Subject: NCC Newsletter: CUS, the Least of These, and Calls for Justice

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CUS, the Least of These, and Calls for Justice

NCC Newsletter
March 12, 2021
Beyond Partisanship
I am not a collector but I do maintain a complete set of the Almanac of American Politics. This 2,000- page reference book has been published every two years since 1972. It includes a brief description of each of the 50 U.S. states and an assessment of the political situation in each one.

There is a short biography of each member of Congress along with a summary of their political career, and their interests, leanings and election results. Further, the Almanac reports how each representative and senator are scored by a variety of interest groups such as Americans for Democratic Action, the League of Conservation Voters, the League of Women Voters, the American Conservative Union, and the Family Research Council.

Throughout much of the 1970s, 1980s, and even into the 1990s, it was common to see many members of Congress with voting records that were somewhat conservative or somewhat liberal. In the early volumes of the Almanac there were a number of Republicans who were more liberal than many Democrats and vice versa. By the 2000s, however, it became quite unusual to find any members of Congress with a moderate voting record.

Make no mistake, Congress has long been identified with party politics. That’s nothing new. However, the voting patterns of representatives and senators have migrated to the margins.

There are any number of reasons why political partisanship is more intense now than in many years, but it is interesting to me that we have meanwhile made some progress in working together across theological and ideological divides in the Christian community as well as in an interreligious manner. This gives me hope that somehow, eventually, our political leaders can follow our example.

The Circle of Protection, a grouping of mainline Protestants, Catholics, evangelicals, and others joined together to support the American Recovery Act. Presently, Jews, Christians, and Muslims have formed Faiths4Vaccines to make our houses of worship available as sites for vaccine distribution.

Within the National Council of Churches, tens of thousands of our local congregations are made up of Republicans and Democrats who worship God together, to feed the hungry, to shelter the homeless, to clothe the naked, and to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Many predominantly Black and Brown churches are often theologically conservative but politically liberal. If you were the target of hatred and discrimination, you, too, would support policies and programs that aim to change the status quo.

While I am a Protestant, my own approach to public policy is influenced by three principles derived from Catholic social teachings as articulated by David Hollenbach, SJ, in his book entitled “Claims in Conflict:
1. The needs of the poor take priority over the wants of the rich.
2. The freedom of the dominated takes priority over the liberty of the powerful.
3. The participation of marginalized groups takes priority over the preservation of an order that excludes them.

And, I’ve always resonated with a quote by Anne Devenney, a leader in the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, who summed things up well when she said, “I have to be conservative because I want to conserve my neighborhood, liberal to keep my mind open, and radical to carry a picket sign.” Amen.
Grace and Peace,

NCC Applauds Passage of American Rescue Plan, Will Help the 'Least of These’
And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:40 NRSV

MARCH 11, 2021, WASHINGTON, DC — The National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC), as part of the Circle of Protection, welcomes the passing of the American Rescue Plan. This bill is especially significant for poor and low-income people who have been among the hardest hit by the global pandemic for a year now. It is an important step toward recovery and helping communities that have been disproportionately affected by the dual health and economic crises.

The Circle of Protection sent a letter late last month to all members of Congress and key Biden administration officials urging them to pass another round of COVID relief to address the “concurrent crises of the pandemic, economic recession, and systemic racism.” The letter also asked members of Congress from both parties to work together to address the urgent needs of millions of Americans.

The NCC has urged the Biden administration to work with Congress and use the tools at its disposal to ensure that people are safe and have their basic needs met as we fight this global pandemic. During this crisis, NCC continues to call for the extension of unemployment benefits and the expansion of federal programs, like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and Child Tax Credit (CTC).

“I am grateful to Congress and President Biden for the passage of the American Rescue Plan,” commented Jim Winkler, NCC President and General Secretary, “I would note, however, that if a broad-based coalition of Christian groups, spanning theological and ideological divides, could come together to support this legislation then there is no excuse for Congress not to overwhelmingly vote for what is a popular bill that will reduce poverty, provide much needed assistance to states and localities, and fund schools. Congress has more work to do, namely, to ensure that every worker in this nation earns a living wage. I urge them to move forward as quickly as possible.”

The economic collapse due to the pandemic has shined a light on the weakness of America’s social safety net, including economic and healthcare inequities, and the tenuous nature of our purported prosperity. NCC pledges to continue to advocate for our nation’s resources to be utilized to help the most vulnerable among us.
Committee on the Uniform Lessons Series (CUS) Held Annual Meeting
The Committee on the Uniform Lessons Series (CUS) held its annual meeting, March 2-3, 2021.

Typically, representatives of the 25 denominational and publishing partners of the CUS gather in person to make business decisions, review and vote to approve previous work on the Guide to Lessons and Home Daily Bible Readings, write and collaborate on new curriculum outlines, as well as worship and fellowship together. This year, the 30 registered participants signed on to Zoom from time zones across the US and Puerto Rico and from as far away as Nigeria. They were able to enjoy worship and work in the Zoom format, however, they missed seeing each other in-person.

