Subject: NCC Weekly News: Religious Violence or Faithful Obedience?

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From Jim: Religious Violence or Faithful Obedience?
Kirchentag Bible study on Genesis 22:1-19

(Ed. note: This is part two of a three part Bible Study Jim led in Dortmund, Germany last month as part of the Kirchentag festivities.  Be sure to read the conclusion in next week's newsletter.)

Look at the first words of the passage: it says, “after these things.” Whenever we read something like that in the Bible it is probably a good idea to ask ourselves, “What things?” It is particularly easy, given the drama and intrigue of this story to skip past those crucial words. While the Bible is not explicit about exactly what things are being referred to, we do know that prior to the 22nd chapter, and even in the 21st chapter alone, significant events have occurred: the birth of Isaac, the banishment of Ismael, God’s promise to Hagar, and Abraham’s covenant with Abimelech.

Among those things that have occurred prior to chapter 22 are two other painful incidents: in chapter 10 and again in chapter 20, we find Abraham and Sarah in the midst of difficult circumstances, first in a famine and later as aliens. In each instance, Abraham presents his wife Sarah to powerful men as his sister (and she was his half-sister) because he fears for his life. In each instance, once these men, Pharaoh and Abimelech, discover the truth they are angry but they also give to Abraham enormous wealth in the form of sheep and oxen and slaves.

What do we make of these stories? By today’s standards, Abraham would be viewed as a trafficker because he has, in essence, sold his wife to other men. Most of us forgive Abraham for these actions because we place them in the larger context and understand the danger both he and Sarah faced.

However, there are similar modern-day, real-life stories of men and women fleeing from violence and crime and climate change-induced circumstances in the Global South that provoke anger and a response of punishment in some of us. If God can find a way to make use of Abraham and Sarah despite all they have done, can we not see the face of God in those who seek safety here in the North?

Chapter 22 provokes soul-searching. What kind of God demands a father kill his son to prove his faith? What kind of father is willing to kill his son to satisfy God? What did the son feel about his experience? What did his mother think? Did Abraham tell Sarah that God had told him to offer their son as a burnt offering? If so, did she object? Might she have preferred Hagar’s son be sacrificed instead? Is this a story of a God who orders religious violence or is it a story of faithful obedience? What does this passage mean for us?

Many Jewish scholars believe the text illustrates the preeminent model for martyrdom, that is, the willingness to give up one’s life for God. Others see this passage as an indication of God’s mercy. Therefore, each year Jews pray these words, “Remember unto us…and the oath which Thou swore unto Abraham…and consider the binding with which Abraham bound his son Isaac…”

Many Christians see this passage as foreshadowing God’s sacrifice of Jesus in the New Testament. Others see in chapter 22 a moment when human sacrifice is rejected.

We do not really know how old Isaac is in this passage. A common assumption is that he was quite young. Why else would he be so willing to follow his father up the mountain when they had no animal to sacrifice? How else would the elderly Abraham manage to bind Isaac by the hands and feet?

Some Jewish scholars believe Isaac was in his late thirties because in the following chapter, 23, Sarah dies at the age of 127 and we already have been told she bore Isaac at the age of 90. Therefore, it is concluded Isaac understands he is to be sacrificed and is a willing participant.

Most Muslims believe it was Ishmael, Abraham’s other son, who was the one involved in the story because God had promised Sarah she will have a son and a vast number of descendants. Muslims celebrate Eid al-Adha, the festival of the sacrifice, each year to commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son to God.

The near-sacrifice of Isaac took place on Mount Moriah, now known to the Jews as the Temple Mount, for it was the location of the first and second temples.  To Muslims it is known as the Haram al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary, the site of the Dome of the Rock, in Jerusalem.

I was on Mount Moriah earlier this year with a group of church leaders from South Africa and from the United States. The atmosphere was tense due to continuing disputes between Israeli authorities and Muslim leaders. It occurred to me as I stood there that this site, holy to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, feels almost as if it is the center of the world because of its significance to our three faith and because of this passage we are now considering.

Mount Moriah is located between Gehenna, known as the Hinnom Valley, where it is said the wicked go to atone for their sins, and the Kidron Valley, through which Jesus walked to the Garden of Gethsemane. To this day, Mount Moriah is a place of prayer and worship, conflict and violence.

Grace and peace,
Jim Winkler
President and General Secretary
Presiding Bishop issues video message on immigration: ‘Who is my neighbor?’

