Friday, January 14, 2011

Commemorating Martin Luther King Day
Church leaders make response to ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail.’

Participants at the annual meeting of Christian Churches Together (CCT) have issued a response to Martin Luther King Jr.’s "Letter from Birmingham Jail."

The CCT church leaders, who were in Birmingham, Ala., on Jan. 11-14 to examine the issue of domestic poverty through the lens of racism, noted that apparently no one has ever issued a clergy response to Dr. King's famous letter.

King's letter was an answer to a message from a group of clergy in Birmingham in 1963. In their "Call for Unity," the clergy appealed for restraint and "common sense," and a withdrawal of support for the civil rights demonstrations.

In their one-page letter, church leaders at the CCT meeting remember with gratitude the sacrifices of the leaders of the civil rights movement, who demonstrated the power of Christian, nonviolent action. They also express repentance that "some of us have not progressed far enough beyond the initial message from the Birmingham clergy."

"Too often our follow-through has been far less than our spoken commitments. Too often we have chosen to be comfortable rather than prophetic. Too often we have chosen not to see the evidence of a racism that is less overt but still permeates our national life in corrosive ways."

In their experiences at the Civil Rights Institute and the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, the church leaders, who were of multiple races and represented a wide range of church backgrounds, found inspiration and renewed commitment. They describe two windows at the church--one where the face of Jesus had been blown out from the bombing in 1963 that killed four girls, and the other that depicts a Christ figure who with one hand rejects the injustice of the world and with the other extends forgiveness.

"In the spirit of this loving Jesus, and in the spirit of those who committed their very lives to that love, we renew our commitment to ending racism in all forms. We begin by taking time on Monday, January 17, to reread the ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’--along with the message from the Birmingham clergy that prompted King's letter--and to reflect on its meaning for us today. We urge all within our churches to do the same."

Formed in 2007, CCT is the broadest Christian fellowship in the country, with members from the Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Historic Black, and Evangelical/Pentecostal families. In addition to 36 national communions, its membership includes six national organizations--the American Bible Society, Bread for the World, Evangelicals for Social Action, Habitat for Humanity, Sojourners, and World Vision.

The full letter from the CCT annual meeting will be available soon at the General Secretary’s page at the Church of the Brethren website, Also on that page are links to peace and prayer resources offered in the wake of recent national tragedies. Find out more about CCT at

-- Wendy McFadden is publisher of Brethren Press and represented the Church of the Brethren at the Christian Churches Together annual meeting in Birmingham.

NCC general secretary calls for prayer vigils in response to gun violence.

A letter sent today from National Council of Churches (NCC) general secretary Michael Kinnamon to leaders of member denominations calls on congregations to hold Vigils Against Violence in response to last weekend’s shootings in Tucson, Ariz. He also asked Christian leaders to press for laws aimed at reducing gun violence in the nation.

A Church of the Brethren resolution in support of the NCC’s work on ending gun violence was adopted last July by the Mission and Ministry Board. The Brethren resolution endorses the council’s efforts and encourages church members to call upon legislators to enact reforms that limit access to assault weapons and handguns, among several other suggestions for church participation. Find the board’s resolution along with a resolution from the NCC at

Jordan Blevins, advocacy officer and ecumenical peace coordinator for the Church of the Brethren and the NCC, reported this morning that vigils "are already happening in communities across the country. The NCC, US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Islamic Society of North America, and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs are coordinating efforts, and will hold a national vigil next week." He invites Brethren congregations that plan vigils to provide information to him and welcomes requests for help in organizing vigils; contact

Excerpts from Kinnamon’s letter follows:

"I am writing to you in the aftermath of the tragic shooting in Tucson, an event which I am sure we have all named in our personal times of prayer. Here at the NCC offices, we are also collaborating with the Jewish Council on Public Affairs, the Islamic Society of North America, and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in order to provide materials and encouragement for Vigils Against Violence in communities across the country. Our colleagues in various state and local councils have indicated strong interest in helping to coordinate such vigils; and I hope that many of you will look for opportunities to be involved and to encourage others in your communion to do the same.

"In addition to prayer and calls for civility, I believe this is also the moment to press our long-standing concern as a community of Christian communions for laws aimed at reducing gun violence in America. It is not exploiting tragedy for followers of the Prince of Peace to say, ‘Enough!’ Every serious study on the subject shows that easy access to guns is a menace to our nation's public health....

"When we send letters from the NCC office to Congress and/or the Administration, they are too often dismissed as the message of a single organization instead of the collective witness of a community of communions.