“There are bonds of friendship forged over the many years of working together on CUS—in some cases we’re talking 10 or 20 or more years of annual meetings. For the most part, the technology allowed us to accomplish much of what we would normally do at an annual meeting, but we’re like a family, and it was disappointing not to be together, meeting face-to-face,” says the Rev. Dr. Tammy Wiens, Director of Christian Education and Faith Formation for the National Council of Churches, USA (NCC).

Those who gathered this past week can proudly trace the first Uniform Lesson Outlines to 1872 when the International Sunday School Association wrote their first plan to systematically study the Bible.

Last week’s conference opened with a liturgy led by Rev. Garland F. Pierce, Chair of the CUS and Executive Director of the Department of Christian Education of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME).

During this time, participants remembered members who recently passed into the Kingdom Triumphant including Dr. Helen Scott Carter, Rev. Kenneth James, both of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and Dr. Melvin E. Banks, Founder of Urban Ministries, Inc.

Following the memorial, Pierce reflected on Jesus clearing the Temple courts in John 2:13-22. Jesus’ anger was inspired by the exclusion that was happening in God’s house, he explained. The money changers’ tables and the marketplace left little room for true worship. And Jesus’ life was about making room for all.

As followers of Christ, as Christian educators, making room is also the goal of the CUS. “So let us make room. Let us create space where callings can be remembered, where folks can see that they are fearfully and wonderfully made, no matter what others say. Let’s make room. Let’s create discernment space so that all can make sense of their lives. Let’s make room to disrupt the unjust. Let’s make room,” Pierce concluded.

This opening reflection set the tone for the conference’s focus on elevating and exegeting Scripture in service of the spiritual care and faith formation of learners across the life-span.

Rev. Dr. Dennis Edwards, associate professor of New Testament at North Park University, supported the conference objectives with his two lectures “Core Beliefs of the Christian Faith” and “Social Teachings of the Bible.” These lecture titles were drawn from lesson outlines that the 2021 conference participants will use for their upcoming writing assignments. There is an added historical element to this year’s assignment in that these same texts are included in the 1929-30 CUS outlines. This is one of the ways that CUS has chosen to recognize its upcoming sesquicentennial anniversary. In considering “core beliefs” and “social issues” that faithful Christians confronted in the early 1900’s, the 2021 conference participants give fresh consideration for how the Church is bringing Christ to bear in their own day and time.

Edwards offered his insights to guide CUS in this year’s charge. One of the salient points in his teaching was the central role of hospitality in the biblical witness. In Greek, hospitality (φιλοξενια/philoxenia) is a compound word combining “friend” (φιλος/philos) and “stranger” (χενος/xenos). Edwards lifted up the way in which God’s word invites people of faith to put hospitality into practice, loving flesh and blood neighbors, strangers, and enemies in practical ways. To make this love abstract is to miss the point of hospitality.

Substantial business was also conducted at this year’s meeting, including the vote to approve the six-year proposed outline for Cycle 25 (Fall 2026 through Summer 2032). The cycle theme, “We Have A Story to Tell,” was inspired by the keynote address of last year’s annual conference by the Rev. Dr. Leslie Copeland-Tune, COO of the National Council of Churches, USA.

The Reverend Dr. La Verne Tolbert, chair of the Scope and Sequence Committee tasked with developing Cycle 25 and Vice President, Editorial of Urban Ministries, Inc., explains, “Rather than imposing themes on the texts, Cycle 25 lets the Bible speak through the characters, circumstances, setting and events of the Old and New Testaments.”

The typical conference, which takes place over 5 days, was compressed for two half-day online meetings. Even in the virtual environment, CUS members remain focused on the larger purpose of the committee. As Wiens puts it, “in this year’s meeting we were writing teaching strategies to engage learners about the Christian obligation to God, family, neighbor, community, and world. By virtue of our collaborative process and the relationships we are building with one another we put this conviction of faith into practice. We extend hospitality to our colleagues with love and respect for our differences across theology, ethnicity, nationality, gender, and ecclesial status—to name a few! CUS is the embodiment of Christian faith.”

Developing curriculum outlines for the study of the Bible has been the work of the CUS for 149 years. While they look forward to celebrating the committee’s 150th anniversary next year, they continue to trust all that the Holy Spirit accomplishes in their midst—whether in person or in cyberspace. The Uniform Lessons stand as a witness to their unity in Christ, and their commitment both to bring and to teach Christ’s countercultural message in a broken world. 

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 over the COVID-19 Pandemic
According to World Health Organization data, over the last year since the pandemic was declared on March 11, 2020, there have been over 99 million cases with over 2 million deaths in the world which has resulted mental, physical, economical, spiritual, and environmental crises across the globe.

