The National Council of Churches USA held its annual General Assembly this week in Denver where topics of discussion ranged from Christian unity to racial justice.
Under the theme “Jesus Said … Whoever is Not Against You is For You,” the three-day meeting that closed on Thursday focused on overcoming divisions in the secular world as well as within the Christian body.
Prominent theologian Dr. Gary Dorrien, Reinhold Niebuhr professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and professor of Religion at Columbia University in New York, gave the message for the opening session on Tuesday.
He spoke about the election of the first black U.S. president, Barack Obama, and how his victory marked a breakthrough in America’s history of racial prejudice. But Dorrien highlighted that Obama played down the racial prejudice his campaign encountered and talked little about racial justice.
“[H]e does not regard himself as a symbol of ‘post-racial politics,’ for on the few occasions that Obama has explicitly addressed the issue, he has stated that it’s premature to imagine such a thing in American society,” Dorrien said.
The nationally known theologian also talked about the social gospel movement and said for all its fault it produced a “greater progressive religious legacy than any generation before or after it.”
“The social gospel, by contrast, was a 60-year movement and enduring perspective that paved the way for modern ecumenism, social Christianity, the Civil Rights movement, and the deep involvement of the ecumenical movement in the Civil Rights movement,” he said.
“It created the ecumenical and social justice ministries that remain the heart of American Christianity. And it expounded a vision of economic democracy that is as relevant and necessary today as it was a century ago."
Also during the meeting, Church World Service head the Rev. John McCullough gave a report on the agency’s response to a year of multiple disasters, both natural and human caused. He spoke about the group’s work in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Dominican Republic, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Haiti, Cuba and elsewhere.
"My sisters and brothers in Christ, if we can only decide to work together despite the limitations of our life together to create a warm and inviting environment for God's children, and if we are willing to risk to do even more together than we can ever possibly do apart, then even they will know the revival of their spirits, the certainty that God is not only for us, but also for them," McCullough said. "And next year when we gather as Assembly we will truly be able to focus more on celebrating the goodness of God in the land of the living."
The NCC celebrated its 100th anniversary on Thursday at the meeting's conclusion, commemorating its founding as the Federal Council of Churches in December 1908.