Subject: NCC Newsletter: Statements on Artsakh and Atlanta / Next Week's COVID-19 Webinar

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Statements on Artsakh and Atlanta / Next Week's COVID-19 Webinar

NCC Newsletter
March 19, 2021
Holy Week Approaches 
Some thoughts:

As we approach the joyous day of Easter and the resurrection of Christ, I am reminded we have to experience Good Friday to get there. This week, our family marked the 4th anniversary of the death of our mother, Marilyn. Earlier this month we lost her sister, Madalene, and her brother, Ray. Although we are sad beyond words, we draw comfort from the knowledge they are enjoying one another’s company in heaven.
Meanwhile, in a bittersweet moment, the Washington Interreligious Staff Council said farewell to our co-chairs, Sr. Simone Campbell, executive director of Network: the Catholic Social Justice Lobby, and Marty Shupack, head of Church World Service’s Washington Office. These two have led us capably and established WISC as a cohesive force on Capitol Hill.
Some years ago, when I was general secretary of the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society and therefore landlord of the United Methodist Building, Sr. Simone shared with us the plans a group of nuns had hatched to board a bus, travel the nation, and speak prophetically about justice.
She announced at the conclusion of the journey the nuns would hold a rally at Catholic University. Someone suggested that final event should take place on Capitol Hill in front of the United Methodist Building. All eyes shifted to me and I said that it would be fitting and redemptive given the building had been constructed to ‘counter rising Catholic influence in the Nation’s Capital.’ Indeed, the nuns arrived on their bus to an excited crowd and I like to think that fitting stage played a small role in catapulting Nuns on the Bus to national prominence.

Finally, it occurs to me that much of the daily work and ministry I do involves trauma and grief and injustice. This week alone, we have responded to the hate crime murder of Asian women in the Atlanta area, the brutal military coup in Myanmar, efforts to encourage our nation to welcome refugees, and attempts to secure the release of Julius Jones, who languishes unjustly on death row in Oklahoma.
Sr. Simone, during her farewell meeting of the Heads of Washington Offices, reminded us we are in this together in our work on behalf of the common good and that we are about leveraging love as a voice for the last, the least, and the lost.

NCC Calls for Humanitarian Aid to Armenia and the Release of Armenian Soldiers
After fully recognizing the ongoing crisis in Armenia, an ancient Apostolic Christian nation, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) joins the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Orthodox Church of America to reiterate the importance of the Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) peace process.

NCC calls for the United States to provide urgently needed humanitarian aid for the people of Artsakh who were forced to flee their homes during the unprovoked attack by Azerbaijan and Turkey that displaced more than 50,000 ethnic Armenians in the region. We plead for the United States to actively negotiate the safe return of Armenian soldiers and citizens who are being held in violation of the ceasefire agreement signed on November 9, 2020. We also urge the broad recognition of the Armenian Genocide of the early 20th century by all political and faith leaders throughout the United States.

NCC applauds the letter signed by 101 Members of Congress that was sent to U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to stress the importance of addressing the “ongoing humanitarian crisis in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh).” We commend the strong bipartisan support of this letter toward insuring the well-being of the displaced Armenian people from Artsakh. The United states must address the immediate and significant problems of feeding, housing, and protecting these displaced families during the COVID-19 pandemic and insuring their long-term settlement into permanent residences.

We call on President Biden and the Secretary of State to take direct action and negotiate the release of all Armenian soldiers and civilians held by Azerbaijan. Even though the cease fire agreement mandated that Azerbaijan must free all Armenian prisoners of war and apprehended citizens, Azerbaijan has refused to abide by the agreement. An unknown number, believed to be over 200 Armenians, continue to be held captive. Many were captured after the military hostilities ended. Due to the release of videos, we fear the mistreatment and torture of those who are detained.

We lament of the destruction of the churches and religious monuments during the conflict. When United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) attempted to send a committee to visit the religious sites, both of their requests were denied. According to the 1954 Convention for the Protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict, Azerbaijan is required to protect cultural heritage during their aggression. UNESCO’s independent mission of experts must be permitted to produce a preliminary inventory of significant cultural properties in order to begin safeguarding the region’s heritage.

We commend President Biden for pledging to support a resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide of the early 20th century. Approximately one and a half million Armenians were killed from 1915-1923 during the Ottoman Empire. We applaud both the House and Senate for passing resolutions recognizing the fact of the Genocide during the 116th Congress. As Armenians continue to be displaced and killed, we call for the President to keep his pledge and formally recognize the Armenian Genocide on April 24, 2021, Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, in order to further the US commitment to human rights.

We call for prayers to comfort those held prisoner, their anguished families, and those displaced from their homes, so that they may all know God’s true compassion and find strength to persevere during this time of persecution. 

