Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What Christians Can Do Together

By Father Ron Roberson, CSP

At their plenary meeting in November 2004, the Catholic Bishops of the United States voted overwhelmingly to participate in a new national ecumenical forum called “Christian Churches Together in the USA” (CCT).  The idea of CCT had emerged three years earlier at a meeting of Christian leaders hosted by Cardinal William Keeler in Baltimore. The leaders realized that the National Council of Churches – which includes mainline Protestant and Orthodox churches – represented only about a third of the Christians in the country.  Clearly, some sort of new organization was needed that would gather together all the major denominations, including the Catholic Church and the growing Evangelical/Pentecostal communities. This led to the formation of CCT, which officially came into existence in March 2006. 

One of the most important aspects of CCT is that it uses the consensus model for decision-making. This means that when a statement in the name of CCT is under consideration, each participant can vote either in favor or against it, also with the possibility of “standing aside” for those who are not in favor of the statement but do not feel strongly enough to block it. A single negative vote will defeat any proposal.  So in CCT it is impossible for any participating church to be associated with a statement it doesn’t agree with.

With this model of decision making, CCT has been looking at areas where there seems to be a real chance of reaching a consensus. So far, it has issued such statements on poverty in America and the persistence of racism in our churches. At its plenary meetings in Birmingham, Alabama, in 2011 and in Memphis, Tennessee, in 2012, the members worked on a symbolic response to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Since that letter, which was addressed to local church leaders, was never responded to, and the 50th anniversary of the letter is coming up in April 2013, CCT has facilitated the drafting of a formal response to the letter which will be signed by the leadership of our churches at a special event in Birmingham on the anniversary of the letter. 

The most recent meeting of CCT took place in Austin, Texas, from January 29 to February 1, 2013. The theme was immigration reform, and came at a time when the political leaders of our nation appear to be moving closer to an agreement on some kind of legislative action. The participants heard a number of presentations on this theme, including a very moving and powerful talk by Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, “The ImmigrationExperience at the Border.” They were also able to meet with a number of “dreamers,” people born outside the country but who came here illegally with their families at a very young age and have no memory of their country of origin. 

At the end of the meeting, the CCT participants issued a remarkably strong appeal for immigration reform, which you can read on their web site.  It calls for an earned path to citizenship for the 11 million people in our country without authorization, the priority of family reunification in any new legislation, the protection of both the integrity of our borders and due process for immigrants and their families, an improvement in refugee protection and asylum laws, and also a review of international economic policies to address the root causes of unauthorized immigration.

It should be kept in mind that this statement represents a consensus among all the major families of Christians in our nation:  Orthodox, mainline Protestant, Evangelical/Pentecostal, historic black churches, as well as Catholics. Christians increasingly are speaking with a united voice asking for a reform of our current immigration laws that have caused much unnecessary suffering. CCT is becoming the primary forum enabling Christians to speak together on the great issues facing our society today. 

Father Roberson is associate director of the USCCB Secretariat on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

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