 150 years of ministry through salvation, education, and liberation since 1870! 

The Christian Methodist Episcopal Church's 150th Anniversary Gala on Friday, December 11th at 7pm CT, and a sesquicentennial virtual worship celebration on Sunday, December 13th at 3pm CT will be the kick-off of a year-long celebration of this anniversary. 

Call to the Work of Anti-Racism

The Alliance of Baptists will be having a conversation on December 14, 2020 at noon EST. James Forbes, Jr. and Mahan Siler will be joined by Christine Wiley and Nancy Hastings Sehested to discuss how they have felt the Spirit stirring. 

Dr. Forbes wrote “The White Manifesto, Plea and Petition Suggested by a Black Brother in the Spirit of Love.”  
Podcast Highlight on Healing

This week's Religica Theolab Podcast, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers -- Hope, Community Healing, and the Need to Do Better, features a conversation between Religica Theolab Founder Michael Reid Trice and Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who serves as the Rabbi and Cantor of Tree of Life – Or L'Simcha Congregation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that was the target of an act of violence that left eleven people murdered on October 27, 2018. In this episode, Rabbi Myers reflects on ways to engage the sacred, the process of healing, and the role of solidarity in creating change, "We should remain strong in our faith because, overall, humanity is good."
Book Corner
Witness to Grace: A Testimony of Favor  by Rev. Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson, Senior Pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Chair of the Conference of Black Churches, and member of the NCC Governing Board.

This book is "a poignant true-life story that chronicles the remarkable journey of W. Franklyn Richardson. Grace, as divine unmerited favor given freely by a loving God, is shown time and time again throughout each season of Richardson's life. From humble and challenging beginnings to honored positions of power and global influence, Witness to Grace gives an intimate portrayal of the rise of one of the most respected religious and civil rights leaders of our time. Richardson bares his heart as he reflects on the gut-wrenching disappointment of loss, the unforgivable oppression of a people, the need for understanding, humility and unification across denominational lines and the power of education to provide unparalleled opportunities through the all-encompassing Grace of God. Against all odds, Richardson found himself the object of God's favor as he leaned on God for strength and direction. If you have ever questioned the value of your purpose, the significance of your future and what you have the capacity to overcome, this book will shift your perception of life and give you a renewed path forward. W. Franklyn Richardson's testimony is a Witness to Grace.” 

In his endorsement, NCC President and General Secretary, Jim Winkler, said, "... His deep faith, eloquence, indefatigability, curiosity, hopefulness, and passion are on full display in this beautiful and big-hearted memoir ..."

Dr. Richardson held a conversation with Rev. Dr. Leslie Copeland-Tune, NCC Chief Operating Officer, about the book. Since it includes a chapter on ecumenism, this is part of their discussion. You can watch the video at this link:
A Special Event for Our 2020 Donors!
Together, we are stronger in our work to:
• overcome hate with love,
• end racism and begin reparations,
• stop the cradle to prison pipeline,
• bring peace to the world, and
• encourage an interpretation of scripture by voices that are not always heard.

If you make a contribution to NCC before next Thursday, December 17, 2020, you will receive a special invitation to a Virtual Open House with our staff. We will provide an update on our advocacy efforts: mass incarceration, COVID-19 relief, and reparations. You will be able to find out about a special partnership with PBS and get an update on the NSRV Bible revision. There will even be a few door prizes for those who attend, including a signed copy of Witness to Grace: A Testimony of Favor! So, if you have not made a gift this year, do so now to join us!

Your financial support will help us build a more just and equitable community that chooses grace over greed, love over hate, and faith over fear.

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