NCC Opens 'Weave Anew' Annual Assembly

The joint General Assembly of the National Council of Churches (NCC) and the Church World Service (CWS) opened on Tuesday with a “message of unity and reconciliation based on justice and peace” for the broken nation and a call to “heal the broken world.”

The Rev. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the NCC, began his keynote message by alluding to the Assembly’s theme, “Weave Anew: Unity, Peace and Justice and Hope.”

“In weaving you have warp (vertical) and weft (horizontal) threads. The warp is Jesus’ plea for Christian unity. The weft is the quest to make our unity more visible,” said Edgar, during the Nov. 9-11 assembly in St. Louis, MO.

Edgar, who served as a democratic senator for 12 years prior to his election as General Secretary, is widely known for his activism against poverty, injustice and environmental degradation.

Last week, following the re-election of President George W. Bush, Edgar said the nation is “divided…not only politically but in terms of our interpretation of God’s will,” and challenged the church to “respond faithfully to the Bible’s timeless mandate to minister to the poor, the marginalized and the outcast, and to be seekers and makers of peace.”

During the Nov. 9 opening service, Edgar added to his challenge, saying the church must “tap resources for healing and lift up issues for uniting.”

Edgar introduced five programs of the NCC that exemplify what church organizations can do for justice, poverty, peace and environmental degradation:

The “Let Justice Roll” anti-poverty campaign that registered more than 100,00 new voters and “voiced the scandal of poverty” in the U.S.; The “Benefit Bank” that assists low-income Americans in accessing some $35 billion in unclaimed government benefits by providing counseling and a new web-based software program that identifies available benefits. The bank is “up and running” in Philadelphia, Edgar said, and will soon be operational in Florida, Ohio, Georgia, Kansas and Mississippi; A Network of Seminarians for Social Justice that addresses such issues as hunger and public education; Peacemaking activities such as interfaith dialogue; support of the World Council of Churches’ Decade to Overcome Violence, the focus of which this year is the U.S.; legal advocacy for Guantanamo detainees; visits to troubled regions such as Darfur in Sudan, the Middle East and Colombia; and a new ecumenical curriculum, “Faithfulness and Foreign Policy”; and Environmental programs such as Earth Day observances a colloquium of theologians that, in addressing environmental theology, decried “the false gospel that God cares for the salvation of humans only and not the earth itself, that our human calling is to exploit the earth for our own ends.”

“We must tell the world what we already know — that poverty, peace and the health of the environment are deeply moral issues,” said Edgar. “Framed this way, we can break through and unite far more people, uniting us in our One Hope.”

Meanwhile, John McCullough, executive director of CWS, opened the session with a description of disasters that struck this world in the past year, including the four hurricanes in the gulf shore, the war in Iraq and poverty.

“More than the loss of property, it is the matter of lives turned upside down, and traumatized — perhaps for a lifetime, forever suspicious of strong winds blowing in from the south,” said McCullough.

Military interventions, such as the Iraq war and the War on Terror “have had a significant impact on CWS programs,” McCullough added. “Historically, humanitarian action is fundamentally seen as ‘Northern’ and ‘Western.’

“Unfortunately, the ‘war on terror’ is perceived by many to represent the same perspective …. This creates confusion about whom and what we represent …. The crises in Afghanistan and Iraq have resulted in a dangerous blurring of the lines between humanitarian and political action and also the consequent erosion of core humanitarian principles of impartiality and independence,” he said.

MuCullough also presented the American churches with a challenge by the Middle East Council of Churches:

Partners such as the Middle East Council of Churches are “challenging churches in America, saying that more than responding to crises as they occur, the churches must strengthen their witness so as to prevent the root causes from ever bursting into conflict,” said MuCullough.

The MECC “detailed the stories of broken and shattered lives, of fractured hopes and dreams. The human drama in disasters should not be distorted by official pronouncements, or by the work of statisticians,” said McCullough.

U.S. churches must ask themselves whether the positions they take “have a definitive bearing on the duality of eradicating hunger and poverty and promoting peace and justice? Do we offer solutions that address the realities of the most vulnerable?” asked MuCullough.

Answering his call, McCullough offered a solution: Church groups must join with other or “asure that we n