Representatives of the churches and organizations of Christian Churches Together in the USA assembled in here Feb. 14-17 to respond to one question: How might the Holy Spirit use the witness of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and his letter from the Birmingham jail to help the church live the Gospel more fully and proclaim it more faithfully?
Participants agreed that the annual meeting achieved a deep level of honesty in their conversation on racism and poverty. Throughout the four days, participants were challenged to move from conviction to action in addressing the sin of racism. White privilege and institutionalized racism were clearly named.
The meeting ended with challenging and emphatic messages from the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Office of Public Witness, and the Rev. Frank Thomas, pastor of Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Memphis. Bernard LaFayette — a Freedom Rider and co-founder the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee — and Virgil Wood — Virginia organizer for the Washington March — also addressed the gathering. Their personal ties to King made their speeches and challenges very poignant.
Other speakers included Albert Raboteau of Princeton University, Bishop Claire Burket, David Beckmann of Bread for the World, and Jeff Farmer of Open Bible.
The 85 national church leaders (African American, Catholic, Historic Protestant, Evangelical/Pentecostal and Orthodox) together visited the National Civil Rights Museum, the Slave Haven Museum (an Underground Railroad safe house) and the historic Mason Temple where King delivered his “Mountaintop” speech.
The participants issued a consensus statement: One in Christ for the Sake of All.
Plans are underway to have a public commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the letter from the Birmingham jail on April 15, 2013, in Birmingham.
Carlos L Malavé is assistant stated clerk and associate for ecumenical relations in the Office of the General Assembly.