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Faith leaders want to partner with Obama


  Church leaders discuss writing a letter from the U.S. Conference of the World Council of Churches to President Barack Obama. A UMNS photo by Philip Jenks.

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*

Jan. 22, 2009


Lois Dauway

United Methodists have joined other ecumenical faith leaders in a letter telling U.S. President Barack Obama that they will partner with him “to help bring about the changes that are so desperately needed.”

The Jan. 20 letter from the U.S. Conference of the World Council of Churches was signed by the Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson, moderator, and the conference’s board members, associate members and heads of churches. The conference represents 34 member churches of the WCC.

The letter began by expressing excitement over the inauguration. “We are especially inspired by how you have engaged our youth, moving them to action and signaling the real possibility that another world is possible, and that they can be among those from whom ideas and leadership are sought over the course of your administration,” the letter said.

In face of the world’s challenges, “Ours is not to point fingers at your new administration and say, ‘Fix it.’ Rather, ours is to roll up our sleeves and partner with you to help bring about the changes that are so desperately needed for the United States and the world to more closely reflect God’s vision for humankind and all of creation. Ours is to call us all into account when we do not follow that vision.”

Lois Dauway, a United Methodist member of the WCC Central Committee, was part of a five-member committee that drafted the letter, using presentations and feedback from the conference’s Dec. 2-4 annual meeting. The letter then was sent out for further input.  


The Rev. Motoe Yamada

Instead of asking member churches to provide “a laundry list of issues” for President Obama, “we felt it was more important to convey the tone, the fact that we recognize that he, in many ways, becomes the public theologian,” she said. “What we want from him is not just addressing a number of social ills, but helping…change the American narrative.”

The WCC members also wanted “to convey the global reach of the United States and our responsibility to and in the world” and assure the new president that “we are part of the solution,” added Dauway, who is an executive with the Women’s Division, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

Lift up common good

In the letter, the U.S. members of the WCC pledged to work with President Obama to help repair trust and good will, lift up the common good over self-interest and greed, restore human dignity, reconstruct a just economy, renew a commitment to human rights, rebuild the educational system, replenish “God’s good creation” and recommit to health care for all.


The Rev. Stephen Sidorak

“May you hold onto those things that have tended your soul up to this point,” the letter said. “May you always find Sabbath time for yourself and your family. May you draw deeply on the faith that has brought you safe thus far. May you be lifted up when you are down, and may you listen carefully for the still small voice of the God who loves you unconditionally.”

United Methodist signers of the letter included two members of the WCC Central Committee, the Rev. Larry Pickens and the Rev. Motoe Yamada, along with Jay Williams and the top executive of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, the Rev. Stephen Sidorak.

“It was important to let him know, as a Christian community, that he is not alone and we are ready to work with him and, most of all, God is with him,” said Yamada, a pastor at Wesley United Methodist Church in San Jose, Calif., and co-chairperson of the U.S. Conference’s young adult task force.

“As Christians, we wanted to remind him to continue to take care of his soul, take time for Sabbath and listen to God’s voice,” she said. “The WCC U.S. conference is a part of the broader world, and what we do will have impact.”

Yamada added that she was thrilled to see the Rev. Sharon Watkins, general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and a member of the WCC Central Committee, preach at the Jan. 21 National Prayer Service. Watkins, chosen by President Obama, was the first woman given that honor.

Call for collaboration

Sidorak also appreciated the tone of the letter. “President Obama is calling for that kind of collaboration, between the private and public sectors,” he noted.

Part of the letter’s message, he added, is that “charity cannot be a substitute for justice.” The longtime peace activist also said he liked the emphasis on not just ending war, but achieving shalom and the building of a peaceable kingdom.

The letter’s closing, a pastoral prayer from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., speaks to its timing, according to Sidorak. With the first day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity falling on Jan. 18, the King holiday on Jan. 19 and the inauguration on Jan. 20, Christians experienced “three days of new life,” he said. “It was a wonderful thing.”

Besides Dauway and Jackson, members of the drafting committee included Kathryn Lohre, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Very Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky, Orthodox Church in America, and the Rev. Gradye Parsons, Presbyterian Church USA.

Christian Churches Together in the USA, another ecumenical organization, has alerted the Obama administration to its call to action on poverty. On Jan. 15, representatives met privately with members of his transition team.

The full text of the WCC letter can be found at http://www.oikoumene.org/?id=6557.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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