Statement on the Shooting Deaths in Atlanta
The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) laments the tragic shooting deaths at three locations in Atlanta and the surrounding area on Tuesday evening. Reports indicate that six of the eight victims were of Asian descent and seven were women, deepening our concerns about the increasing anti-Asian and gender-based violence against women and girls in this nation.

We grieve for those who have lost their lives and send our condolences to their families. May the heaviness of their sorrow be lifted and may they find peace.

While we do not yet know if the shootings are hate crimes, we do know that 3,795 hate incidents were documented by the Stop AAPI Hate reporting center from March 2020 to February 2021. We also recognize that reported incidences represent only a fraction of the number of hate instances that occur against Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) persons.

Since the use of the derogatory term “China virus” was used for political purposes, our AAPI neighbors have experienced a heightened level of discrimination and anti-Asian xenophobia during the COVID-19 pandemic. An alarming series of violent crimes and brutal attacks has occurred across the country while this hateful rhetoric spread. NCC stands with all who live in fear due to the discrimination unleashed on the AAIP community.

Historically, white-only immigration policies in the United States have discriminated against people from Asian countries which was most evident in the Chinese Exclusion Act in the late 19th century. During World War II, people of Japanese descent were the majority of those suspected of being an enemy and unjustly incarcerated in internment camps.

“We lament the fear and pain that grips the Asian American community and we stand in solidarity with them,” said Jim Winkler, NCC President and General Secretary. “Racism is ensconced in our country’s history which is founded on injustice and white supremacy. We all need to confront discriminatory acts and racial vitriol that deems people as ‘foreigners’ or the ‘other’. In order to end racism, we must dedicate ourselves to changing the hearts, minds, and behaviors of people in our churches and society to bring healing and wholeness to all.”

“I weep at the senseless loss of these precious lives,” stated Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ and Chair of the NCC Governing Board. “It is becoming far too easy for white men with guns to act on what they see as their right to purge from America people they have not come to accept as their equal. I am sick of that, and hope that every person of faith commits to ending racism and gun violence. I also cry out to legislators to take away access to the weapons that these bigots wield.”

NCC calls for members of our churches to be allies and co-laborers alongside the Asian community by including their concerns in our shared work toward ending racism and by challenging Asian stereotypes in their communities and networks of influence. Sadly, problems in the Asian community are often ignored because of harmful stereotypes which silence our AAPI neighbors when they should be supported.

When violent attacks occur and the perpetrators are found to have acted based on a bias against the victim being Asian American or of Asian descent, we call for their prosecution as hate crimes. To end racism in our society, we must name it wherever it emerges and do everything in our power to root it out and replace it with just, safe, and equitable communities for all of God’s people.

ELCA Bishop Eaton issues statement addressing anti-Asian racism
Ecumenical Declaration: Protecting Welcome, Restoring Hope
Representatives of Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican communions in the United States, Church World Service, and NCC declared strong opposition to the executive order entitled “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals.” Thereby, standing united in the resolve to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God in fellowship with the vulnerable, the outcast, the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, and all persons in need. As Americans we are a nation of displaced persons.
Church Leaders Outline Key Middle East Policy Recommendations
Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), of which NCC and many of our communions are members, initiated a sign on letter to President Biden urging him to advance the cause of peace and justice in the Middle East. All acknowledged that they stand ready to support the President and work with him and his administration both individually and through CMEP to reach this goal. The letter also states that faith leaders have a duty to speak up on behalf of those who suffer injustice, even as, they believe, the United States has the duty to work for peace and justice in the world and for all nations.
COVID-19 Webinar Next Week: Vaccines, the Role of Faith Groups, & How to Stay Safe
As we attempt to do our part to end this pandemic, we hear many questions about the changing circumstances we face each day. We've invited experts, medical professionals, and experienced faith leaders to offer guidance and help provide answers. This webinar will equip participants on what to expect from the vaccines, how houses of worship can be used for vaccination sites, what resources are now available to families and communities because of the American Rescue Plan Act, and it will provide insights into mental and spiritual issues that we should be aware of during a prolonged time of grief.

Webinar Topics:
• Vaccine Information - What to expect when vaccinating, possible side effects, and the difference between the three available vaccines.
• What’s in the COVID-19 American Rescue Plan Act of 2021?
• Access to Vaccine and the Role of Faith Groups
• Staying Safe: Guidance for Large Group Gatherings, Singing and Other Activities
• Mental Health and Spiritual Issues - How to deal with grief, anxiety, and stress as we go forward

• Rev. Dr. Miriam J. Burnett, MD, Senior Pastor, Historic Jones Tabernacle; Health Commission, African Methodist Episcopal Church
• Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, Project Manager, Conference of National Black Churches (CNBC)
• Bishop Daniel Gutiérrez, Episcopal Diocese of Philadelphia
• Dr. Nathaniel Smith, Deputy Director for Public Health Service and Implementation Science, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
• Dr. Uzma Syed, DO, FIDSA
• Dr. Leana Wen, Visiting Professor at The George Washington University- Milken Institute School of Public Health, Nonresident Senior Fellow at Brookings, and author
• plus additional invited speakers.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021, 1-3 pm ET on Zoom.

