Subject: NCC Weekly News: Claremont Commencement Speech

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Part 1 of 2: Jim Winkler's Commencement Speech to the Graduates of Claremont School of Theology, May 24, 2016
Congratulations to all of today’s graduates! I am grateful to President Kuan, the board of trustees, and the faculty for this great honor.

There are many connections between Claremont School of Theology and the National Council of Churches. To name but a few: President Kuan serves on the Interreligious Concerns Convening Table of the NCC. I have served on the board of trustees of Claremont. One of my predecessors at the Council, Bob Edgar, was once president of this school. Ms. Hae-Jin Park, one of today’s graduates, participated earlier this month in the NCC’s Christian Unity Gathering. And, Professor Najeeba Syeed is the daughter of Dr. Sayyid Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America, a close partner of the NCC. I am grateful for these and many other ties that bind us together.

The ecumenical movement has played a vital role in connecting Christians across denominational boundaries. Some 150 years ago, young people created organizations such as the Young Women’s Christian Association, the Young Men’s Christian Association, and the World Student Christian Federation. Those young people were not as concerned about or loyal to denominational silos as their elders and sought more creative ways to share God’s Word and love with one another and the whole world.

Gradually, ecumenical bodies formed at the local, regional, national, and global level. Our seminaries began teaching our clergy that being a faithful Christian was more important than belonging to a particular church, and those clergy began teaching the same to us laity. Today, as our nation grows ever more diverse, interfaith councils and associations are springing up everywhere.

Claremont’s strategic plan recognizes “that it is no longer enough for a graduate theological school to imbue its students with a fundamental knowledge of scripture, liturgy, and theology. The needs of the church and the world demand religious leaders who are innovators – capable of using the tools and frameworks of ancient traditions to bring about real and embodied transformation of contemporary life.”

This is the contemporary religious world you graduate into. Claremont has sought to provide you with the skills to transform communities and the world and I am thankful to God for that. You will need all your talent and commitment and all your faith to navigate through the challenging years ahead.

Many of the 38 member communions of the NCC are in numerical decline. Membership loss has created panic, a crisis of confidence, and soul-searching among our churches. Declining resources have led to a reduced commitment, in many quarters, to the daily work of Christian unity as churches turn inward while searching for ways to reverse their statistical descent.

Just last week, I attended a portion of the United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Oregon. This morning we gather on the grounds of one of the 13 seminaries of the United Methodist Church. The sharp disagreements in our church over what it means to be a church, a global church, in particular, and, most notably, over whether we will treat LGBTQ sisters and brothers as fully human has brought the denomination to the brink of dissolution. As daunting as that may seem, I know God will see us through if we are faithful to God. Denominations rise and fall, theological disputes come and go, but God’s word is eternal.

You leave here to serve God’s Creation in a variety of ways. A Creation groaning with pain. The earth is in the grip of three interlocking systems of vast power and scope: hunger-making, war-making, and desert-making systems.

Dr. King named three giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism. William Sloane Coffin named the real axis of evil as being environmental degradation, pandemic poverty, and a world awash with weapons.

Dr. King named the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism. William Sloane Coffin named the real axis of evil as being environmental degradation, pandemic poverty, and a world awash in weapons. I believe we continue to unmask three great myths that make it difficult for us to move forward faithfully as God’s people. These are the myths of white supremacy, male superiority, and American exceptionalism.

These myths manifest themselves over and over. Soon, the United States will no longer be a white majority nation. Southern California is far ahead of most of the country in this regard, already. While a beautiful flowering of diversity is revealing itself daily across our land, a rearguard action of those who desire to return to an era in which people of color were forced into second-class status. People of color are consigned to prison in numbers vastly disproportionate to their share of the overall population, are kept from exercising their right to vote through restrictive laws, and from immigrating into the United States.

The myth of male superiority exhibits itself in so very many ways it almost seems unnecessary to list examples such as the fact that on average women earn less than men for the same work, that few women lead major institutions and corporations, or that we still have not had a woman president.

The myth of American exceptionalism continues to cripple our foreign policy and our ability to work with the rest of the world in a fair and just manner. Our nation continues to act as if it can intervene militarily or by covert means anywhere it wishes at any time. We use drones to kill people the world over, maintain secret prisons and military bases all over the globe and spend an obscene amount of money to ensure our dominance because, quite frankly, we think we are the best nation on earth.

This is a spiritual and moral crisis and you will need to help people of faith grapple with and overcome these myths during your life and ministry. This is challenging and sacred work.

(The second half of Jim's speech will appear in this column next week.)

