Subject: NCC Weekly News: The Slow, Steady Work of Unity

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From Jim: The Slow, Steady Work of Unity
A friend of mine was assigned many years ago to be pastor of a Methodist Church in a heavily Catholic neighborhood in the Bronx. One day, as he approached the church building he saw a group of boys pinching pennies on the front steps. He told them it was inappropriate for them to be gambling on the steps of a house of worship. One of the boys sneered at him and said, “My ma says this ain’t a real church!”

Last week, I attended the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's assembly. Ecumenical guests and representatives were invited to be witnesses and to stand behind Catholic and Lutheran representatives to celebrate the “Declaration on the Way,” a document that marks a path toward greater unity between the two churches. 

We’ve come a long way over the past half century and have reached a point where most of us do, in fact, recognize one another’s churches as authentic expressions of the body of Christ. While Lutherans and Catholics are not at the point of celebrating the Eucharist together just yet, they have identified 32 “Statements of Agreement” hammered out over 50 years of dialogue.

ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton noted, “Though we have not yet arrived, we have claimed that we are, in fact, on the way to unity. After 500 years of division and 50 years of dialogue, this action must be understood in the context of other significant agreements we have reached, most notably the ‘Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification’ in 1999.”

I know there are those who are scandalized by church divisions and who cannot understand why the church of Jesus Christ is so divided. But, there are many things in life that are baffling: Why is the world so violent? Why do we still have nuclear weapons? Why are there so many poor people? Why is there so much racism? Why are women treated as second class citizens? Why does God let bad things happen in the world?

As a Christian, I’ve been involved in peace and justice efforts since I was a teenager. It took me a long time to accept that my efforts to make the world a better place are connected to larger movements and social forces. I might not see the results of my work during my lifetime. 

I worked hard to avert the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and still wonder what more I could have done. On the other hand, I worked hard to secure federal regulation of tobacco products and know that many thousands of lives have been saved as a result. Passage of that legislation took more than a decade. There are some matters that take time. Church unity is one of them.

What I particularly appreciate about the “Declaration on the Way Forward” is not only its celebration of what has been achieved and its identification of the obstacles to be overcome and a plan of action to get there, but its expression of the urgency for doing so. The Declaration recognizes that a "holy impatience" exists to make further progress toward unity, particularly as we are on the eve of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. There is an importance, far beyond mere symbolism, to achieving unity in a world fragmented and polarized. Let us all pray the way forward shines a path for each of us.

Yours in Christ,

Jim Winkler
President and General Secretary

God, the Baltimore Police, and Everytown

Over a year ago, Baltimore erupted into violence after the funeral of Freddie Gray, a young man who died in police custody. At the time, Gray’s death was considered to be the fault of “a few bad apples” in the Baltimore Police Department (BPD). The egregious facts surrounding the situation revealed a more far-reaching problem, so much so that Baltimore’s mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, requested a thorough civil rights investigation of the BPD by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ).

Last week, the DOJ released a scathing report concluding “that there is reasonable cause to believe that BPD engages in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the Constitution or federal law.” The findings were alarming and revealed systemic racial bias, profiling and abuse inflicted upon the African American community.

This 164-page report was very thorough, citing specific incidences and patterns of practices of the BPD that included:
  • Failure to sufficiently supervise officer’s enforcement activities
  • Failure to hold officers accountable for misconduct
  • Failure to coordinate with other agencies
  • Failure to implement community policing principles.
Many of the incidents cited in the report included involvement of higher-ups such as sergeants, lieutenants, and majors. In one instance, a shift commander emailed a template to use for trespassing arrests at public housing complexes. Rather than leaving space to indicate the race of the individual being arrested, it is filled out with “black male”, prejudging that only black men would be arrested.

Clearly, the people of Baltimore should be concerned about this. But if you don’t live in Baltimore, or are not a part of an affected community, is this something Christians should be concerned about?

ELCA presiding bishop reflects on work of the church and looks to future priorities

In her report to the 2016 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Churchwide Assembly, ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton reflected on the ELCA's work over the past three years and lifted up future priorities for the church.

Eaton said much of her focus the past three years has been on the "how and why we do this work," reminding the assembly of her four emphases for this church: We are church. We are Lutheran. We are church together. We are church for the sake of the world.

"I think it's important when we organize our work together that we understand that we are church first," Eaton said. "And we need to be clear that our lives are formed by word and sacrament, that we gather as the beloved children of God around the means of grace, that our lives are in Christ."

Emphasizing the Lutheran identity and the distinctive Lutheran voice, Eaton said she hoped the church is beginning to understand that "God is calling us to be a diverse, inclusive, multicultural church."

Lawson: Black Lives Matter shows need for change

A great social awakening that started with the civil rights movement is gaining strength today with the Black Lives Matter movement, said the Rev. James Lawson, a United Methodist pastor who the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. called “the leading theorist and strategist of nonviolence in the world.”

Missing from today’s activism, however, is the strategy of nonviolence, he said.

Lawson, the son and grandson of Methodist pastors, received his local preacher’s license in 1947 when he graduated from high school. He was introduced to the nonviolence teachings of Gandhi when he joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation, America’s oldest pacifist organization, during his college days. He spent three years in India as a missionary.

Lawson introduced the principles of Gandhian nonviolence to King and other leaders of the 1960’s civil rights movement.

