The Centennial Gathering of the National Council of Churches (NCC) and Church World Service (CWS) expressed strong support Wednesday (Nov. 11) for beleaguered Christian minorities around the world, and urged immediate and comprehensive reform of immigration laws in the U.S.
The Gathering also called upon U.S. senators to confirm the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty II and issued a message on “honoring the sacredness of religious others.”
But the day wasn’t devoted entirely to testimony on urgent issues. The Gathering also heard a Bible study on its theme scripture by Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Church of America, and celebrated a unanimous vote to welcome the Community of Christ into its membership.
Speaking with flashes of humor, Archbishop Demetrios explained that NCC general secretary Michael Kinnamon has asked him to exegete a single verse — Luke 24:48, “You are witnesses of these things,” which is the theme of the Centennial Gathering.
But smiling at Kinnamon, Demetrios said, “I have to go a bit beyond that because this is exegetically needed in order to establish the meaning of this short, cryptic passage.”
As Demetrios began to speak, his quiet voice was difficult to hear and he was interrupted so the microphone could be adjusted.
The audience laughed and applauded when the archbishop quipped, “Being in the most advanced country in technology it is a wonderful thing to suffer from this type of misadventure.”
Scholars have called the passage cryptic because in Greek it has no noun, the archbishop said, literally, “you witnesses of these.”
“You don’t need orders (as in the Great Commission in Matthew 28), only: you are witnesses and that’s it!” Demetrios said, his voice rising. “Forgive the intensity of the voice,” he said, laughing.
In the passage, the resurrected Jesus is walking with two apostles on the way to Emmaus and he opens their minds to recognize him — and to challenge them to be witnesses.
“What we have here is preaching, repentance and forgiveness of sins,” the archbishop said. “Repentance is a reference to the human condition ... Forgiveness is offered by God. It is a beautiful combination of the substance of the Gospel.”
Community of Christ
The Community of Christ, once known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was enthusiastically recommended for membership by the Membership and Ecclesial Relations Committee.
NCC General Secretary Michael Kinnamon welcomed the church’s application to membership.
“They bring gifts for this whole body,” Kinnamon told the delegates. “They have experience as a church that is being marginalized and out of that comes a witness that they share to our own benefit. I have experienced in this church the power of the Holy Spirit to transform a church in the direction of ecumenical commitment but now understands its own need to grow in love and faith to the common God we all serve.”
Voting as communions and individual delegates, the church was unanimously accepted into membership.
After the vote, the Rev. Dr. Dale E. Luffman, ecumenical and interfaith officer for the church, expressed his thanks.
“We’re all having a hard time holding back the emotion because our hearts are all filled with gratitude for the grace and compassion of this body,” Luffman said. “We are here because of you and because the Holy Spirit at work in our lives and at work in your lives and at work in God’s world. We know that our witness is informed by your witness, and we hope that our witness will be in partnership with yours. We join with you as brothers and sisters — saying simply, thanks be to God.”
Statements and Resolutions
The Gathering, acting as General Assembly of the NCC and CWS, unanimously adopted a “Call to Action on Comprehensive Immigration Reform” that had been passed separately by the NCC and CWS boards.
The resolution calls on the president and Congress “to recommit themselves to the comprehensive, effective, just and humane reform of immigration laws and enforcement structures” and called on churches “to actively engage” political leaders to “insist on immigration reform at every level.”
The statement condemned Arizona's anti-immigration act — “SB 1070” — which was adopted in April.
“A Call to Ratify the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START II)” was passed by unanimous voice vote.
Miriam Burnett, chair of the NCC’s Justice and Advocacy Commission, explained the call succinctly: “We would like nuclear disarmament to be stepped up.” She called on churches to contact undecided U.S. senators to urge their support for ratification of the treaty.
A “Resolution on the Violence in Iraq” expressed “the solidarity of ... member communions with the Christian community of Iraq, and particularly with the community of Our Lady of Deliverance Syriac Catholic Church” that had been bombed by terrorists on Oct. 31.
The resolution called for the protection of Christians and other religious communities “so that they may live and function enjoying all the benefits guaranteed to them by article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
A “Resolution on Myanmar” said the delegates are “deeply aggrieved at the human costs of the decades of harsh oppression by the military regime” in the former Burma and called upon the U.S. government to “continue to promote an international investigation of human rights abuses” there. The statement called on member communions “to intensify their efforts to support refugees from Myanmar.”
Diana Eck, chair of the NCC’s Interfaith Relations Commission, introduced a message “Honoring the Sacredness of Religious Others: Reaffirming our Commitment to Positive Interfaith Relations.” The message took note of controversies over the building of Islamic houses of worship and “media-hyped threats to burn the Muslim community’s sacred scriptures,” and condemned “violence committed in the name of any religion.”
The message declared “that the Church, as the body of Christ, is to be a transformative presence for building peaceable communities in the world.”
More than 400 people of faith gather here this week (Nov. 9-11) to celebrate a century of ecumenical engagement and to discuss how the churches might live and work together in an uncertain future.
The Centennial Gathering of the NCC and CWS marked the one hundredth anniversary of the 1910 World Mission Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, an event many church historians regard as the beginning of the modern ecumenical movement.
The theme for the Centennial Gathering was “Witnesses of These Things: Ecumenical Engagement in a New Era.” The theme is taken from Luke 24:48 which is the scriptural theme text for the 2010 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity — an additional reminder that there is one, multi-faceted ecumenical movement.