The webinar will also be broadcast at 7pm ET on NCC's Facebook and YouTube channels. Tune in to watch the broadcast if you are to join us during the event.
NCC Lenten Reflections
NCC’s 2021 Lenten Reflections follow the Committee on the Uniform Series plan for reading and studying the Bible. Each Wednesday, we will share the scripture from the week’s Sunday Bible verses. We hope you will reflect on these passages of scripture during the seven weeks of Lent in light of your own experiences and relationships.
WCC Week of Prayer During the COVID-19 Pandemic
To commemorate a year since the World Health Organization declared the spread of COVID-19 a pandemic, the World Council of Churches has published Voices of Lament, Hope, and Courage: A Week of Prayer in the Time of the COVID-19 Pandemic for use in prayer groups, congregational services, personal prayer, and as a pastoral accompaniment.

The WCC also invites you to a Week of Prayer, March 22 - 27, 2021, to bring the world together in solidarity and support while affirming our common human fragility during the COVID-19 pandemic. This period of prayer will focus on praying for specific concerns: Lament and Grief, Hurting & Suffering Communities, Leaders, Healing, Protection, and Hope & Salvation. 

NCC President and General Secretary, Jim Winkler, submitted a prayer and will be participating in the Friday, March 26, 2021 service.  
Ecumenical Readings of 'For the Life of the World'
You are invited to Ecumenical Readings of “For the Life of the World: Toward a Social Ethos of the Orthodox Church” and Its Implications for the US and Global Contexts on April 21, 2021 12:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada).

“For the Life of the World: Toward a Social Ethos of the Orthodox Church” was released in early 2020, after being authored by a commission of theologians specifically convened for the task by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. This document provides, in Patriarch Bartholomew’s assessment, “the parameters and guidelines for the social responsibility of our Church before the complex challenges and problems of today’s world, without at the same time overlooking the favorable potential and positive perspectives of contemporary civilization.”

As “For the Life of the World” has been promoted and discussed in diverse settings over the past year, a clear priority has been to evaluate not only what it means for the contemporary Orthodox community but also in what ways it resonates with other traditions with which the Orthodox Church shares its civic life. 
This webinar will explore the ecumenical dimensions to the following questions. What does the document, in other words, offered and received in a spirit of good will, bring to the table in order to facilitate cooperation in terms of meeting the ethical challenged faced in local contexts by others who dwell in those contexts? And in what ways might it fall short of the “expansive theological dialogue” with other traditions that it attempts to conjoin with the “spiritual growth of the Orthodox faithful” in pursuit of social justice and sustainable peace worldwide?

Dr. James Skedros, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, will introduce the text; and ecumenical readings will be shared by Bishop W. Darin Moore, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church; Dr. Barbara Hallensleben, University of Fribourg; and Rev. Margaret Rose, The Episcopal Church.

NCC is co-sponsoring the event with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute, and the Ecclesiological Investigations International Research Network.

Christian Unity
ELCA and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Resume Dialogue
In a March 10 meeting, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) resumed a bilateral dialogue toward defining a new ecumenical relationship for common mission and ministry. The dialogue had begun in 2004 but been put on hold due to leadership and staff changes at both churches. They hope to determine what form of ecumenical relationship will enable the two church bodies to affirm their common confession of the Christian faith and to witness to the good news of Christ together more fully. The two churches will explore how they have grown in mutual understanding and common mission over time.
Presbyterian-Episcopal Dialogue Continues
In February, the fourth meeting in the third round of bilateral dialogues between the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Episcopal Church was held. The communions continue to work toward offering a proposal for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s General Assembly and the Episcopal Church’s General Convention to consider for the local oversight of shared ministry. The dialogue team hopes to have the proposal ready for study at the 2022 gatherings of both Church governance bodies. The group will meet again September.
From our Partners
Bread for the World Letter Writing Campaign
Join Bread for the World's Offering of Letter campaign to urge Congress to expand anti-hunger programs in response to the pandemic and increase funding for nutrition programs. Their redesigned Offering of Letters website has flexible tools to help plan a letter-writing event.
PC (USA) Black Maternal Health Webinar
PC(USA) will discuss the inequities in Black maternal health and the need to advocate for policies that address racial disparities in our health care system in a webinar on Thursday, March 25, 2021 at 3 pm ET.

"The COVID-19 epidemic has demonstrated that the US health care system's long-standing disparities have gone unaddressed for far too long and have left many vulnerable, specifically Black mothers and their families. Black moms in the US are 3 to 4 times as likely to die from pregnancy-related complications and Hispanic, Native American, & Asian American and Pacific Islanders experience disproportionate mortality and morbidity rates as well."

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