The WCC invites you to a Week of Prayer over the COVID-19 Pandemic, March 22 - 27, 2021, to bring the world together in solidarity and support while affirming our common human fragility. 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, will be participating in the Friday, March 26, 2021 service. 

UMC Bishop Carcaño Shares Message for Women's History Month
Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño of the California-Nevada Conference of The United Methodist Church shared a message entitled, "Girls, Jesus is Calling YOU!" In the video, she shares the lessons she has learned about "the value of women in helping heal the world and the plan that God has for all of us."
PC(USA) Decries Racism Against Asian Americans
Rev. Jimmie R. Hawkins, Associate Director of Advocacy, issued a statement from the Presbyterian Office of Public Witness decrying racism against Asian Americans and calling for acts of hate against them to stop. The statement was prompted by an increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is the full statement, which includes the actions we can all take. 

Since the pandemic began, U.S. cities have experienced an increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans. A 2021 Washington Post article posted a picture of Noel Quintana, who was quoted as saying of an attack he suffered, “Nobody came, nobody helped, nobody made a video.”

The United States has a history of racial discrimination, consistently directed towards Asian Americans, including the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and Japanese Americans' internment during World War II. A racist culture produced slurs and verbal harassment (“yellow peril,” “China virus,” “Kung Flu,” and “coolies”), bullying, racial stereotyping, immigration bans, racial discrimination and xenophobic treatment living in a white supremacy culture. While we may associate these behaviors with past history, negative actions have worsened with the pandemic. Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) called for greater awareness of racism against Asian Americans. He stated, “This sort of bias is latent throughout American society, and it gets worse or less worse depending on the moment.”

Stop AAPI Hate documented 2,808 verbal and physical assaults between March-December 2020. Most of the attacks were against the elderly in the states of California and New York (1,900% increase). San Francisco reported that nine hate crimes targeted Asian Americans in 2020, up from six (2019) and four in 2018; the New York Police Department reported at least 28 hate crimes in 2020, compared with three in 2019. San Francisco’s Dragon Gate community is on edge from attacks and urges residents to report crimes to police. Neighborhood patrols have been created in Oakland, Los Angeles and New York City to respond to a wave of racist violence and harassment since the onset of COVID-19. These numbers belie the dangerous climate Asian Americans are facing. Hate crimes targeting Asian Americans have spiked by 150% in major US cities in 2020. Majority of incidents, over 90% in New York City, have gone unreported.

Attacks include a 52-year-old woman in Flushing, Queens and a mother punched in the face on a subway platform. In NYC, an 89-year-old woman was slapped in the face and her shirt set on fire. A Brooklyn woman was doused with chemicals. Noel Quintana’s face was slashed, requiring over 100 stitches. In California, a Los Angeles man was beaten with his own cane at a bus stop. Vicha Ratanapakdee (84 years), died after being pushed to the ground violently. His daughter, Amy, described it as a hate crime and shared that her children had been called racial epithets over the past year.

What can we do?
• Be an ally in the fight against Asian American racism.
• When we discuss racial injustice, include issues confronting Asian Americans.
• Advocate for law enforcement to create task forces and liaisons to address concerns emanating from the Asian American community. Andrew Yang suggested funding for an NYC Asian-American Hate Crime Task Force.
• Historically there have been incidents of tension between African Americans and Asian Americans and the need for increased engagement between these two marginalized communities. Challenge attempts to generate conflict between them.
• Challenge Asian American stereotypes that downplay the issues confronting that community. Particularly the “model minority” myth that downplays the important problems the community faces. Asians are often touted as possessing greater intelligence and success, especially compared to other racial-ethnic communities, while downplaying important problems the community faces.
• Write letters of outrage to politicians who make anti-Asian statements or express prejudicial sentiments. Write op-eds and letters to the editor in local papers.
• When an incident occurs in your community, publicly advocate for prosecutors to charge hate crimes in violent attacks against Asian Americans.
• Attend rallies and protests in support of the Asian community. Advocate for investment in education and community resources to get at the root causes of Anti-Asian xenophobia in the ongoing conversation on race.

ELCA leaders call on Congress to pass U.S. Citizenship Act
The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), has joined more than 500 ELCA rostered ministers and the CEOs of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) and Lutheran Services in America (LSA) to call for Congress to support the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021. In a letter dated March 4, 2021, the leaders urged lawmakers to work collaboratively to advance legislation “around a long overdue solution that reflects our shared values as a nation.”
Job Listings
Communications Specialist - Media and Public Relations - Faithful America seeks a communications firm or consultant to help with media relations on a contract basis. This firm or contractor will support the campaigns director and staff in all aspects of Faithful America’s media relations work, and may also assist with other strategic communications tasks as agreed upon such as campaign ideation, design, and messaging. More information is provided in the RFP for the media-specialist contract. 

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