Subject: NCC Weekly News: What Kind of Church?

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From Jim: What Kind of Church Do We Need?
Last Sunday was confirmation Sunday at my local church. Young people were presented to the congregation by their sponsors, given Bibles, and asked to confirm their faith in God and their choice to join the church.

One young person, contending with significant disabilities, moved many of us to tears as we were aware of her determination to go through the confirmation process against long odds.

I have been blessed with the opportunity to meet with the confirmands for a number of years to discuss the reality of the wider church beyond our local congregation. Each year I have stressed to the youth that this is a solemn coming of age moment, and that they have free will to decide if this is the best course for them to take. Thankfully, I haven't frightened any away from their decision to commit to Christ.

For by choosing to commit to Christianity, they are going against the grain of our culture. Not only is church membership declining in America, Christian values of forgiveness, sacrifice, and love for neighbor often contrast with those of a society that values individualism, money, even greed, and is saturated with violence.

In my brief time each year with the confirmands I talk about how the church approaches hunger, poverty, violence, war, racism, sexuality, capital punishment, and other social issues they are already thinking about. Like many others, I find that young people are much more engaged when considering how to apply the Christian faith to everyday situations and they are discouraged to learn that a great many adults don't want the church to address such matters.

In Matthew 7:24-29, Jesus says that "Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand." We are to be doers of the word. It all boils down to loving God and loving our neighbor as we love ourself.

A recent Pew Research Center study on America's changing religious landscape has received a great deal of attention. While the share of the population identifying as Christians has declined, the study does not indicate Americans have lost their thirst for faith. Large numbers believe in God but don't find a need for the church.

I think this process has been going on for a long, long time. I remember discussion in my church youth group 40 years ago in which some of my close friends who were adherents of Ayn Rand asserted it was perfectly OK to be a Christian and not be part of a church. I countered with the opinion that Christianity is a profoundly communal religion and that accountability to other believers was essential to living out the faith.

Perhaps the question isn't why people are rejecting organized religion but what kind of religion people are avoiding. I suspect that when any group marches under the banner of Christ but rejects others based on their race, sexuality, gender, or nationality, ultimately they alienate believers and non-believers alike.

A church based based on the love of Christ and acting out his will, rather than supporting society's values, is what we need.


Interfaith Letter to President Obama on the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar

Dear President Obama,

We write to you as Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faith leaders in the United States to urge that immediate action be taken to save the lives of thousands stranded at sea in Southeast Asia. It is a moral imperative that the United States do everything in its power to implore and support Southeast Asian governments to launch an immediate search and rescue mission to prevent an impending mass atrocity at sea. It is also crucial that the U.S. government address the root cause of this crisis, the policies of persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority by the government of Burma.

While we are heartened by the announcement that Indonesia and Malaysia are now willing to accept victims on their shores, the fact remains that without immediate search and rescue efforts thousands will continue to face death at sea. We call upon the United States to use all of its influence to ensure that Southeast Asian governments assist those in need to reach the safety of their shores. This should include an immediate search and rescue operation that utilizes U.S. resources to save imperiled lives. Several thousand Rohingya asylum seekers and Bangladeshi migrants, perhaps more, are stranded on rickety boats in the Andaman Sea.
Beatification of Archbishop Óscar Romero hailed by ecumenical leaders

Leaders of churches and ecumenical organizations have expressed respect and appreciation following the beatification of Archbishop Óscar Romero on Sunday 24 May. In the Roman Catholic Church, beatification is a significant step in the process leading to canonization as a saint. Romero was murdered while presiding at Mass in San Salvador on 24 March 1980. He had been archbishop of the capital of El Salvador for three years.

Cardinal Angelo Amato, Roman Catholic prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, has been widely quoted as saying, "Romero, from heaven, wants every Salvadoran to walk the path of peace and justice."

The beatification of Romero encouraged Pastor Angel Peiró, from the Church of the Disciples of Christ in Argentina, to share his memories of ecumenical participation in Romero’s funeral at San Salvador’s cathedral.

Peiró attended the ceremony on 30 May 1980 alongside WCC staff member Rev. Charles Harper and seminal Latin American liberation theologian Father Gustavo Gutierrez. Peiró was responsible for reading the gospel lesson at that ceremony.

“The spirit of the ceremony was truly ecumenical, as was the spirit of our work in Central America during those years,” recalled Peiró.

Statement by Interchurch Ministries of Nebraska to the Repeal of the Death Penalty

The death penalty has existed in one form or another for over 6000 years. “An eye for an eye” was the wisdom of the desert people and ancient civilizations before the time of Christ and since. Beating, stoning, roasting, burning at the stake, drowning, and the ultimate and most ghastly form of capital punishment, crucifixion, each stand in line with hanging, electrocution, and lethal injection. No form of capital punishment has ever been humane, nor has the death penalty been an effective deterrent to murder. Civilization, to this day, knows murder, among other violent, life taking crimes. Perhaps it is time for us to respond to violence in new, non-violent ways.

