The Common Good

Christian Churches Together - Finally

Sojomail - February 15, 2007


"The debate should not be about the surge or its details. This debate should not even be about the Iraq war to date, mistakes that have been made, or whether we can, or cannot, win militarily. If we let Democrats force us into a debate on the surge or the current situation in Iraq, we lose."

- Excerpt of a memo from Reps. John Shadegg (R-AZ) and Peter Hoekstra (R-MI). (Source: Think Progress )

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Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis

Christian Churches Together - Finally

I want to alert our whole constituency to a development of major importance. Since 2001, a conversation has been quietly taking place among American church leaders from all of our church families about what it would take to come together in common fellowship, common unity, and common voice on the most important issues of our time. For many years now, the churches of the United States have been divided, with evangelical, pentecostal, mainline Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Black, Latino, and Asian Christians all gathered in different organizations and around separate "tables," often even with multiple tables within each group. While there has been cross-fertilization on projects, campaigns, and issues, there has been no genuinely "ecumenical" or "inter-denominational" organization in the United States that crossed all of our dividing lines – until now.

In Pasadena, California, last week, Christian Churches Together (CCT) was formally launched after almost six years of conversation, fellowship, worship, and prayer together. Thirty-six churches and national organizations from virtually all of the key U.S. church groups formally joined with one another over meetings on February 6-9, culminating in a powerful worship service with the church "families" visibly coming together.

A consensus has been reached on the key importance of evangelism and the biblical imperative to overcome poverty – and those two most basic commitments will shape the new fellowship. In Pasadena, each of the "five families" – Evangelical/Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, Racial/Ethnic, Historic Protestant, and Orthodox – each shared their interpretation of Jesus' "mission statement" in Luke 4:18, and asked, "Is Jesus’ proclamation our proclamation?" The convergence on the meaning of evangelization today was quite incredible; a strong emphasis on "discipleship" and "the kingdom of God" was central to all the presentations. Bishop Stephen Blaire, from the Catholic Diocese of Stockton, Calif., expressed our common understanding that the root of evangelism is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

And that relationship to Jesus is the foundation of our witness in the world. In a statement on poverty, the leaders said, "Our faith in Christ who is the truth compels us to confront the ignorance of and indifference to the scandal of widespread, persistent poverty in this rich nation. We must call this situation by its real names: moral failure, unacceptable injustice." The leaders of CCT declared, "We believe that a renewed commitment to overcome poverty is central to the mission of the church and essential to our unity in Christ." Dr. William Shaw of the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc., one of the founding "presidents" of CCT, said that poverty "will not be redressed without intentional and painful effort by the total U.S. community. CCT calls the country's conscience to that effort and commits itself to being a part of that redressing."

The next meeting of the church leaders will be in January of 2008, in Washington, D.C., in the heat of a presidential election campaign. In the nation’s capital, the church leaders from across America’s theological and political spectrum hope to both re-commit themselves to the mission of eliminating the "scandal" of U.S. domestic poverty and to call upon the candidates from both parties to put poverty near the very top of the nation’s political agenda. That, my friends, is a big deal.

"Seeing the leaders of all the participating churches and organizations standing and praying together in their commitment to this vision was a powerful, visible sign of hope," said Wes Granberg-Michaelson of the Reformed Church in America, chair of the CCT steering committee. "We have said from the beginning that our purpose is to grow closer together in Christ in order to strengthen our Christian witness in the world. In Pasadena we all experienced how this is truly happening and this fills us with joy for the future."

In a service of commitment and celebration to formally launch CCT, Bishop James Leggett of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church urged us to follow the prayer of Jesus, "that all might be one." Dr. Shaw, Bishop Leggett, Rev. Larry Pickens, Father Leonid Kishkovsky, and Bishop Richard Sklba of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (representing Cardinal William Keeler of the Archdiocese of Baltimore), the first presidents of the five faith families of CCT, joined in lighting candles as a sign of unity.

