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Healing of the Nations is focus of NCC General Assembly

By Matthew Davies
11/20/2006

NCC photo by Kathleen Cameron
Members of the General Assembly of the National Council of Churches at its November 7-9 meeting in Orlando, Florida.   (NCC photo by Kathleen Cameron)

 
[Episcopal News Service]  The General Assembly of the National Council of Churches, at its November 7-9 meeting in Orlando, Florida, delivered a pastoral message on the war in Iraq, adopted a new policy on human biotechnology, and passed resolutions on combating global warming, opposing human reproductive cloning, and bio-warfare oversight.

Each day, the General Assembly began with worship to help delegates explore the theme: "For the Healing of the Nations" (Revelation 22:1-2).

Representing the Episcopal Church among 248 delegates from 35 member denominations were: the Rev. O.C. Edwards of Western North Carolina; the Rev. Dana Corsello of Virginia; Shelly Lynn Fayette of Olympia; the Rev. C. Dana (Dan) Krutz of Louisiana; Carole Jan Lee of California; Jolinda Matthews of Kansas; the Rev. Dr. Alfred Moss of Maryland; Sonia Omulepu of New York; Frank Oberly of Oklahoma; Gladys Rodriguez from Southeast Florida; and Alice Webley of Virginia.

The three-day gathering also welcomed several speakers, including the Rev. Dr. James Forbes, senior minister of the Riverside Church in New York City, who facilitated the closing keynote conversation.

In addition to the General Assembly and a Governing Board that meets quarterly, the work of the NCC is mostly shared among its five commissions -- Communication; Education and Leadership Ministries; Faith and Order; Interfaith; and Justice and Advocacy -- which meet several times a year.

Edwards, a member of the NCC's Executive Committee and co-chair of the Faith and Order Commission, acknowledged healing as a vital banner under which to meet because "we still have divisions among ourselves that need healing, we certainly have divisions with Christians outside NCC that need healing, and both our nation and the world at large are badly polarized."

In a recent study of existing policy statements the NCC recognized that a 1986 statement on biotechnology was outdated because of the rapid advance of such technologies, explained Edwards, a retired Episcopal priest.

The assembly adopted a new policy on human biotechnologies titled, "Fearfully and Wonderfully Made." Full policy text.

The policy proclaims the sanctity of all human life as God's creation and condemns human reproductive cloning. But it acknowledges that differences exist among the 35 different member communions regarding stem-cell research.

The new policy formed the basis of two resolutions: one that calls for a worldwide ban on human reproductive cloning, and a second, "Biotechnology and National Security," that calls for more oversight of government and private sector laboratories developing bio-warfare weapons. It calls for creation of a National Science Advisory Board for Bio-defense within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It would have "powers of regulation and oversight" of government and private bio-defense projects. Both resolutions passed unanimously.

Neither was there any dissent over a resolution to protect God's creation.

"Global warming threatens the very fabric of God's creation and will hit those who are least able to adapt -- both human and nonhuman -- the hardest," says the resolution in part.  It calls on "all Christians, people of faith and people of good will the world over to ... individually and in community, quickly reduce ... their greenhouse gas emissions."

"It is recognized that all the new technologies abound with promise for human welfare and at the same time pose terrible threats to the world's peoples," Edwards added. "Most of these technologies have not been brought to wide public attention, and the NCC in adopting these policies is trying to alert the world to what is going on, and to call for regulation that sees that it moves in positive directions."

On the Iraq war, delegates voted overwhelmingly to approve a pastoral message that calls for "an immediate phased withdrawal of American and coalition forces from Iraq." The withdrawal plan is linked to "benchmarks for rebuilding Iraqi society." The message will be sent to the Bush administration, Members of Congress and is also addressed to people of faith and all people of goodwill.

"As men and women of faith, we believe that freedom, along with genuine security, is based in God, and is served by the recognition of humanity's interdependence," the message said, "and by working with partners to bring about community, development, and reconciliation for all, and that such freedom and security is not served by this war in Iraq."

From the nearly 250 delegates voting, only two abstentions and one "no" vote were heard.

"The pastoral message on the war came out of our September meeting of the governing board and the Assembly was asked if it wanted to make the statement its own," said Edwards, who was with Bishop Christopher Epting, the Episcopal Church's ecumenical officer, at the governing board.

Epting consulted with the appropriate offices to ensure that the statement was consistent with Episcopal Church policy statements.

"One of the most moving things at the General Assembly for me was the report of the Special Commission on the Just Rebuilding of the Gulf Coast," Edwards noted. "We also had reports of groups that had visited the Middle East for the Council to investigate the violence there."

Edwards also highlighted the closing dinner speech, when Forbes spoke about the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well (John 4) as having three problems that need to be addressed in all of society: what Forbes called a "Satisfaction Deficit Syndrome," a lack of fulfillment that caused her to stir up trouble, an attitude of "Versus" that caused her to pit groups against one another, and the tendency to hurl biblical "Verses" at others as authority for her treatment of them.

"Overcoming these is part of the healing that needs to take place," Edwards said. "Forbes uses the pattern of classical African-American preaching to communicate serious theological and ethical content in a powerful way. His sermon is certainly one of the things that I took away from the meeting."

NCC's general secretary, the Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, who has completed all but a year of two four-year terms, announced that he will not seek another term.

A United Methodist minister who served six terms in Congress, Edgar rescued Claremont Theological Seminary from a financial crisis, and did the same for NCC when he became general secretary seven years ago, Edwards explained. "During this time he has also been a prophet of social witness in the name of the Council, so the Council is greatly indebted for his leadership."

Clare Chapman, a staff member of the United Methodist Church ecumenical office and chair of the Administration and Finance Committee, was appointed as associate general secretary of Administration and Finance to succeed Leora Landmesser, who recently died from cancer.

The Assembly also adopted a Strategic Plan "that has been carefully developed to lead NCC forward in its restored health," Edwards said. "The Plan emphasizes the nature of the Council as a ‘community of communions' and calls for a deepening of the relations of the member churches to one another."

The General Assembly is a joint meeting of the National Council of Churches with Church World Service "and it is always inspiring to know how much our sister organization does systematically to relieve suffering throughout the world," Edwards said. CWS celebrates its sixtieth anniversary of Christian humanitarian endeavor this year.

"The world conference on Faith and Order that met at Lund, Sweden in 1952 stated a principle that has been accepted by most of the ecumenical movement since, that Christians are morally bound to do together everything that conscience does not compel them to do separately," said Edwards. "It recognizes Our Lord's prayer that we all may be one (John 17). There is only one church, but its message and mission are compromised by our divisions.

"In addition to these basic theological reasons, there are also practical reasons why the Episcopal Church should be working with other Christian bodies, such as the simple fact that we have a lot better chance of being heard on urgent moral issues in our very secular society if Christians speak with one voice," he added. "We Episcopalians need to be at the table with other Christians to be loyal to the call of Christ and also to be more effective in society."

The 2007 General Assembly meeting will be held in New York City.

Further information is available at: http://www.ncccusa.org/