"With this in mind, I strongly urge you to write your own congressional delegates and state governor, letting them know that you, too, are the NCC--and that together we say an emphatic ‘No!’ to laws that allow assault weapons and handguns with oversize magazines to be readily present on our city streets. You may want to include a copy of the NCC resolution, along with similar statements produced by your own communion. And let me encourage you to share this material with friends in non-member churches as a way of inviting them to join us in this vital witness to the gospel of reconciling love.

"I send this letter not only in the aftermath of Tucson but on the eve of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. As I see it, the ecumenical movement is a movement for unity, but also a movement for peace--and the two go hand in hand. It is important to advocate for sane gun laws. But our most significant witness for peace in a culture of violence is our ability to live trustfully with differences because of our shared faith in Jesus Christ, the One whose life, death, and resurrection make possible a more excellent way.

"May God strengthen our shared witness for unity and peace in this season of mourning and prayer."

Brethren bits: Brethren-related colleges observe Martin Luther King Day.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. observances at Manchester College in North Manchester, Ind., will feature ground-breaking Brethren pastor and former Annual Conference moderator Belita Mitchell of First Church of the Brethren in Harrisburg, Pa., along with stories of students and faculty who also have breached barriers. Mitchell, the first African-American woman to serve in the denomination’s highest elected office, will bring the keynote address for the MLK Service of Celebration and Rededication at 7 p.m. today in the College Union. Her speech is titled "Navigating the Storms of Life...Excess Baggage Not Allowed." The evening also will include a student choir and readings and reflections on King’s legacy. On Jan. 17 at 7 p.m. in Petersime Chapel, readers will share student and faculty stories about challenging the status quo, as well as poetry and images. Refreshments will follow. The public is welcome at both free events. For more information go to

  • The Mac Diversity Team is sponsoring a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day observance in McPherson, Kan., on Jan. 17, at 7:30 p.m. at McPherson High School Theater. McPherson College professor ShaRhonda Maclin will speak on the theme for the evening, "Light the World." Her presentation is titled, "You May See the Glory, but You Don't Know the Story." A release reported: "Born in Oklahoma City, Maclin says her parents, and particularly her mother, were her inspiration. When the local school system restructured, her family moved to an all-white community and became the first family to integrate their neighborhood. The experience broadened her capacity for working with people of other racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds." Other program participants include Mayor Tom Brown, the McPherson High School Jazz Band, Central College Quartet, and Aaron Robinson giving a rendition of the Black National Anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing," among others. There is no charge to attend.

  • The Bridgewater (Va.) College Black Student Association is sponsoring a service honoring King at 7 p.m. on Jan. 17, in the Boitnott Room. The service is free and open to the public. Duane Harrison, 1981 alumnus, will provide the keynote address, and the event will also feature musical performances by students. "As our nation and world face the economic, political, and social challenges ahead, it is more important than ever to recall the legacy of Dr. King, and to ensure that his dream of equality and justice for all lives on," said campus chaplain Robert R. Miller in a release.

  • For the past six years, Elizabethtown (Pa.) College has celebrated the life of Martin Luther King Jr. with a week of service and unique events. "Even though students return to campus on Jan. 17, their learning will not come from the classroom that day," reports a release. "Instead, students participate in meaningful community service work and attend special memorial events. The remainder of the week, Elizabethtown College students have the opportunity to hear influential speakers, listen to music, and watch films relating to Dr. King." All of the following events are free and open to the public: A candlelight march at 6:15 p.m. on Jan. 17; a gospel extravaganza that evening at 7 p.m. in Leffler Chapel and Performance Center; at 11 a.m. Jan. 19 Lynn Cothren, personal assistant to Martin Luther King Jr.'s late wife, will speak on "The Life and Legacy of Mrs. Coretta Scott King" in the Leffler Chapel and Performance Center. In addition, several films will be shown including "Citizen King," at 1 p.m. on Jan. 17; and "Ella Baker," a film and presentation by Susan Traverso, college provost, at 3 p.m. on Jan. 17. For more information go to

  • Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa., plans to commemorate the King holiday with an Open Forum on Race and Ethnicity at 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 17 at the Sill Boardroom in the von Liebig Center for Science. Cast members of "N*GGER WETB*CK CH*NK"--a play which will be presented later that day at 7:30 p.m. in Rosenberger Auditorium--will lead discussion on subjects relating to the themes of the show including stereotyping, personal identity, the concept of "race," and more. "The performers...have gained many insights in their travels with the show across the nation and also from their unique personal experiences," said an announcement on the college website. Events are sponsored by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Newsline is produced by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of news services for the Church of the Brethren, or 800-323-8039 ext. 260.