Call to Christian Commitment and Action
The following is a call to action from delegates to the Eighteenth Plenary of the Consultation on Church Union (COCU) to the nine member-churches.
Common witness and service are two marks of an ecumenical body. The COCU member-churches have chosen to live this commitment especially by focusing attention on the need to combat racism within and among the member-churches, in all churches and in society.
The experience of the Consultation on Church Union makes clear that the unity of the Church is God's gift expressed in creation and redemption. This unity is given not only for the church but also for the whole human community and all creation. It is the gift of God's own life offered to all humanity. For this reason the church is called to be a sign and instrument of the communion and justice God intends for all people.
This truth informs COCU's search for visible church unity in particular ways.
In combating racism, the Eighteenth Plenary Session of the Consultation on Church Union calls upon the nine member-churches to commit themselves to a unity that is liberating and reconciling, a unity offered in the Gospels, yet not fully expressed in the life and structures of these churches. It is in this context that the COCU churches, seeking to become Churches Uniting in Christ, are making commitments to change ourselves and our society.
Something is seriously wrong with race relations in the United States. One of the most prominent and pervasive evils in our national heritage and cultural routines is racism - that is, biased assumption about the genetic or cultural inferiority of certain racial-ethnic groups, and/or subordinating practices that exclude persons or deprive them of their full humanity because of their racial-ethnic identity.
Racism so permeates our customs and institutions that none can fully escape participation in it. Indeed, no member of a dominant group can fully avoid benefiting from it, and no member of a subordinate group can avoid the intention of oppression. Racism is finally about power - the abuses of power by a dominant group intent upon preserving its economic, social, political, or ecclesiastical privileges and the resulting deprivations of opportunity imposed on a subordinate group.
Unless significant initiatives are taken to counter current conditions and trends, racism -- especially white racism -- will continue to corrupt our national and ecclesiastical aspirations for a society that truly incarnates "liberty and justice for all." We, therefore, appeal to the peoples of our nation and our churches for a renewed commitment to combat the sin of racism and white privilege. The moral integrity and credibility of both our nation and our churches are at stake in this struggle. For the churches in COCU particularly, our quest for visible unity is irrelevant -- in fact, fraudulent -- unless that unity embodies racial solidarity and produces a vital public witness for racial equality and fairness. The churches seek to embody this commitment together, through the Church of Christ Uniting envisioned by the COCU member churches.
From the perspective of the Christian gospel whose mandate is reconciliation of all God's children, racism is demonic and sinful. It denies the image of God given each person in creation, and in the new creation each person enters by baptism.
How then shall the member-churches of the Consultation on Church Union, yearning to become Churches Uniting In Christ, combat racism? How shall we make our vision of church truly catholic, truly evangelical, and truly reformed, visible through our struggle against racism?
In view of what we discern that God is calling all the churches to be and to do, and in view of the present impediments to effective responses to that call, this Eighteenth Plenary appeals to our member-churches to make the following nine strategic commitments, and to implement these commitments together:
1. Continue to make a compelling theological case against racism. Racism must find no refuge in and no solace from the church. It is a denial of the truth known in Christ, who breaks down the humanly constructed walls that partition us into alienated communities of faith (Eph. 2:13-14). The church cannot be "truly catholic" unless it is fully open to all people on an equal basis. The church we seek to become, therefore, must be a model, a prophetic sign of the unity in diversity of God's creation. Christians must hear this affirmation regularly and convincingly.
2. Identify, name and share information with each other regarding those concrete programs and initiatives in combating racism that are already taking place within our member churches. A consultative conference should be explored to bring together this information and to take further action in light of these learnings as a good faith first step anticipating the inaugural liturgical celebration of Churches Uniting in Christ in 2002.
3. Claim Martin Luther King Jr. Day observances and similar appropriate occasions for dialogue leading to systemic change. Encourage and enable interracial dialogue within and among churches, as well as among members of the whole community. When properly designed, such dialogue can be an indispensable instrument of justice and reconciliation - reducing fears, suspicions and resentments, and enhancing mutual respect and understanding. The connection between the date of Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance and the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity has important potential in forging the concerns of addressing racism and pursuing our unity in Christ.
4. Take the discipline of social ethics seriously, because the careful arguments and nuanced distinctions demanded by that discipline can save us from the simplistic exhortations that hinder effective advocacy. An adequate defense of some preferential forms of affirmative action, for example, depends in part on sound and subtle interpretations of distributive and compensatory justice. Social ethics can bring a necessary depth to a strategy against racism.
5. Insure that worship is an intentional witness against racism, and therefore reflects the fullness of the Gospel. Worship is sometimes an instrument of racial separation and oppression. Not only is the eucharistic table divided by theological barriers, but also by the racial separation within and among the churches. As the member-churches of COCU seek a common table, they must evaluate all liturgical resources and practices and insure their racial sensitivity and inclusiveness.
6. Maintain a strong program of Christian education on the dynamics of racism and the demands of racial justice. Educational resources, like liturgical ones, need to be evaluated to insure that they are consistent witnesses against racism and for racial equality, especially in relation to family education.
7. Engage in rigorous institutional self-examinations, searching for racism embedded in the structures, politics and programs of churches, and set goals for measuring our progress. This self-auditing is imperative to overcome racial offenses and advance racial reconciliation, while providing targets for change. It is most effectively accomplished in a context of mutual accountability, admonition, and affirmation among the churches.
8. Renew the churches' commitment to the struggle for equal human rights through advocacy. In continuing the civil rights agenda, four instruments of justice seem especially relevant for our time: 1) the preservation and enhancement of federal civil rights laws, 2) the continuation of key affirmative action initiatives to address imbalances and deprivations caused by racism, 3) the defense of economic rights, such as adequate housing, health care, nutrition, employment, and other essential material conditions, and 4) reform of the criminal justice system.
9. Develop resources to address the issues related to racism in the member churches' capacity and responsiveness to new immigrant and cultural groups. As a first step in this "Call to Commitment and Action To Combat Racism," the delegates to the Eighteenth Plenary Session have covenanted together to actively pursue the commitment of our communions to combating racism in our churches and in our nation as an essential component in our pursuit to become Churches Uniting In Christ.
Combating racism is a formidable task -- and eradicating it will appear to many as beyond realistic possibilities. It demands both the conversion of individuals and the transformation of churches. Yet, we have good reasons for hope and persistence in struggle -- primarily because God is ever creating new possibilities for racial solidarity.
The commitment by the COCU churches to overcome racism and live more intentionally the unity and catholicity of Christ's Church is a promise and a prayer. It will lead us into deeper understandings of the triune God, the redemption offered in Jesus Christ, the nature of the Church and the world as created by God. In this commitment these nine churches, seeking to become the Church of Christ Uniting, will be a sign and foretaste of the unity of the whole people of God.
Adopted by unanimous vote of the delegates of the nine member communions to the Eighteenth Plenary of the Consultation on Church Union, January 24, 1999, in St. Louis, Missouri.
These nine commitments are spelled out in greater detail in "Erasing Racism: A Strategy In Quest of Racially Just Unity" - a basic resource document for the Eighteenth Plenary of COCU, published in Mid-Stream, Vol. 37, Nos. 3-4, July/October 1998. The Executive Committee commends that paper to the communions for study and implementation.
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