I’m Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church. It goes without saying that there is a humanitarian crisis at the southern border of the United States. It is a human crisis, a crisis that has deep and complex roots, sources, and origins. But it is a crisis, a crisis of the human children of God.

There is suffering and there is hardship.

There is complexity and difficulty.

But it is a crisis that we as nation, that we as a global community, must face and find a way forward for the sake of our brothers and our sisters, for the sake of us all.

Deeply embedded in the Christian faith, indeed deeply embedded in the Jewish tradition, which is the mother of the Christian faith, and deeply embedded in the faith and traditions and values of many of the world’s great religions, is a profound conviction in a sure and certain value and virtue that care for the stranger, the alien, the visitor, is a sacred duty, a sacred vow.

Texas UMC Bishops Respond to Border Crisis

The Bishops of the five United Methodist Church Episcopal Areas in Texas, along with several retired Bishops have joined together to call for non-partisan solutions to the crisis on our Southern border.

In response to outcry among members and clergy in their churches, they have co-written a letter listing concerns and asking parishioners to pray and work toward ending cruel policies that separate families, ensuring compassionate care for the health and welfare of children, and finding a common solution that respects, cares for and offers tangible assistance to those who are hurting.

“We want immigrants to feel welcome in our cities and for their entire families to have spiritual homes in our churches,” says Bishop Scott J. Jones of the Texas Annual Conference headquartered in Houston.

Children and Families in Detention & At the Border: A Word to the Church/Niños y Familias en detención y en la Frontera: Una palabra a la iglesia

“For the Lord your God…executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner therefore; for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:17-19)

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” (Matthew 19:14)

Dear Church,

Our sacred scriptures are filled with stories of uprooted peoples and prophets in movement, with constant presence and direction from God. We are inspired by the leading of our Lord who liberated the Israelites, comforted the community as they faced exile and later repatriation, and guided Jesus’ family to safety as they fled persecution under Herod. We therefore are ready to live out our call to demonstrate radical hospitality and welcome today’s immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers who are likewise searching for protection from persecution.

Our hearts grieve the deaths of children on the U.S.-Mexico border and in detention facilities while in U.S. custody which are at odds with our call to welcome. We urge the release of immigrant children and adults held captive within our land in detention holding centers reported in recent weeks by the Office of Inspector General to have “issues of dangerous overcrowding” and sub-standard hygiene requiring “corrective action…critical to the immediate health and safety needs of detainees.” We are appalled by the “prolonged detention of children and adults,” despite regulations aimed to ensure children are housed only in sanitary conditions, are released without unnecessary delay, and would be placed in the least restrictive conditions.

Nominations open for NCC Awards for Excellence in Faithful Leadership

Each year at the Christian Unity Gathering, we hold an awards banquet in which leaders of the ecumenical and interfaith community are honored for their exceptional, exemplary leadership. We hope you will nominate leaders you believe are worthy of these prestigious awards.

Nominations close July 31 at 5:00pm.  Don't wait; nominate someone that deserves an award today.

Moravian Eastern District ministry team raises awareness of criminal justice reform

If you stepped into the recent art exhibit in Bethlehem’s Banana Factory Arts Center unaware of the background of the artists, you might have marveled at the variety and depth of the paintings. From the beauty of a still-life flower to the heartbreaking image of a homeless man to the smile of a young child, the art showed the breadth of human emotions and experiences.

Now realize that the art on display was painted by incarcerated individuals in Pennsylvania, and you are presented with images of hope and humanity that can connect us all, whether incarcerated or free.

The Moravian Church, Eastern District’s Church and Society Ministry Team, was proud to sponsor this recent art exhibit, “Hope in Hard Times: Prisoner Art for Social Justice,” which ran from March 1-April 21 at ArtsQuest’s Banana Factory Arts Center, Bethlehem, Pa.

Methodist Delegation Sees ‘Bitter Fruits’ of Palestinian Occupation

After a visit to the region, a delegation of Methodist representatives expressed horror at the military occupation of the Palestinian people.

“We witnessed the bitter fruits of military occupation that have fallen disproportionally upon the Palestinian people,” said a statement of the delegation, which was made up of leaders of the World Methodist Council, the British Methodist Church, and the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church. “We heard stories of families being separated, the denial of basic human rights, inequality of treatment, and the need for the Palestinian people to have a voice in the process of governing their own lives and future.”