Quoting a statement from his mother, Methodist Rev. Pickens said that the wisdom that will keep CCT together is to "remember that you belong to God and God does not belong to you." Rev. Kishkovsky of the Orthodox Church in America said, "CCT is good news for American Christians. Our gathering of the wider spectrum of U.S. Christian churches is succeeding in building mutual trust and overcoming stereotypes. Our common hope and expectation is that CCT will enable our churches to offer a strong and united Christian moral voice and vision in the public square."

And for the first time in ecumenical gatherings, four national Christian organizations were also invited to a place at the churches' table: World Vision, Bread for the World, Evangelicals for Social Action, and Sojourners/Call to Renewal. This is all a very hopeful sign and one can only imagine the impact of all these churches' constituencies joining together in both more common fellowship and voice – especially as the idea of CCT spreads down to the congregational and community level of the churches' life. That is now the next step. God is good.

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Rose Marie Berger: Gender Jihad
Asra Nomani and I have a "e-relationship." I first heard about her in 2003 when she and her mother, Sajida, entered their mosque in Morgantown, West Virginia, by the front door and prayed in the same room with men. By gender-integrating the mosque, they broke a practice on the rise in many mosques, in which women are forced to pray behind partitions or in basements. I e-mailed Asra right away to send my support and find out more about her and the movement of progressive Muslim women that she’s helped to shape. We’ve been "e-friends" ever since. Nomani, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, has been very generous in introducing the readers of Sojourners magazine to the progressive face of Islam. In the latest issue of Sojourners, her article "A Faith of Their Own" highlights another aspect of the gender jihad - namely, Muslim women reforming male-controlled Islamic jurisprudence.

Jim Wallis: Just the Facts
The neo-cons running this administration’s foreign policy are like most ideologues. Rather than allowing the facts to determine a course of action, they have their predetermined opinions and then shape the evidence to match. On Sunday, a group of anonymous senior United States military officials held a press briefing in Baghdad to present their case that Iran was supplying weapons to Shiite groups in Iraq. They displayed mortar shells, rocket-propelled grenades and an explosive device capable of blasting through an armored Humvee. According to The New York Times, the officials also asserted, without providing direct evidence, that Iranian leaders had authorized smuggling those weapons into Iraq for use against the Americans. The officials said such an assertion was an inference based on general intelligence assessments.

Jeff Carr: Words, Not War, with Iran
It's been in the works for quite some time, but yesterday we announced my participation in a delegation of 13 religious leaders who will be leaving this coming Saturday, February 17, for a trip to Iran. Our delegation, which is being led by the Mennonites and Quakers, will be meeting with a variety of religious leaders (including Christians and Muslims), civil society leaders, a group of female members of Parliament, former President Khatami, and current President Ahmadinejad. The purpose of the trip is to deepen dialogue between religious and political leaders in the hope of defusing tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

Bill McKibben: Global Warming Protests Get Creative
In mid-January, a few of us launched a Web site: We didn't have a big group behind us, and we didn't have any money – just an idea, that the time had finally come for Americans to move past concern about global warming and on to real action. We'd organized a march across Vermont last summer, which was a great success – it convinced all of our congressional candidates, from socialists to conservative Republicans, to put global warming front and center in their campaigns. But the final day of the 50-mile pilgrimage drew 1,000 people – and we were shocked to read in the newspapers that that represented the biggest demonstration about climate change in American history.

Tony Campolo: Are Evangelicals Fixated on Homosexuality?
In Letters to a Young Evangelical, I call young people to move beyond the preoccupation with sexual issues that have so absorbed the discussion of the over-50s crowd and coalesce into a new movement that is committed to also include a whole range of other crucial social justice issues. I let them know that while they ought not to neglect sexual issues, they really must move beyond them and overcome the fixation on homosexuality that I found so evident in my recent radio interviews. Embracing a Christianity that deals with the broad spectrum of social concerns that are relevant to living out love and justice in the 21st century is required for an emerging church of young evangelicals. Any other kind of Christianity will prove irrelevant to them.

