Subject: NCC Weekly News: Christmas Edition

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From Jim: Here Come the Chaldeans!
Some years ago, I watched a movie titled “White Man’s Burden.” It received poor reviews and, perhaps, it wasn’t all that well done, but it had a terrific cast including Margaret Avery, Harry Belafonte, Kelly Lynch, and John Travolta. 

I suspect a major reason it was overlooked and so quickly forgotten is because the plot was simply too unsettling for us white folks. The movie posits an alternative United States in which African Americans are the dominant group and whites are on the bottom of the social and economic ladder. As I watched the film, despite having participated in and even having led anti-racism events and workshops, I was viscerally struck by the way the powerlessness of my people -- white people -- was portrayed. Along with many, many other experiences, that motion picture helped awaken by conscience. 

Last week I participated in the Conference of National Black Churches (CNBC) in Charleston, South Carolina. The CNBC is comprised of eight historically black denominations, six of which belong to the National Council of Churches. 

This year’s conference theme was “From Anger to Answers: Race and Reconciliation in America—Part II.” A number of white church leaders were invited to be present and, together with the CNBC we issued a final statement insert link here. 

Rev. John Dorhauer, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ and one of the white church leaders present spoke to the conference and said the reason white people don't speak against white supremacy because they don't have to. He said, "The voice of the privileged will always appear muted before the distributor of justice."

Dr. Freddie Haynes said it this way: “Privilege blinds us to reality.”

Dr. Cámara Phyllis Jones of the Morehouse School of Medicine urged white people to use their privilege to be in solidarity with people of color and offered the example of the young white man who filmed an incident of police brutality against an African American because, he later said, "I was invisible" to the police.

Bishop Darin Moore, vice-chair of the NCC, preached on the first evening of the conference at Mother Emanuel AME Church. He reminded us that African Americans have been subjected to perpetual terrorism since coming to the shores of this nation in 1619.

Bishop Moore recounted recent incidents of violence against African Americans including the murders that took place right below where we sat and asked how we can sing Christmas carols when our children are hashtags. He expressed his commitment to the ecumenical movement but noted there comes a point when we need to stop talking and get to work. He noted that when a majority of white Christians believe police shootings of African Americans are isolated incidents, it reveals the whole ecumenical body is not experiencing the same pain.

He then reflected powerfully on the Book of Habakkuk. He noted that the people of Judah, under King Jehoiakim, had become complacent and now the Chaldeans—rich, corrupt folks— were on their way to shake things up. Perhaps, the bishop asked, we’ve become comfortable and have lost our prophetic edge? 

But, he said he was not giving up. Instead, he is gearing up.

Speaking as a middle-aged man, from long experience I have concluded that if every single day that I am not working hard to make the relationships in my life better—with family, friends, and strangers—I am falling short of my calling as a Christian. And, speaking as a middle-aged white man, if I’m not trying every single day to connect with people of color and to confront the systemic racism that suffuses our society, I am falling short of my responsibility. It’s as simple as that. My reality is not normative. It is relative.

May you use this Christmas season to reflect, to gird yourself, and prepare for the coming of the Chaldeans.

Yours in Christ,

Jim Winkler
President and General Secretary

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry's
Christmas Message 2016

From Isaiah Chapter 9:

For unto us a child is born,
unto us a Son is given;
and the government shall be upon His shoulder;
and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

These words of Isaiah are often seen as words that foretell and foreshadow the coming of Jesus of Nazareth, born of Mary. The truth is, these words befit Him because this child changed the world. This child changes lives. This child changes us.

I remember when our oldest daughter was a baby. My wife and I were young. We were footloose and fancy-free. It was just the two of us newlyweds, so if we wanted to go out to eat dinner, we went out to eat dinner. If we decided to go to a movie at the last minute, we just went. We actually felt like we had money back then. And we did have a little bit of discretionary income. We could pretty much do what we wanted to do, within reason, and we didn't have to think too much about the consequences or impact of a spontaneous decision and what we had to do to make that happen.

And then, all of a sudden, this little, innocent human being, a little child, came into our lives, and literally gained control over our entire world. Before we could do anything else we had to think about, “Who’s going to keep the baby?” or “Is this a good time for us to go without the baby?” We soon learned that we were not in control of our lives anymore. Even our sleeping patterns became very different. We would stay awake when the baby was awake and we went to sleep when the baby went to sleep. Literally this child began to control our lives and the child didn’t even know she was doing it. And then we had a second one she did the exact same thing. And I’ve since learned that that’s what babies do. When they arrive they take over! And their parents begin to develop their lives around this child. To mold their entire lives around this precious needy baby.

Isaiah wrote, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given . . . and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” This child who was born of Mary changes everything. This child born in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes changes how we live. This child born to the sound of angels singing Gloria in excelcis Deo -- this child to whom the wise ones came from afar bearing gifts --- this child, changed the way the entire world works. 

And this Jesus, born into a world torn by strife and hatred and division and pain and poverty, this child is born anew wherever men and women say, “I’ll follow Him. I’ll follow Him as my Savior. I’ll follow Him as my Lord.”