Yours in Christ,

Jim Winkler
President and General Secretary

Why We Need Legislative Action to Help Reform Our Criminal Justice System

It’s been more than seven months since the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a major criminal justice reform package aimed at reducing some mandatory minimum sentences for low level drug offenses and curbing recidivism. The bill — the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S. 2123) — represents a significant step forward on criminal justice reform since passage of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.

We’re still waiting for a vote by the full Senate. Here’s why we need it.

The failed “War on Drugs” that began more than 40 years ago has resulted in a system that is unjustly biased. From arrest to release, African Americans, Latinos, and low-income individuals are disproportionately over-represented throughout the system. Today, due in large part to so-called “tough on crime” policies and mandatory minimum sentences, the United States incarcerates 21 percent of the world’s prisoners despite only having 4.4 percent of the world’s population. This has come at huge financial and human costs to our society —costs that we can no longer sustain.

Why Most Pastors Don't Do Prison Ministry

Most Protestant pastors have been to jail to see someone. And most want to help prisoners and their families.

But their churches often lack the training or finances to run an effective prison ministry. So instead, the work is primarily done informally by individuals in the congregation.

Those are among the findings of a new phone survey of 1,000 Protestant senior pastors from LifeWay Research.

Researchers found widespread support among pastors for the idea of prison ministry. Four out of five pastors (83%) have visited a correctional facility. And almost all believe churches should help the families of those incarcerated (97%) and provide care for those getting out of jail (95%).

United Methodist General Conference 2016 wrap-up

Believe it or not, General Conference 2016 spent more than twice as much time debating a Rule of Order than the hot topic of human sexuality. After almost three days of considering an alternative method for discussing legislation, The United Methodist Church’s top legislative body referred its most difficult subject – sexuality — to a study commission and moved on to other matters.

A move to adjourn at 6:30 every night meant no late-night sessions and hopefully healthier, less stressed attendees. During 10 days in Portland, delegates passed an increased budget, celebrated a number of church milestones and voted to create a new version of the hymnal.

Delegates vote ‘no’ on 44

The first three days of General Conference offered a live demonstration of just how difficult following its rules of order can be as delegates wavered back and forth on using Rule 44, a proposed group-discernment process to deal with particularly complicated and contentious legislation such as sexuality. Ultimately, they voted against it.

The Commission on General Conference recommended Rule 44 at the request of the 2012 General Conference, which sought an alternative process to Robert’s Rules of Order for certain topics.

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Ecumenical Opportunities:

The Children’s Environmental Health Network is seeking nominations for its 2016 Nsedu Obot Witherspoon (NOW) Youth Leadership Award!

The NOW Youth Leadership Award was created as part of the Children’s Environmental Health Network’s (CEHN) 20th anniversary celebration in 2012, in honor of Executive Director Nsedu Obot Witherspoon. This award honors a young person (ages 12-21 at the time of the nomination) who has demonstrated exceptional environmental health leadership--efforts to protect human health, especially of our most vulnerable populations, through actions including: raising awareness of, advocacy for, and outreach around safer, healthier environments across places.

We encourage submissions of nominees who are young leaders that are involved and committed to environmental health, participate in community action, and have strong leadership skills. Submissions must come from non-family members. This award will be presented at CEHN’s 11th Annual Child Health Advocate Award Event in Washington, DC on October 13th, 2016. The winner must be able to travel to DC and attend the event to accept their award. Submit your nomination here by 4pm EST, July 15th, 2016!

The World Council of Churches is looking for a Director of the office of the general secretary, based in Geneva, to be responsible for coordinating the activities of the general secretariat; strengthening program management and development; giving leadership and coordination for specific staff functions; contributing to business analysis and opinion, working together with the finance director; and participating in leadership of the organization as a member of the staff leadership group.  Deadline is May 31, 2016.

The Episcopal Church is accepting applications for the position of Director of Government Relations, a member of the Presiding Bishop’s staff. Based in Washington, DC, the Director of Government Relations is a full-time position responsible for representing the public policy positions adopted by the Episcopal Church’s General Convention and Executive Council, and the ministry of the Presiding Bishop, to policy makers in Washington, including the White House, the Congress, the Washington, D.C. diplomatic community, the Episcopal institutions and networks, visiting Anglican and Episcopal leaders, the ecumenical community, and public interest organizations so that the Church has a direct presence and ability to advocate its positions to those who make or are concerned about governmental policy. Deadline for applying is June 20.

Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) seeks an Executive Director to lead the organization. IWJ has been a leader in the fight for economic and worker justice in the United States since 1996. IWJ educates, organizes and mobilizes people of faith, workers and advocates in support of economic justice and worker rights at the local, state and national levels.

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