Adam Taylor: A Pilgrimage to the Lower Ninth Ward
Seventeen months after Katrina hit shore, huge swaths of New Orleans still resemble a ghost land and a disaster area. Empty lots and dilapidated homes appear to be tombstones, marking where lives have been uprooted and shipwrecked by the breaking of the levies. The only visible human activity is the occasional group of volunteers, groups that continue to pour in from across the country to provide the backbone of labor in gutting and repairing houses. In Lakeside, a more affluent and predominantly white neighborhood, the chances of revival are high due to strong and active neighborhood associations and civic organizations. The lower 9th Ward lacks the same degree of civic power. While the machinations of city and state-level politics unfold, neighborhoods are in a race against time to attract enough residents back in order to prove that their neighborhoods can once again be viable. If they cannot prove this, neighborhoods will either die or be resurrected through the hands of developers. The clock is ticking.

Ryan Beiler: Does God Hate?
Several readers responded strongly to the title of Jim's post a while back: God Hates Inequality. Here's a representative example: "I was very disappointed to read an email from Sojourners that began with the phrase 'God Hates.' Yes, I believe that God is greatly disappointed in the manner in which humans treat one another. However, plainly and simply, God is a God of love - not hate. While I understand the message you were trying to convey, I think the 'God Hates' phrase was an extremely poor choice and sends a message that it's okay to begin stating: 'God hates this' and 'God hates that.'" A quick Bible search, however, reveals several passages in the Hebrew scriptures that describe God hating this or that.

Brian McLaren: Advice for Barack Obama
In both parties, in fact, we may get to choose between a number of fresh, creative, and substantial candidates instead of settling for the lesser of famliar disappointments. I hope that we will feel the same way when it comes down to two candidates in the 2008 presidential elections as well. ... No doubt you'll be getting a lot of advice and requests from a lot of people in the coming weeks, and the only reason I think mine deserves to be heard is that I know I'm expressing what a lot of people feel. So I would like to make this request at the beginning of your campaign. Please don't lie to us. Please forego both the repulsive, deceptive, and twisted lies and also the flattering lies we like to hear. For example, I heard a fellow candidate recently trot out the tired old line, "America is the greatest country in the history of the world." This makes Americans feel good and gets applause. Maybe it wins votes. But it is a lie.

Rose Marie Berger: Texans that Molly Ivins Would Love
It’s not fair that we lost the brilliant political wit of Molly Ivins at a time when we need her the most. But, when one of us goes on ahead into the bluebonnet fields of the Lord, the rest of us have to pull on her boots and raise a ruckus ... or in this case ... pour liberal praise on that unique and quixotic creature: The Texas Baptist.

Diana Butler Bass: Paying Respects to Anna Nicole Smith
Christian tradition connects justice and peace with the practice of respecting the dignity of every person. The idea that every creature is dignified, related to God, formed in love, and connected to the whole of the universe forms the center point of Christian theology and ethics. Respect for each person in the web of creation supports the work of justice and peacemaking. Without a profound spirituality of human dignity, practices of justice and peacemaking may slide into the realm of power politics. The baptism liturgy strongly implies that without respect for human dignity, there exists no motive to strive for God’s justice and peace.


Worship, Vigil, and Civil Disobedience for Peace in Iraq

More than 1,000 people have already signed up to attend the March 16 service at the National Cathedral, observing the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Space is limited, so register today! After the service, we'll march to the White House for a prayer vigil calling for a just peace in Iraq. Those who choose to do so may take part in further symbolic action and risk arrest through civil disobedience. Admission to the service is free, but if you want to join us for the service or participate in civil disobedience (which requires nonviolence training, provided) you need to register at this link:

+ Register today to attend the March 16 service at the Washington National Cathedral

Many local Christian Peace Witnesses have been organized across the U.S. and Canada! If you're unable to join us in Washington, D.C., please consider organizing an event in your community. A vigil toolkit to help you plan your event is also available for download at this link.

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