Subject: NCC Weekly News: With the Grand Imam and the Pope in Cairo

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From Jim: My speech at Al Azhar in Cairo
I extend greetings to His Eminence, the Grand Imam, His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, His Holiness Pope Francis, His Beatitude the Ecumenical Patriarch, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, your eminences, distinguished guests, friends, sisters, and brothers.

I bring you greetings of peace. Jesus taught, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God” (Matt. 5:9). I am convinced that the world cannot live in peace until Christians, Muslims, and Jews have learned to live in peace with and have respect for one another, working for the common good of all humankind.

I am grateful to the Grand Imam of Al Azhar for the invitation to speak at this important peace conference. We at the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA have deep respect for the Grand Imam and appreciate his outreach to the Christian community. We have taken note of his journeys in recent years to the Vatican, to the World Council of Churches, to Canterbury, and to visit church leaders in Germany. It is our prayer he will soon visit the United States and we stand ready to give assistance to him.

It is an indication of the Grand Imam’s sincere desire for peace and dialogue that so many important religious leaders from around the world have come to Cairo for this gathering.

I first participated in a peace march when I was a boy and joined my mother and father in a religious protest against the unjust war the United States was waging in Vietnam. As a young adult, I joined in a peace march calling for an end to the nuclear arms race and for complete nuclear disarmament. I was arrested in front of the White House shortly after the beginning of the disastrous U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and, today, I oppose President Trump’s plan to increase U.S. military spending.

My nation, the United States of America, has been waging war throughout my life. We American Christians have a major responsibility to be a strong voice for peace and for a reorientation of our foreign policy away from warfare. It is because of my faith in God which is rooted in the Abrahamic tradition that I have been a consistent and unwavering advocate for peace and I commit to you today that I will continue to raise my voice as long as I shall live.

Because our nation spends more on the military than any other nation and is the largest exporter of weapons to the world, American Christians must work harder for peace.

The National Council of Churches has been a constant proponent for reconciliation and understanding between Christians, Jews, and Muslims. One of our major emphases is peacebuilding with our Muslim neighbors.

We are actively resisting President Trump’s attempt to halt Muslim refugees from entering the United States. We are part of the legal struggle to halt implementation of his executive order. We have issued an “Ecumenical Declaration to Protect Welcome and Restore Hope,” and we are encouraging our local churches to hold a Refugee Sunday. We do this because our faith compels us to welcome and care for widows, orphans, strangers, immigrants, and refugees. We refuse to allow the Christian faith to be used for blatantly racist and anti-Muslim purposes.

The National Council of Churches sponsors Christian-Muslim and Christian-Jewish dialogues. Soon, we will hold Christian-Buddhist and Christian-Hindu dialogues, as well. These dialogues are essential to building relationships, creating greater understanding, developing community, and exploring differences. I believe our efforts are consistent with those of the Grand Imam who speaks regularly of the necessity of interreligious dialogue, of peace, and of tolerance.

In the United States, my Council was a co-founder of Shoulder to Shoulder, an organization comprised of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim organizations which work together to combat Islamophobia. We hold an annual seminar for emerging religious leaders to prepare them for leadership in interreligious attempts to end anti-Muslim sentiment and to promote inclusive pluralism in the U.S. We also work to expand interfaith movements across the nation and we act to confront attempts to deny Muslims the opportunity to build mosques and community centers.

We are deeply concerned about the use of violence in the name of any religion. God is not the author of hate and is not honored by such violence. We share the suffering of the churches in the Middle East. The recent Christian Palm Sunday bombings here in Egypt are a source of great pain for us. The Coptic Orthodox Church in the U.S. is part of the NCC and we weep with them as they grieve.

Our work for peace is global. Just three days ago, the general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Korea and I met with U.S. government officials to call for diplomacy to end the crisis on the Korean Peninsula. Threats of war do not advance the cause of peace.

We are most thankful for the initiatives of the Common Word and the Marrakesh Declaration as a basis for religious freedom and full citizenship of all and we are especially pleased by the efforts of the Grand Imam and others to secure the rights of religious minorities in Muslim-majority countries. These critical initiatives for religious liberty find their roots in the Quran.

Just as we seek to protect the full and equal rights of Muslims in the United States, we support your attempts to protect the full and equal rights of all people in Muslim-majority nations.

As followers of Jesus who is call in scripture the Prince of Peace, we wish to cooperate with all–Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others–to build societies of peace and justice where religious liberty is honored and where we strive together for the common good.

Our three traditions share the commands to love God and neighbor. These we believe are the essence of the presence of God’s reign.

It is incumbent for the leaders of our faiths to commit to one another and with one another to speak and work for peace with justice. I so pledge myself and the National Council of Churches to be a partner with you in this holy endeavor.

