Churches Uniting in Christ gathers for racial justice consultation

April 5, 2004

Exploring the theme “Eradicating racism: liberating tomorrow's children,” representatives of the nine member communions of "Churches Uniting in Christ" (CUIC) and their two partners in mission and dialogue gathered at the Chicago headquarters of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for a racial justice consultation on March 29, 2004. Its purpose was to bring together denominational staff carrying the racial justice portfolio, academics who teach in the field, and practitioners doing anti-racism work in parishes and agencies across the country and to ask the question, "How can we do this work better together than we can separately?" Bishop Steven Charleston, president and dean of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, began the day with a challenging keynote address. After caricaturing the reasons often stated for not doing anti-racism work ("No racism here"..."We have a person who does that work"..."We don't have enough money"..."We don't know how to do it!") Charleston articulated four basic principles for the group: 1) Racial justice is the core ministry of the church; 2) Racial justice must be an intentional, visible, and consistent component of the church's mission; 3) Racial justice training must be an ongoing requirement for staff and leaders of churches; and 4) Funding for racial justice work must be a priority. Not content with listing such pragmatic steps, Charleston acknowledged that many in the room had "been here before," receiving encouragement and support until the going got rough after a call for deep, fundamental change had gone forth. He called upon the participants to form a spiritual covenant together, a covenant of "patience and persistence," in which members of the group would pray for one another and invite others to do so. Charleston concluded his address with a prayer and blessing to empower those present in making a new beginning for this work. Dr. Bertrice Wood, director of CUIC, and the Rev. Jayne Oasin, Episcopal Church staff officer for racial justice and chair of CUIC's Racial Justice Task Force, guided participants through the day, which consisted mainly of work in seven small groups: The Theological Case Against Racism Social Ethics Worship As Witness Christian Education Institutional Racism Advocacy Response to New Immigrant Groups Reports back from each group will be compiled by the Racial Justice Task Force and form the basis of its work with the member and partner communions of Churches Uniting in Christ. Representing some 22 million Christians, the denominations are: the African Methodist Episcopal Church; the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church; the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church; the Episcopal Church; the International Council of Community Churches; the Presbyterian Church (USA); the United Church of Christ; and the United Methodist Church. Partners in Mission and Dialogue include the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Northern Province of the Moravian Church. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has observer status in CUIC. Conference worship concluded with this prayer: "Make us bold in our struggle against cruelty. Give us courage and endurance to accept no peace where there is oppression, and to work for justice, God's Shalom, and the common good. Help us speak to the conscience of our country and its institutions. Use us to heal the brokenness in life. Renew our joy so that all creation can sing again the glad songs with which the world began."