The group’s visit marked the seventh anniversary of the opening of the Methodist Liaison Office in Jerusalem, jointly sponsored by the three organizations. The delegation visited with individuals, churches and partners. Their goal was to further the office’s mission of engaging the world Methodist family in Christ’s ministry of peace, truth, justice and mercy among all peoples living in the land, in partnership with the Palestinian Christian Community.

Mark MacDonald named archbishop of National Indigenous Anglican Church of Canada

In a historic vote, the general synod of the Anglican Church of Canada bestowed the title of archbishop upon Mark MacDonald, president of the World Council of Churches (WCC) for North America.

Before the synod, MacDonald was bishop of the National Indigenous Anglican Church of Canada.

MacDonald was presented with a metropolitical cross decorated with four colours for the four peoples of the world, including blue symbolizing the colour of hope for indigenous peoples.

WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit extended his congratulations and appreciation to MacDonald. “Your patience and wisdom are a tremendous treasure to the ecumenical movement and to the Anglican Church of Canada, and we stand with you as you continue to express your values and your fine sense of justice,” said Tveit. “Your spiritual roots ground us all as we care for creation and for the dignity for all people.”

WCC invites all to support Global Prayer for the Peaceful Reunification of the Korean Peninsula

The World Council of Churches invites all people of good will to observe a Sunday of Prayer for the Peaceful Reunification of the Korean Peninsula on 11 August.

Each year, Christians are invited to join in a prayer for peace and reunification of the Korean Peninsula. Prepared by the National Council of Churches in Korea and the Korean Christian Federation, the prayer is traditionally used on the Sunday before 15 August every year.

The 15th of August, celebrated as Liberation Day in both North and South Korea, marks the date in 1945 when Korea won independence from Japanese colonial oppression, yet ironically it also was the day when the peninsula was divided into two countries.

The Korean Christian Federation Central Committee (North Korea) and the National Council of Churches in Korea (South Korea) have composed their annual joint prayer for peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula for 2019.

Let Your Light Shine: Mobilizing for Justice with Children and Youth

A New Resource from Friendship Press

Children face too many tough situations today: broken immigration policies, hunger, school shooting, mass incarceration, human trafficking, failing schools, child soldiers in wars worldwide. Despite the harsh realities, there is still hope! And YOU can play a vital role in keeping that hope alive! Let Your Light Shine challenges readers to engage in their own work of justice for and with children. Inspired by the contributions of leaders like Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, the authors present ways to engage in works of justice that offer life, meaning, and hope to our children and youth.
United Church of Christ Webinar Opportunity:
Speaking Truth to Power: A Faithful Response to U.S. Detention and Asylum Policies

Tuesday, July 23rd 3 pm (EST)

The current administration's asylum policies have vastly reduced the number of asylum seekers accepted into the United States and forced many asylum seekers to wait for months in exceedingly dangerous situations while their cases are processed through U.S. courts. Meanwhile, U.S. detention policies have led to the deaths of over twenty people detained in detention centers and the separation of thousands of families. These U.S. policies are inhumane and go directly against the Christian call to love and care for our neighbors. Join us for a timely webinar to learn more about our migrant brothers and sisters, why they are seeking asylum, and how we can advocate on behalf of refugees and asylum seekers. Speakers will discuss the ways in which the Presbyterian Church (USA) and other organizations are speaking out in opposition to unjust U.S. government policies and what you can do to get involved!

Oklahoma Council of Churches hosts anti-racism training event

Saturday, August 03, 2019

9:00am to 4:00pm

Oklahoma Conference of Churches
301 NW 36TH ST
Oklahoma City OK 73118

White Privilege: Let's Talk - A Resource for Transformational Dialogue

Come and be trained on how to facilitate conversation on this topic.

Training will include:
  • The Spiritual Autobiography Told Through the Lens of Race
  • White as the Norm: Five Loci of Insights on the Binary of Light/Dark and Black/White
  • The Cash Value of Whiteness or Whiteness as a Tax-Exempt Status
  • On Becoming an Ally
"We don’t promise that this will be easy to discuss. It will challenge basic assumptions about race that help white communities maintain a system of privilege that, while prevalent, often goes unnoticed by even the best-intentioned of white advocates for justice. Nonetheless, the work we do to deepen our awareness of how privilege is made manifest, and the commensurate work of unmasking and dismantling that privilege, is among the most important work we white leaders can commit to."

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