Subject: NCC Weekly News: Standing with Christians in the Middle East

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From Jim: Is Christianity Disappearing in the Middle East?
On September 11, I will participate in a Unity Walk in Washington, DC. People of a variety of faiths will together visit several houses of worship. These churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques will host open houses, offer tours and traditional food, and provide introductions to their religions and practices.

We will culminate with a closing ceremony at the Islamic Center of Washington, DC where I will offer remarks. Perhaps, God willing, this will be the beginning of a new moment of solidarity. Really, though, we had such an opportunity once before, on September 11 itself.

In the midst of the horror and suffering of the criminal terror attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the downed airliner in Pennsylvania, people gathered spontaneously around the world to express their sympathy with the people of the United States.

Huge crowds gathered in Iran for candlelight vigils. The governments of Cuba, Libya, and North Korea condemned the attacks. All over the world, church bells tolled, people gathered to form human chains, and long lines formed at US embassies to sign cards expressing sorrow and respect.

Yes, some crazy and unfortunate responses took places, as well. Television evangelists like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell claimed the attacks were God's retribution for America's sins, and some danced in celebration in a Palestinian refugee camp, but the vast majority of the world's people stood with the American people in that terrible moment.

The opportunity existed, I believed, to mobilize the world's police and intelligence agencies to coordinate their efforts to apprehend those behind the attacks, break up their terrorist networks, bring them to trial, an imprison them for their crimes.

However, the United States committed a historic mistake that unleashed hell on the people of Afghanistan and Iraq in particular, despite the fact that 15 of the 19 attackers were from Saudi Arabia, threw away the goodwill of the world, and created chaos that continues to this day.

I write this from Amman, Jordan where I am attending the assembly of the Middle East Council of Churches. This morning, I breakfasted with church leaders from Aleppo, Syria where just hours ago one person died and dozens were injured in a chemical weapons attack, reportedly carried out by Syrian government forces.

I have spoken with Christians from all over the region about the turmoil and conflict plaguing the region. This morning's preacher, Rosangela Jarjour, general secretary of the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches, described the what happened in Iraq and the past 5 1/2 years of war in Syria as the Third World War.

In the wake of this conflagration, the exodus of Christians from the Middle East has accelerated. Catholicos Aram I noted this is the most critical juncture Middle Eastern Christianity has ever faced. Extremism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, confessional tensions, and economic and political injustice place the survival of Christianity in the region at stake.

The challenge for churches here is to somehow re-assess and redefine themselves in the midst of regional turmoil. Repeatedly, the call has been made to churches in the United States and Europe to assist the churches in the Middle East.

I wonder if we are up to the task. Can we re-assess and redefine ourselves in the midst of our own national turmoil? Can we rise above our self-centeredness and provincialism and move forward in unity with people of good will of all faiths and change the course of history toward that preferred by God? I hope so.
Yours in Christ,

Jim Winkler
President and General Secretary

Editorial: Make action on poverty a national priority

Since 2011, faith-based organizations like Catholic Charities USA, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Sojourners and Bread for the World have rallied behind an ad hoc coalition called the Circle of Protection. Formed amid a scorched-earth budget battle between the Republican-controlled Congress and the Obama administration, this coalition fought mightily to save poverty programs -- like the Children's Health Insurance Program, food stamps and school nutrition programs -- from major reductions. For the most part, this has worked.

Even with the Circle of Protection, the most vulnerable among us are not faring all that well. About 3.55 million American children live in households with incomes of less than $2 per person per day, which is the measure of extreme poverty used by international development agencies. This data comes from the recent book $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, by Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer, which traces this rise in extreme poverty.

Syrian refugee resettlement a global and UCC issue

When the Rev. Mary Schaller Blaufuss headed to South America to meet with Global Ministries partners in Argentina and Paraguay about sustainable development and disaster ministries in late August, she didn't expect to be wading into issues about refugee resettlement – but that's exactly what happened.

"We as the UCC are part of networks around the world responding to the global refugee crisis – sometimes connected in ways we don't even know," said Blaufuss, the team leader for UCC Global Sharing of Resources. "It became very apparent to me that we are part of a global world refugee and migration crisis that the world needs to figure out how to act on."

"I expected to learn inspiring stories and meet amazing people doing amazing things in development and land rights justice," Blaufuss continued. "What I did not expect was the close connection that jumped out with another part of my ministry – with refugees – particularly in this time of the resettlement of Syrian refugees."

Creation, unity and hope focus of WCC greeting in USA

During a service at the Riverside Church in New York City, World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit brought a greeting that explored what kinds of wisdom churches can bring to today’s world from Matthew 11:19.

“In this church you have a legacy of addressing the challenges of the time, offering words of wisdom to those in power and to those in need of support, to those who need new thoughts and new impulses for their lives,” said Tveit. “What is the wisdom we as churches and as a fellowship of churches can bring and should bring in our time?”

Wisdom is vindicated by its deeds, he noted. “Today we need more than ever further reflections about what it means that God is creating and sustaining this world every day.”

