As millions marked Martin Luther King Day across the United States yesterday, American church leaders urged their congregations to join Christians and others in their communities to "to exercise common witness and common service as together we seek to dismantle racism and, in so doing, to be the voice and presence of God's love in the world."
United Methodist Bishop William Oden, ecumenical officer, United Methodist Council of Bishops, the Rev Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and nine other Christian church leaders - many of them heads of communion - endorsed the statement issued through 'Churches Uniting in Christ', reports the ECLA News Service.
Churches Uniting in Christ (CUIC) is a relationship network of 10 member churches "that have pledged to live more closely together in expressing their unity in Christ and to combat racism together," according to the organization's website. The United Methodist Church is a member and the ELCA is a "partner in mission and dialogue."
The church leaders noted in their statement that 15 January 2007 marked both the 21st anniversary celebration of Martin Luther King Day and the fifth anniversary of CUIC. On 21 January 2002, the Christian leaders, representing the 10 denominations, assembled in Memphis at the historic Lorraine Motel, site of King's assassination in 1968.
"They gathered to sign an agreement committing the members and partners in mission of CUIC to express their unity in Christ by living more closely together and working together to combat racism in the church and in society. In their statement, the heads of communion affirmed that we must hold a common vision for God's Beloved Community that is a community 'committed to eradicating racism and making no peace with oppression,'" the statement said.
The church leaders said that CUIC members are called to be "ambassadors of reconciliation" in a world sold on "the idolatries of privilege and racial exclusivity that continue to divide and alienate the family of God, denying the truth that we are all created in the image of the one God".
"Common witness and service are two marks of our unity in Christ. Our partnership in CUIC recognizes that one barrier to the expression of unity in the Christian family is the continuing reality of racism in the church and in the human community," the church leaders' statement declared.
The representatives said the vision of CUIC is that "authentic unity may be born in the struggle for racial justice, and that our collective prophetic witness against injustice and oppression in all forms is a measure of our faithfulness to the gospel."
They added that they are reminded there is still much to be done to dismantle and eradicate racism, and they hope their efforts will not be in vain.
"We believe in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr: 'There is a power in love that our world has not discovered yet,'" the statement concluded.
Other denominational heads of communion and senior church leaders who signed the statement represented the African Methodist Episcopal Church; African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church; Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); Christian Methodist Episcopal Church; the Episcopal Church; International Council of Community Churches; Moravian Church Northern Province; Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Church of Christ.