When this child grew up, He said His reason for coming, again quoting Isaiah, from the 61st chapter, he said,

The spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach Good News to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, the recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty all those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.

This child, when He grew up, came to show us the way to live lives of love, lives of compassion, lives of goodness, lives of kindness, lives of justice. This child came to show us how to change the world. So this Christmas, make room for him to change us. This Christmas help us change the world. And make a new commitment, to go out from this day, to let this Christmas Day, be the first day of a new world.

God bless you. God keep you. Have a blessed Christmas. A Happy New Year. And go on out and change the world!

Multiple outbursts of violence shatter peace in Germany, Switzerland, and Turkey

Europe has again woken up to news of multiple acts of violence claiming lives across the continent. Yesterday in Berlin an attack at the Christmas market left a reported 12 dead and up to 50 more with injuries. Earlier in the day a gunman opened fire in a Zurich mosque while people were at prayer, seriously wounding two and leaving a third victim with lesser injuries. In a third and unrelated event, Russia’s ambassador to Turkey Andrey Karlov was assassinated at the opening of an art exhibit.

The Conference of European Churches grieves the occurrence of yet more violence against the people of Europe as they go about their daily lives, celebrating friendship and family, working, enjoying community, and worshipping God. These events are but a part of worldwide turbulent times that in recent weeks have seen bombings, suicide attacks, and hostage takings throughout the world including in the Yemen, Somalia, Egypt, Nigeria, Syria, Burkina Faso, and elsewhere. Hundreds have lost their lives in these meaningless acts of violence that have torn apart families and communities.

In our commitment to the promotion of freedom of religion and belief, the Conference of European Churches laments that our Muslim brothers and sisters in Europe were targeted as they sought to exercise their basic human right to worship in community.

Churches vow to offer sanctuary to people in US illegally

Hundreds of houses of worship are offering sanctuary to people who could face deportation if President-elect Donald Trump follows through on his campaign pledge to remove millions of immigrants living in the country illegally.

To some churches, sanctuary means spiritual support or legal assistance to fight deportation. Others promise or already are extending physical sanctuary by housing immigrants.

In Brockton, a poor city of about 95,000 people south of Boston, four churches have pledged to take in immigrants fearful of being deported.

“If you need a safe place, once you enter the doors of this building, you are safe,” said the Rev. Abraham Waya, pastor of Central United Methodist Church, who said his church can shelter as many as 100 people. “We will host you and take care of you for as long as it takes.”

During the campaign, Trump pledged to “immediately terminate” President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration, including the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which has extended work permits and temporary deportation relief to more than 700,000 immigrants brought here illegally as youths.

Massachusetts bishops oppose Trump’s pick to lead EPA

The bishops of the Episcopal Church in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Dec. 12 issued a letter to President-elect Donald J. Trump expressing their dismay at his choice of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

“The Episcopal Church stands strongly for the protection of the environment. We respect the facts of science. We support the laws and policies that address the reality of climate change,” the bishops say in their letter.

Weakening and dismantling the EPA’s protections of the natural world threaten the common good and compromise national security, the bishops write.

“We wonder why a person who has consistently and adamantly opposed all laws and policies that provide even minimal ‘protection’ to the environment should be entrusted with leading such an agency,” the bishops say.

“As citizens of this beloved country, we intend to write our members of Congress, urging them to block the nomination of Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA. We will pray for a better choice,” the bishops conclude, with an assurance to the president-elect of their continued prayers as he assumes “this office of tremendous responsibility for the good of all.”

Presbyterian Stated Clerk speaks out on Israel’s treatment of WCC official

As Presbyterian members of the worldwide Christian community and, particularly, as members of the World Council of Churches (WCC), I am writing to express our profound displeasure over the indignities visited upon our WCC Associate General Secretary, Prof. Dr. Isabel Phiri, at the Ben Gurion International Airport on December 5, 2016.

Dr. Phiri arrived in Israel as part of a WCC delegation sent to consult with our church partners in Jerusalem and those involved in our Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The mandate for EAPPI derives from a request from church leaders in Jerusalem in 2002 to wit, “We would respectfully request protection of all people in order to assist in the reestablishment of mutual trust and security for Israelis and Palestinians. Further, we would call on all peace-loving people from around the world to come and join us in a manifestation for just peace.” This initiative is well-known among Israelis and Palestinians and has served the cause of peace well.

Notwithstanding these facts, Dr. Phiri was apprehended, interrogated, falsely charged under “Prevention of illegal immigration considerations,” deported, and forced to return to Geneva, where she resides. Some reports indicated that she was also falsely accused of complicity with the “BDS movement,” with which she has nothing to do.

Her deportation stands in contrast with the experience of the other four members of the WCC delegation who had arrived somewhat earlier. They went through the usual security procedures at Ben Gurion International Airport and were allowed to proceed without hindrance. It is notable that Dr. Phiri was the only African member of the delegation.

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