Subject: NCC Weekly News: Obama's Legacy?

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From Jim: A Legacy of Faith?
Earlier this year I attended a conference in Marrakesh, Morocco at which an important declaration was issued affirming the rights of religious minorities in Muslim lands. This week, I participated in a panel discussion that considered the impact of the declaration.

The conversation took place during a religion and diplomacy conference sponsored by the U.S. State Department. Over the past several years, there’s been a shift in American diplomacy which has resulted in a more sophisticated understanding of the role religion plays and a recognition that religious actors and influencers need to be engaged. 

For a long time, religious leaders were viewed by our government as inconsequential and marginal. Perhaps they would be periodically invited to receptions at U.S. embassies and diplomatic outposts, but religion itself was viewed as a secondary matter. 

This has changed during the presidency of Barack Obama. Not only is religion viewed as complex and important, but it is understood that it must be incorporated into U.S. government strategies if those are to have any success. 

While George W. Bush began a faith-based office at the White House, Obama has extended this throughout the executive branch. All faiths have ready access to government officials. It will be interesting to see if this continues into the next presidency. 

President Obama himself was transformed by his experience as a community organizer in Chicago. He came to understand that to effect change, he had to engage local religious figures. He joined a United Church of Christ congregation and received considerable assistance from Catholic social justice ministries. 

This is not to suggest that religious groups have much, if any, power over him and in his administration. There is a big difference between access and influence, and I have never doubted even for a moment that this is the case. Plenty of my recommendations and requests have been disregarded and ignored by the Obama administration and I’m well aware that often the loudest and most insistent religious voices are catered to more than those who represent much larger memberships. 

Still, the tone of a presidential administration is set from the top. During the transition in late 2008, the Obama team held numerous meetings to which faith groups were invited. Repeatedly, his people would say that the president-elect wanted the faith community to have a seat at the table. That has continued over the past eight years. It will be a pleasant surprise if it continues into the next presidency. 

It's also amazing that this reality has largely been overlooked by the media and President Obama’s critics. Instead, too often the falsehood has been repeated that the president is not a faithful Christian and is even hostile to religion. 

Additionally, in spite of the fact that far too much money has been wasted over the past eight years on the military and our secret police apparatus, and far too many people have been killed in military and drone attacks, President Obama has made a much greater effort than recent presidents to seek peaceful resolutions to conflicts around the world. 

In other words, we’ve witnessed much incremental, positive change during President Obama’s two terms in office. There are fewer people in poverty and our grotesque income inequality has improved a bit. 

Justice may not be rolling down like the waters, but righteousness is more than a trickle!

Yours in Christ,

Jim Winkler
President and General Secretary

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It is Time to Break New Ground

A deadly police shooting in Charlotte, NC, of Keith Lamont Scott, has added to the narrative of death and violence reported daily throughout the nation. The news that this has happened in our community has shocked us. It is reported alongside an increasing numbness in which we are becoming apathetic to the horrible events that destroy lives and community. In an atmosphere of fear and anger we seem to be drifting into a disrespect and defiance of others which only contributes to an escalation of violence as witnessed last night when a peaceful protest turned violent. As social media shares videos of these events we quickly draw conclusions and make statements that are not necessarily helpful in resolving these frightful occurrences.

In light of this death and the destructive actions that have followed, Governor Pat McCrory declared a State of Emergency. In the midst of this increasing violence my thoughts are focused on the families who are grieving and impacted by these events; may they find mercy and understanding.

There will be many calls for prayer, which I know are already being lifted, and our prayers should lead to action. It is my prayer we might behave in such a way as to embrace Jesus’ teaching, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy…Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” To be a peacemaker at this moment will require patient and persistent efforts to embrace and work with those who may not share our same life experiences and beliefs. It will require deliberate and measured steps of building trust within each community.

Baptist Joint Committee names executive director

The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty voted Sept. 26 to name Amanda R. Tyler, a former BJC intern and staff member, as its next executive director.

Tyler, who currently works as Ways and Means counsel for U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), will succeed Brent Walker, who is retiring after 27 years with the BJC and 18 years as top executive of the religious liberty watchdog organization which serves 15 Baptist bodies in the United States, in January.

“We believe Amanda Tyler is the right person to lead the BJC forward with grace and tenacity to defend and extend religious liberty in an ever-changing world,” said Daniel E. Glaze, chair of the BJC board of directors who led an 11-month search process.

Tyler, 38, will be the sixth director of the Washington-based education and advocacy organization founded in 1946, and the first woman to hold the position.

Joint Communique issued by the delegations representing the World Council of Churches and the Muslim Council of Elders

An historic meeting of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Muslim Council of Elders, led by the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, His Eminence Prof. Dr Ahmad al-Tayyeb, took place at the WCC headquarters in Geneva and at its ecumenical institute at Château de Bossey, Switzerland, on 30 September and 1 October 2016. The World Council of Churches (WCC) delegation led by Dr Agnes Abuom, Moderator of the Central Committee of the WCC and Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary, warmly welcomed the Grand Imam and the delegation from the Muslim Council of Elders.

There were two sessions of talks on key aspects of interreligious dialogue, combatting religious extremism and peacebuilding. The meeting also featured a public lecture by the Grand Imam on the role of religious leaders in peacemaking. This lecture took place at the Ecumenical Institute, Bossey, as part of the 70th anniversary celebrations of the Institute.

The overriding concern of the meeting was peace, and particularly the role of religions, religious leaders, and faith-based organizations in creating a culture of peace and practices of peacemaking. As children of Abraham, we agree that humanity was created to share the gifts of love and compassion, peace and mercy, and honesty and sincerity.

Three Common Communication Mistakes and How to Fix Them

Ryan Holck, an expert on church communication, says that leaders tend to throw so much information at their congregants that nothing sticks. There’s also a tendency to use insider language while never addressing what people really want to know: “What’s in it for me?” He shares some simple fixes for these common communication challenges.

We’ve got great ministry ideas, and we’re working hard to connect people, but something isn’t working. We assume the issue is the event or a lack of interest by the congregation. More often than not, the issue is actually a communication challenge. There are simple fixes to these communication challenges.

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