Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Denominational executives issue pastoral letter on racism.

"We believe that this time in the life of our nation and our denomination is an opening for spiritual reflection and positive change in race relations," said the opening sentence of a pastoral letter on racism signed by the executives of the main Church of the Brethren agencies. It was sent in late August to all congregations and districts in the Church of the Brethren, as well as to the Brethren-related colleges.

Church of the Brethren United Nations representative Doris Abdullah also has shared the letter with the Sub-Committee for the Elimination of Racism of the United Nation's NGO Committee for Human Rights. The letter has been included as an advocacy statement to the Anti-Discrimination Unit of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in Geneva, Switzerland.

The letter was signed by Stanley J. Noffsinger, general secretary; Bob Gross, executive director of On Earth Peace; Kathy Reid, executive director of the Association of Brethren Caregivers; Ruthann Knechel Johansen, president of Bethany Theological Seminary; and Wilfred E. Nolen, president of Brethren Benefit Trust.

"This letter is not a partisan political statement and is not an endorsement of any candidate," the executives said. "We are writing because the presidential campaign and its coverage in the media have made it clear that prejudice continues in our nation." The letter was headed by a passage of scripture from Matthew 22:37-39.

The executives wrote "in a spirit of humility...admitting that we have more questions than answers." The letter went on to mention the prominent roles that racism, sexism, and militarism have played in the US presidential campaign. "We are realizing that the nomination of an African-American for president of the United States presents the church with a unique opening to talk about racism," the executives said. "We sense that this is a time in which the church needs to step forward and lead in a national conversation on race."

The letter also made a series of confessions and posed questions, "as a way to examine our personal and collective conscience." Heading the confessions was the statement that "all of us have been caught up in racism, and we name it as an evil. We confess that there have been expressions of racism in our congregations and in our denomination." Another confessional statement said that "as followers of Jesus, we must continually seek the mind of Christ and have the ability to examine ourselves in the light of scripture."

Attached was a list of recommended resources. The letter also affirmed the witness of the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference, in particular the statements "Becoming a Multi-Ethnic Church" (2007), "Community: A Tribe of Many Feathers" (1994), "Brethren and Black Americans" (1991), and "Statement Addressing the Concern of Undocumented Persons and Refugees in the United States" (1982).

Closing by calling the church "to make our confession of faith, to turn to God for forgiveness for our own participation in racism, and to be part of God's work of healing in our society and in our congregations," the executives stated, "This kind of 'Kingdom' work and radical discipleship is difficult, but we have faith that God is with us. The power of the Holy Spirit is working among us to make all things possible."

Find the complete letter and attached resource list at

Source: 9/10/2008 Newsline

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