Subject: NCC Weekly News: Religious Minorities in Muslim-Majority Countries

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From Jim: The Marrakech Declaration
I was honored to attend a conference recently in Marrakech, Morocco on the rights of religious minorities in Muslim lands. My flight out of Washington was the last one to depart in the midst of a blizzard so when we took off after sitting on the tarmac for four hours, I knew God intended for me to be present!

The NCC has long been committed to Muslim-Christian dialogue. Thus, I was eager to participate and I encourage you to read the resulting Marrakesh Declaration. Those present affirmed “it is unconscionable to employ religion for the purpose of aggressing upon the rights of religious minorities in Muslim countries.” Much else is included in the Declaration. 

Highly respected Muslim scholars, as well as governmental representatives were present. This conference took place after four years of careful planning and organizing. I pray this will be a step forward.

Clearly, the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known variously as ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh, which has declared a worldwide caliphate and claims authority over all Muslims has created turmoil within and beyond the Muslim world. Indeed, King Mohammed VI in his message to the conference stated, “In normal circumstances, there would have been no need to address a theme such as the one chosen for this conference….Muslims have to show that certain events which are happening under the guise of Islam are driven or prompted by considerations which have nothing to do with religion.”

However, even in Morocco, a relatively tolerant and open society in which Islam is the state religion, the Supreme Council of Religious Scholars issued a decree as recently as three years ago that Muslims who leave Islam for another faith must be sentenced to death.
It occurs to me that extremists in all the world’s major religions are carrying out acts of violence and intolerance in the name of their faith. This is happening not only in Islam, but in Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Wherever and whenever possible, people of good will must come together in solidarity with one another.

That is why Jews, Christians, and Muslims have come together in the United States to create Shoulder to Shoulder, a national campaign of religious and interfaith organizations dedicated to ending anti-Muslim sentiment. This is more urgent than ever when we have presidential candidates calling for a ban on Muslim immigrants and for the registration of all Muslims in the U.S.

In Morocco, non-Muslim conference participants caucused and affirmed common values between our faiths such as kindness, honor, cooperation, reconciliation, and mercy. We confessed that our faiths and nations have at times been intolerant of Muslims, have not lived up to our own teachings, and have been complicit in war and violence. We challenged our Muslim sisters and brothers to grant full equality to non-Muslims and to do away with apostasy and blasphemy laws, and we committed ourselves to educating our own believers about Islam and to working with Muslims to build a culture of peace.

Jim Winkler,
President and General Secretary

President Obama visits Baltimore Mosque, Encourages Interfaith Dialogue

"This mosque, like so many in our country, is an all-American story. You’ve been part of this city for nearly half a century. You serve thousands of families -- some who’ve lived here for decades as well as immigrants from many countries who’ve worked to become proud American citizens.

Now, a lot of Americans have never visited a mosque. To the folks watching this today who haven’t -- think of your own church, or synagogue, or temple, and a mosque like this will be very familiar. This is where families come to worship and express their love for God and each other. There’s a school where teachers open young minds. Kids play baseball and football and basketball -- boys and girls -- I hear they’re pretty good. (Laughter.) Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts meet, recite the Pledge of Allegiance here.

With interfaith dialogue, you build bridges of understanding with other faith communities -- Christians and Jews. There’s a health clinic that serves the needy, regardless of their faith. And members of this community are out in the broader community, working for social justice and urban development. As voters, you come here to meet candidates. As one of your members said, “just look at the way we live...we are true Americans.”
Human Trafficking: A Crime and a Sin

Trafficking in persons is a crime against humanity and ultimately a sin. Human trafficking denies the values of human life, exposes victims to serious health risks, endangers the mental well-being of victims and impedes the ability of victims to reach their full God-given potential. As Christians, we believe that every human being is created in the image and likeness of the divine Creator, of God. The prophets cried out against the exploitation of the poor and of laborers who are not treated fairly and compensated justly (Job 24:1-12, for example).

The United Church of Christ has consistently upheld the rights and dignity of workers and of women and children, believing that God calls us into community with each other as sisters and brothers, not as exploiters and exploited. The violence done to the physical, psychological and spiritual wellbeing of children and women who are forced into prostitution, the pornography industry, sex tourism and other forms of sexploitation are violations of the call of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to love our neighbors as ourselves. The kin-dom of God among us requires us to provide protection for those most vulnerable and to seek conditions which support wholeness and health for everyone.

Statement in Support of Repealing the Death Penalty
Press Conference – Legislative Hall, Delaware 
Thursday, January 28, 2016
by Rev. Aundreia Alexander

Murder by any other name is murder, and killing is a violent act implying that some lives are more valuable than others. The National Council of Churches supports the abolishment of the death penalty nation-wide. We are a covenant communion of 38 Christian denominations with over 100,000 congregations around the country. Our stance on this issue is grounded first and foremost on foundational biblical and Christian principles. We have also relied on empirical evidence supported by data and research; and taken into consideration the real impact, of what it means to be the most powerful country in the world that still resorts to murder as a form of punishing those who commit murder. 

We believe in the intrinsic worth of all life, and in the dignity of human personhood, that are gifts of God.

Our penal system, as it is, is predicated on punishment and retribution and does not deserve to be called a “justice system” until it is transformed into a system that seeks to rehabilitate those who have offended and restore balance to the breach that has impacted victims, the community and society at large.

We believe that the protection of society is served as well by measures of restraint and rehabilitation, and that society may actually benefit from the contribution of the rehabilitated offender.

Institutionalized killing contributes to the brutalization of society. Such a final and heinous decision should not be left to the discretion of flawed humans and a broken system.

We have seen too many (one is too many) cases where human error and a flawed system has resulted in an innocent person dying. How do we reconcile that atrocity that then re-victimizes the family of the original crime, the family of the wrongfully executed and again society-at-large?
We are a society that struggles with and is entrenched in institutionalized racism and classism. Evidence shows the disparate application of the death penalty for African Americans and Latinos. 

The system benefits those with financial means to access a private attorney and financially support the expensive and extensive appeal process. These should not be factors in determining whether one lives or dies.

In the beginning God created humankind in God’s image. The image of God is not negated when someone violates the trust of others and society. In fact the divinity that is in all of us leads us to stand firm in our belief as Christians that all can be redeemed.

It is our prayer and hope that Delaware will join other states and countries that have abolished the death penalty. And we pray with and for those whose fate lies in the hands of a system that has deemed that killing people who kill people will stop the killing.
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