The National Council of Churches’ Christian Unity Gathering, 2016
By Rachel Chapman
Opening worship on the 4th was led by The Most Blessed Tikhon, Archbishop of Washington, Metropolitan of All America and Canada (Orthodox Church of America); closing worship by Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church the Rev. Michael Curry, their first African American bishop.
The United Church of Christ was represented in number by General Minister and President, Rev. John Dorhauer, Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, members of the national staff from Cleveland and Washington, DC as well as others with a vested interest in social justice issues. Rev. Neichelle Guidry of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago led well-attended morning Bible Studies.
The National Council of Churches formally organized in 1950 “but the ecumenical spirit in the USA emerged a half century earlier… In 1907, Walter Rauschenbusch, a Baptist theologian and social activist, wrote Christianity and the Social Crisis, and his words galvanized church leaders into a plan of action to address what the churches already knew not only about the hostile environments millions of non-white Americans were living in, but also the poor living and working conditions millions of lower class whites and immigrants were experiencing. In May 1908, 32 Christian communions met in Philadelphia to form the Federal Council of Churches.”* The communions’ commitment for unity lasted through decades of adversity.
Fast forward to 1950; the Federal Council of Churches joined with other faith communions to form the National Council of Churches. Although some things have changed, the commitment of the NCC “to proclaim the word and love of God to all of God’s children and to speak for the marginalized”*, has remained. “The National Council of Churches has been a prophetic voice for justice and peace for its entire existence. The NCC played a vital role in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, supported conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War, was a voice for peace throughout the Cold War, and spoke up for religious liberty for all after 9/11, standing with our Muslim brothers and sisters.”*
Today there are 38 member communions of the NCC. It periodically selects priority issues from those important to the general population. Currently those council-wide priorities are mass incarceration and interreligious relations with a focus on peace, and voter rights disparities.
When asked his thoughts on the Christian Unity Gathering, Rev. Dorhauer shared:
“The most encouraging moments for me occurred in an early meeting when discussion about forming a Truth and Reconciliation Commission around race in America was discussed. General Secretary Winkler noted that the delegation of leaders from the World Council of Churches that visited just a couple weeks earlier were appalled at the racism they witnessed across the country. They encouraged him and the National Council of Churches to respond to this. We also referenced the work that the United Church of Canada has done regarding Truth and Reconciliation. If the NCC can utilize the agency of the Churches that come together under its umbrella, the impact here could be deep. I am hopeful that something of substance will come of this.
In a debrief with the United Church of Christ’s Interfaith and Ecumenical Officer, the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson (who was in attendance with me at the gathering), we committed to bringing a Truth and Reconciliation resolution to Synod. We also talked about the need for an Apology with some substance to it being a part of this – since reconciliation cannot precede the Apology. It would bring me a great deal of pride to see the UCC take the lead on this. Either way, we are going to bring to bear our resources to move this conversation forward.”
Rev. Dorhauer went on to say: “I must add, though, that the excitement I felt in raising this matter to the level of the Executive Committee of the NCC was dampened a bit by sidebar conversations that I heard later in the meeting. It became evident that quite a few leaders who were in attendance at that meeting did not favor an emphasis on Truth and Reconciliation. I suspect that Secretary Winkler will meet some opposition to this as we move forward with discussion and action. I remain hopeful that Christian leaders from across the country can utilize their collective agency to raise important questions about the impact of White Privilege on the landscape of American culture and politics. I truly hope an effort to call for Truth and Reconciliation will not end with the very little attention we gave it in Baltimore. I will do what I can to keep that conversation moving forward in the hopes that something truly substantive and transformational will come of it.”
It was acknowledged by some that reconciliation implies that racial, religious and social relationships were once “right” in this country and somehow gone astray, suggesting the work should be toward Truth and Conciliation rather than reconciliation.
Please visit the National Council of Churches website at www.nationalcouncilofchurches.us to learn more about the Christian Unity Gathering and work being done to continue “the commitment of the NCC to proclaiming God’s word and expressing the love of Christ for all persons at every level of society.”*
* Excerpts taken from the NCC website