Food Waste Weekend is September 23-25

The idea behind Food Waste Weekend is for you, a member of the clergy, to speak on the weekend of Sept. 23-25 to your congregation about the problem of the waste of food – from your faith perspective.

Wasted food is a problem that starts at the farm & ends on our tables!

Food Waste is the unfortunately poor term we use to discuss all of the edible and wholesome food that is never consumed. The waste of food is a problem that starts at the farm and ends on our tables. This is not rotting or unattractive food as the term suggests. Rather it is food that the farmer was unable to harvest, the grocery store chose not to sell, the food you throw out because the date on the packaging leads you to think that it’s no longer healthy to eat, the excess food in your garden that has overwhelmed you, the super-sized portions of food served in restaurants, the three-day old bread the market throws away when the next shipment comes in, and a lot more. 

All faiths teach about caring for people & the planet you live in!

For the past many years, an increasing number of foodies, non-profits, policy wonks, government officials and others have studied and spoken out about food waste, yet one important segment of our society – the faith community – has been left on the sidelines. All faiths teach about caring for the people about you and the planet under you, yet food waste harms both. It contributes to hunger and malnutrition, exacerbates diet related diseases such as Type II Diabetes and obesity, wastes energy, increases the waste stream and climate change, impacts your taxes, and can even impact national security. All because we have not been using the food we have.

God and Guns: Millennial Faith Leaders Address Gun Violence October 6-7

The Riverside Church in the City of New York, along with a growing list of partners, will host an intensive training on gun violence for faith leaders of all traditions beginning the evening of October 6 through the evening of October 7, 2016. Designed for millennial faith leaders, a demographic with the capacity to shift our culture, the training is also open to ministry teams of any age that include a millennial attendee. Those who attend do not have to agree on the solutions to the epidemic of gun violence, only that something must be done.

Evangelicals and mainline Protestants make up 40 percent of the population, but own guns at higher rates than the rest of the country. The power to change our culture is in our pews.

Attendees will gain concrete tools to educate, engage, and mobilize your congregations to enact change in your community. Each God and Guns 2016 participant will commit to taking concrete action in their circles of influence.

Following the training, The Riverside Church will provide ongoing support, resources, and reporting mechanisms. This will help those who attend stay connected and share the work you are doing in your congregations.

The training begins with a free, open to the public screening of "The Armor of Light" on Thursday, October 6 at 7PM. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with filmmakers Rev. Rob Schenck, Abigail Disney, and Lucy McBath.

Children's Sabbath to be celebrated October 21-23

The 2016 National Observance of Children’s Sabbaths® Celebration, “Children of Promise: Closing Opportunity Gaps” will be held October 21-23, and will focus on closing opportunity gaps due to poverty and lack of access to high-quality early childhood development and a high-quality education so that every child can reach their God-given potential. For that to happen, we as people of faith need to stand tall within our communities and push our nation to keep our promises of love and justice, equality and dignity for all.

Join thousands of churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and other faith communities across the country in this celebration by holding a community-wide interfaith special worship service or a special service in your place of worship, add educational programs, and advocacy activities to engage people of faith in improving the lives of children and their families in your community, state and in our nation.

For our Washington, DC Friends:

THE WISDOM OF OUR ELDERS, a CBS Interfaith Special, features interviews with three faith leaders about how they became who they are today and what they think about the current state of religious affairs in the U.S. and throughout the world. This special broadcast will be on the CBS Television Network Sunday, Sept. 18 (check local listings).

Joan D. Chittister, O.S.B., is a Benedictine sister of Erie, Pennsylvania, who for the last fifty years has been a passionate advocate for peace, justice and human rights. She writes a column for the National Catholic Reporter, “From Where I Stand,” and is co-chair of the Global Peace Initiative of Women, a UN-sponsored organization creating a worldwide network of women peacemakers. The author of over fifty books, she is considered by theologians and historians to be a prophetic voice on issues related to faith and spirituality.

Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr., is Senior Minister Emeritus of The Riverside Church. He was the first African American to lead this multicultural, interdenominational congregation in New York City. Widely known as a “preacher’s preacher,” he recently launched “The Revival: Time for Moral Revolution of Values” with Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, the founder of the Moral Mondays movement. This multi-city campaign is aimed at promoting awareness about social injustice and inequality while also calling for more love and mercy in political discourse.

Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell is an ordained minister in two Christian denominations, the Disciples of Christ and the American Baptist Church. Ordained at the age of 50, she went on to become the first woman to serve as the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches. She also served as Director of the Department of Religion at the Chautauqua Institution for 14 years. Widely regarded for her work on behalf of the ecumenical interfaith movement, she frequently lectures on poverty, social justice, religious freedom and human rights.

John P. Blessington is Senior Executive Producer, and Liz Kineke is Producer. In creating the topics and content of this CBS Cultural and Religious Documentary, they sought input from religious scholars, clergy and others, including Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Islamic, Sikh and various interfaith organizations.

Following the Sept. 18th air date, this program may be viewed again at “Like” us on and follow us on Twitter @CBSReligion.

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