“BLM (Black Lives Matter) is exposing still another change in the movement towards our future because the issue of police brutality and killing is the issue of slavery. It’s the issue of the lynchings of the 20th century for which we have more than 6,000 documented experiences. It is the issue of deaths that occur in jails that are called suicide, but they are beatings and killings.”

Presiding Bishop names Rebecca Linder Blachly as director of government relations

Presiding Bishop and Primate Michael Curry has appointed Rebecca Linder Blachly as director of government relations, a member of the presiding bishop’s staff.

“Rebecca Blachly provides the capability and knowledge that the Episcopal Church wants and needs when working with our government leaders,” Curry said. “Please join me in welcoming Rebecca to her new position, coming at a critical juncture for religion-government relations.”

Based in Washington, D.C., 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 policymakers in Washington including, the White House, Congress, the diplomatic community, 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.

Dorhauer, UCC leaders build framework for future

"That they may all be one." (John 17:21) That prayer from Jesus, the church's motto for almost 60 years and one of the core principles of the United Church of Christ, has fueled an intentional commitment to be servants to others during the first year the Rev. John C. Dorhauer has held the office of general minister and president.

Building on Dorhauer's mantra, "The Holy Spirit envisions a world in which the United Church of Christ matters," the congregations of the United Church of Christ are addressing issues that make a difference in the world in 2016. Addressing racism through the Black Lives Matter movement and the upcoming white privilege curriculum, standing against discrimination, including that aimed at the LGBTQ community, and offering extravagant welcome and visible public support for Muslim neighbors through its Building Bridges initiative, the UCC is reaching out to like-minded people in service to others.

Congregations in the Pacific Northwest Conference banding together to hang banners against Islamophobia and church members in Texas forming a circle of solidarity around a local mosque after a shooting are just two of the most recent examples.

"Around the country, congregations of the United Church of Christ are living into an ongoing commitment to be an interfaith partner, to reframe understandings of how Christians relate to our Muslim neighbors," said the Rev. John C. Dorhauer. "At every level, the United Church of Christ is expressing its solidarity and support of Muslim neighbors who continue to suffer indignities and injustices. It makes me very proud."

Wielding Nonviolence in the Midst of Violence

Nonviolent Peaceforce is excited to announce the publication of Wielding Nonviolence in the Midst of Violence, available in most parts of the world in print through Amazon, and electronically through iBooks (accessed through your Apple device). In Europe, the print and electronic version are available through Amazon, iBooks, and other booksellers.

More civilians are displaced for longer periods of time because of war and violent conflict than any other time since World War II. Policy makers, diplomats, military peacekeepers, academics and civil society leaders are all grappling with how to effectively protect civilians. Unarmed civilian protection is an emerging method that is protecting civilians in some of the most violent places in the world.

Wielding Nonviolence in the Midst of Violence is a collection of case studies that describe practices that different civil society and international organizations are using to de-escalate violence, increase safety and security of civilians, and strengthen local peace infrastructures through nonviolent means. This volume provides a window into how unarmed civilian protection and accompaniment is working in Colombia, the Philippines, Palestine, and South Sudan. Each case study is based on interviews with protection officers and those close to the conflict and intervention, extensive fieldwork in each location, and in-depth desk reviews of relevant documents. Seventy-seven best practices are identified to help inform and improve future protection work.

Wielding Nonviolence is the most in-depth analysis of unarmed protection methods ever compiled. Academics, policy makers, practitioners and all who are concerned about the spread of war will be especially interested in this book. We hope you will enjoy this opportunity to get a closer look at how unarmed strategies are working to protect and save lives on the ground, and join with us in working to expand the knowledge and use of these good practices in unarmed civilian protection. By increasing awareness of the effectiveness and potential for unarmed strategies, we can transform the way the world responds to conflict. 

This Week's Podcast: Here Comes the Apocalypse!

The NCC is bringing the best, most interesting and relevant voices from the faith community to your mobile device. Every week NCC communications director Rev. Steven D. Martin interviews faith leaders, activists, and people from across the NCC's 38 member communions and affiliated organizations.

This week's guests: Kenneth Briggs, author of "The Invisible Bestseller: Searching for the Bible in America," speaks with us about the strange paradox that the Bible is still the most widely owned, yet least read and understood, book in American life.

Be sure to subscribe to the podcast in the iTunes Store and Stitcher Radio. NEW: We're now also on iHeartRadio.  If you like what you're hearing, please write a review. By doing this you will help us reach the widest possible audience!

Ecumenical Opportunities:

Nominate a White House Champion of Change for Extracurricular Enrichment for Marginalized Girls: We're looking for people and organizations advancing equity for marginalized girls, including girls of color, through extracurricular and afterschool enrichment programs.

Social Justice Education Coordinator, Mercy Institute Justice Team: The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, a Roman Catholic religious order located in Silver Spring, MD, is seeking a full time education coordinator as part of its three-person Social Justice Team. Primary focus: to develop education and action resources, and facilitate educational experiences and communication opportunities to engage members and ministry partners on Mercy’s justice priorities. Send cover letter and resume by August 10th to

The Legal Action Center is seeking a Criminal Justice Policy Associate in our Washington, DC office. Information about LAC can be found at Please contact Sherie Boyd ( for a copy of the job description and with any questions.

UCC Executive Minister of Justice and Witness Ministries: On July 1, The Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ is beginning a search process for a new Executive Minister with the goal of presenting a candidate for election to the UCC Board of Directors at its March 2017 meeting.

Click here to learn more
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