-Delivered by Jim Winkler, April 27, 2017, Cairo

Grace and Peace,
Jim Winkler
General Secretary and President

Popes Francis, Tawadros II sign declaration to end controversy over rebaptism

The declaration seeks “not to repeat baptism” when converting from one church to the other

Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church and Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church signed a declaration on Friday during the former’s visit to Egypt, agreeing that rebaptism should not be held for Christians wishing to convert from one church to the other.

The declaration, published by the Vatican, stated, “today we, Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II, in order to please the heart of Lord Jesus, as well as that of our sons and daughters in faith, mutually declare that we, with one mind and heart, will seek sincerely not to repeat the baptism that has been administered in either of our Churches for any person who wishes to join the other. This we confess in obedience to the Holy Scriptures and the faith of the three Ecumenical Councils assembled in Nicaea, Constantinople, and Ephesus.”

Ishak Ibrahim, researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), explained that rebaptism had been one of the main doctrinal differences throughout the past 15 centuries, in which churches did not acknowledge one another.

Ecumenical Patriarch speaks on role of religion in world peace

Protecting human freedom and dignity is a vital contribution to peace-building by religious communities, said Ecumenical Patriarch His All-Holiness Bartholomew I as he spoke at the Al-Azhar International Peace Conference on 27-28 April in Egypt.

“During the last two decades, humanity has experienced continuous terrorist attacks, which are the cause of death and hurt of thousands of people, and which are becoming the greatest threat and source of fear for contemporary societies,” he said. “Since then, religions have been often suspected or openly accused for inspiring terrorism and violence.”

Religion is a vital factor in the peace process, Bartholomew said. “Religion can, of course, divide by causing intolerance and violence. But this is rather its failure, not its essence, which is the protection of human dignity.”

Interreligious dialogue recognizes the differences of religious traditions and promotes peaceful coexistence and cooperation between people and cultures, he continued. “Interreligious dialogue does not mean to deny one’s own faith, but rather to change one’s mind or attitude towards the other.”

Ruling greeted with confusion, hope

At the end of the day, Bishop Karen Oliveto remains bishop of the Mountain Sky Area even after The United Methodist Church’s top court ruled consecrating a gay bishop violates church law.

Judicial Council said in Decision 1341 the bishop would still be in “good standing” until an administrative or judicial process is completed.

“It has been a very stressful time of waiting — waiting for clarity. And I’m very excited that I get to continue to do the job God has called me to do and that the community has affirmed — and that we get to return to the Mountain Sky Area to work with clergy and laity there,” Oliveto told United Methodist News Service. She was at the Council of Bishops’ meeting in Dallas.

The decision is being greeted with confusion, but also with hope that the Commission on a Way Forward has time to do its work on finding a path to unity.

“We acknowledge that the decision does not help to ease the disagreements, impatience and anxiety that permeates The United Methodist Church over the matter of human sexuality, and particularly this case,” said Bishop Bruce R. Ough, president of the Council of Bishops.

49 Bells to Honor Victims of Pulse Tragedy

Following the Pulse tragedy in Orlando, some of the mothers of the Pulse victims reached out to the City of Orlando and the One Orlando Alliance with a special idea: find churches around the world willing to toll their church bells 49 times in tribute of the 49 loved ones taken that day. 

The idea has come to life and the 49 Bells project will be a part of the Act. Love. Give. Movement, taking place on June 12, 2017, officially named “Orlando United Day – A Day of Love and Kindness.” This day formally dedicates June 12 to the 49 innocent lives taken at Pulse Orlando on June 12, 2016 in Orlando, Florida.

The announcement recognizes and reaffirms the community’s commitment to the Pulse survivors, family members of the victims and their loves ones, in addition to recognizing an outpour of global compassion and love displayed in the wake of the tragedy.

“As parents, we don’t want our children to be forgotten, and most importantly, we would love the support of spreading love, not hate, as a message for humankind.” said Mayra Alvear, mother of Amanda Alvear, who was only 25 when she lost her life during the Pulse Shootings.

Episcopalians advocate for protecting God’s creation at Peoples Climate March and beyond

Episcopalians from across the United States joined tens of thousands of people on April 29 for the Peoples Climate March in Washington, D.C., and for hundreds of sister marches in cities around the world.

Braving sweltering heat in the nation’s capital, marchers rallied for action against climate change amid fear that the White House will reverse progress made on the issue under former President Barack Obama. Episcopalians were part of a large, diverse faith-based group of marchers who saw it as their role to make the moral case for protecting God’s creation.

“What really impressed me … was the incredible passion of the people, of all ages,” said McKelden Smith, who helped Church of the Heavenly Rest in New York City organize a bus trip to Washington to participate in the march. “It felt like an unstoppable moral force in the streets, and that was very moving to me.”

The climate march came one week after the March for Science, which followed the Native Nation’s Rise march, the Women’s March and other prominent marches and demonstrations joined by Episcopalians over the last nine months.
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