This week the Nebraska Legislature took a bold, thoughtful step away from capital punishment as a response to violent crime. Nebraska joins most other states in the United States and most culturally advanced nations in the world who vow not to take a life for a life; not to let the desert wisdom of an “eye for an eye” replace the wisdom of this new age and our bright future in the 21st Century. Interchurch Ministries of Nebraska applauds the courage of our state legislators and stand ready to offer our expertise and resources to work with government to fashion a better response to violent crime in Nebraska.

Interchurch Ministries of Nebraska (IMN)
2013 South 13th Street, Lincoln, NE 68502

Interfaith Letter Expressing Grave Concerns on Drone Warfare Sent to President Obama and Congress

Twenty-nine faith leaders from Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh traditions have sent an Interfaith Letter on Drone Warfare to President Barak Obama and the U.S. Congress.

The signers say it is morally unacceptable that thousands of innocent people have been killed by US lethal drone strikes. The letter also raises concerns that targeted killings by drones lack transparency and accountability. Finally the letter argues that drone strikes do not make Americans safer, but rather aid recruitment by extremist groups.

Elizabeth Beavers, Co-Convener of the Interfaith Working Group on Drone Warfare, noted that many human rights groups and journalists have tried to tally the casualties from drone strikes. A recent study by the Open Society Foundation found that in nine case studies in Yemen, innocent civilians were documented to have been killed in all nine drone strikes.

In their letter, the interfaith leaders point to more effective methods of combating extremism through nonviolent-creative strategies, including sustainable humanitarian and development assistance, and programs that address the political, economic and social exclusion that fuel radicalization.
God Cares About Truth and Justice

Rev. Kit Billings, Swedenborgian Church

We are in the midst of a social and cultural struggle, which is highlighted by the social unrest and protests over the death of Freddie Gray, a young African-American citizen born and raised in Baltimore. Similar protests happened in Ferguson, Missouri, in August, over the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by the police. The underlying complaint is that there is systemic unfairness, brutality, and violence being committed by some police officers and that our justice system is infected by bias and discrimination.

God cares ardently about truth and justice, because the roots of the "Tree of Life" (as the Lord is called in the Bible) are Divine Love itself (Revelation Revealed §933), and God loves everyone equally and forever. Thus, the Lord suffers when we suffer under injustice, violence, and oppression.

"And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations" (Rev. 22:2). Thus, truth symbolized by those leaves growing on all levels of life will bring us healing. As a church, we can help our country by proclaiming the healing and regenerative Divine Love and Truth, which is God, as we know it. We can also pray fervently for love, peace, and justice to prevail, as well as take action where we feel it is needed.
NEW NCC RESOURCE: Starter Kit for Teaching and Learning on Mass Incarceration

For over six decades, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has not only provided an opportunity for ecumenical cooperation among Christian communions, but also has effectively promoted peace and justice in Christ’s name. In more recent times, as the NCC has reconfigured itself to better address the needs of the twenty-first-century world, two key priorities of focus have been named, mass incarceration and interfaith relations with peacemaking. To address these priorities, Convening Tables have been established, allowing smaller groups of representatives to utilize their time and expertise for the benefit of the whole.

To this end, the NCC Convening Table on Christian Education, Ecumenical Faith Formation, and Leadership Development offers the following Starter Kit for Teaching and Learning on Mass Incarceration. This resource, developed over the past several months, is a toolbox replete with various offerings intended to inform and engage individuals, small groups, congregations, and classrooms alike.
Employment and Internship Opportunities

Faith in Public Life is a national strategy center for faith leaders working for social justice and the common good. FPL is seeking a Latino Program Director to build and lead a robust program that engages Latino clergy in both progressive policy advocacy and civic engagement.

FPL’s Latino program has two main components: 1) mobilize and amplify Latino faith voices around progressive immigration policies, and 2) to spearhead a ‘Faithful Voter’ GOTV program in Latino churches and other faith-centered groups in the Latino community.

Interviews are underway and the application deadline is June 1. Based in Washington, DC, but with travel to key states.

More information

Face to Face is a seven-week program that aims to invite students preparing for ministry in cultural, social, theological and contextual realities to understand, to motivate and to engage with the realities on how the fullness of life is being denied to the large majority of the world’s population.

We would like to inform you that the Building Life-Affirming Communities: Face To Face with the many poor and the many faiths in Asia is now accepting applications. This Program will be conducted in two locations -- Bishop’s College in Kolkata and Henry Martin Institute in Hyderabad, India -- from 3rd October to 16th November 2015.

Through this Program, the participants will come face to face with the issues on poverty and pluralism, specifically within the Asian context of many religions and many poor.

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