Thursday, July 17, 2008

Rev. Michael Kinnamon on the need for sacred conversation

Kinnamon: NY Times, CBS poll on racestresses need for "sacred conversations."

New York, July 16, 2008
A recent New York Times/CBS News poll revealing deep nationaldivisions along racial lines is an urgent reminder of the need for "sacred conversations on race," the head of the National Council of Churches said today.

The poll indicated that a large majority of African Americans - nearly 60 percent - believe race relations in the United States are "generally bad," the Times reported today. Forty percent of blacks said racial discrimination is as bad as ever, while one out of four whites said there is too much emphasis on discrimination. Seventy percent of blacks and half of Latinos said they have been targets of racial discrimination.

"These figures are discouraging but not surprising," said the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary of the NCC. "Last April our churches called for a `sacred conversationon race' in American pulpits, and this poll shows how badly those conversations are needed."

The call for sermons on race was issued April 3 by the Rev. John H. Thomas, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, and promptly endorsed by Kinnamon and other church leaders. Thomas made the call as church leaders gathered on the steps of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ and defended the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, then the target of a storm of criticism for remarks deemed unpatrioticand radical by critics.

Wright attracted attention because Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama was a member of Trinity, and media reports fanned the flames of wild rumors about what Wright and church members believe.

At the time, Kinnamon dismissed notions that Trinity's congregation is a "radical sect" as "nonsense," and pointed out that many of Wright's criticisms of American racism were accurate. "This country has made important strides in confronting its racist past – but, surely, no one thinks that racism has been eradicated," Kinnamon said in April.

Speaking today from his New York office, Kinnamon noted that the Rev. W. Sterling Cary, a UCC clergyman who was NCC president 1972-75, has warned that Obama's successful campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination obscures the fact that there are still huge problems” among races in the U.S.

In an interview last month with NCC News, Cary said the racism Wright preaches about "is still with us. My greatest concern about the current presidential campaign is that the rhetoric gives people the impression that they can ignore the past and celebrate the future, but there are a lot of serious problems that cannot be glossed over – and this is especially pronounced in terms of race."

The Times/CBS poll showed marked divisions in voter preference for president. Nearly 90 percent of black voters favored Obama while 2 percent favored Republican Senator John McCain. White voters chose McCain over Obama by 46 percent to 23 percent. Latino voters chose Obama by 62 to 23 percent.

"Many white Americans tend not to recognize the racism that persists in our society while persons of color say they feel it acutely and persistently," Kinnamon said.“It's very painful to realize how divisive race continues to be, but it's a reality the churches cannot ignore. We have to confront racism honestly, directly, and in Christ's spirit of love and reconciliation."

Originally the Sunday designated for sacred conversations on race was May 18, Trinity Sunday. "But the pain of racism continues and the sacred conversations must continue," Kinnamon said.

The NCC is the ecumenical voice of America's Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican,historic African American and traditional peace churches. These 35 communions have45 million faithful members in 100,000 congregations in all 50 states.

NCC News contact: Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228,

For up-to-date information on the National Council of Churches, see

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Azur Riki endured immigration process to speak to Lutherans in the USA

July 15, 2008
Women of ELCA, GME Guest Endures Immigration Process, Arrives in U.S.

SALT LAKE CITY (ELCA) -- Azur Riki was one of several
international guests invited to the Women of the Evangelical
Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Seventh Triennial Gathering
here July 10-13, to share stories about her life and church. But
getting here was an endurance test for Riki, who worked through
the complexities of the U.S. immigration system, made even more
complex because she is living with HIV.

Riki, a member of the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria,
lives in Jos, Nigeria. She arrived here July 12 after she was
granted a visa by the U.S. embassy in Abuja, Nigeria. Riki had
traveled to the U.S. embassy three times to get a visa beginning
with her first visit June 18, and was denied each time, she said
in an interview with the ELCA News Service. She was notified on
July 10 that her visa was granted, after she and others thought
her visa request would not be approved. ELCA staff helped
arrange her trip to the United States.

Riki will also be a guest and speaker at the ELCA Global
Mission Event, July 17-20, at the University of Wisconsin,
La Crosse.

Riki is a widow with two children, ages 5 and 11. Her
husband was HIV positive and died in 2002. She is supporting
herself and her family today, thanks to the programs of the
Mashiah Foundation, Jos. The foundation operates a holistic
HIV/AIDS education, prevention, testing, counseling and health
program ministry, including the Women of Hope Program, which
serves 140 women who are HIV-positive. The foundation is
supported by gifts from ELCA congregations and through ELCA
Global Mission.

The Mashiah Foundation receives funds from the President's
Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a program initiated
under U.S. President George W. Bush. The ELCA supports PEPFAR,
which must be reauthorized this year, and has advocated for
increased funding and policies in a new bill.

This week the U.S. Congress is expected to take up global
AIDS reauthorization, said Kim Stietz, director for international
policy, ELCA Washington Office. One of the improved policies in
the proposed PEPFAR reauthorization is repeal of the permanent
travel ban against people living with HIV, she said. The ELCA,
through its Washington Office, and 16 other churches and church
organizations signed a letter last week urging U.S. Senators to
repeal the travel ban.

People living with HIV, such as Riki, can be considered for
certain types of visas to enter the United States, but the
process is laborious and complicated, Stietz said. In Riki's
case, she traveled to Lagos, a 12-hour journey, and to Abuja, a
three-hour journey, multiple times to secure the proper documents
but was denied an entry visa, she said. That is until staff of
the U.S. State Department apparently intervened, following
efforts by ELCA staff and others working on Riki's behalf. Riki
is not the only Nigerian who has faced this difficulty with
visas, said Bayo Oyebade, director, Mashiah Foundation.

"The irony is that individuals like Riki are literally alive
because of the AIDS treatment they received through PEPFAR, yet
they're being denied the opportunity to tell Americans how good
the program is because they're HIV positive," Stietz said.
"There's no public health justification for placing travel
restrictions on HIV positive people."

"It (the law) only increases stigma and discrimination
against people who are HIV positive. We know how to prevent the
spread of the disease -- it's through education and prevention
not border control," Stietz said.

After many unsuccessful efforts to get Riki to this summer's
ELCA events, no one is entirely sure why Riki was suddenly
granted a visa to enter the United States, Stietz said. But she
is grateful.

"I'm really happy to get myself here," Riki said. "I never
dreamed I would be in this country. It's not easy for a woman
living with HIV. But I thank God because of the Mashiah
Foundation. That is how I got to America today. I thank God for
PEPFAR. They have provided the drugs for us to take, and to take
care of our health."


Information about the Global AIDS bill reauthorization is at on the ELCA Web site.
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or
ELCA News Blog:

Monday, July 7, 2008

Namibian Bishop speaks against arms’ shipment to Zimbabwe

I wish this news had been more widely shared. I am pleased to see Bishop Kameeta's consistent stand for peace. I wish I'd seen this earlier.

LWF Africa Vice-President Leads Namibians in Protest Against Arms’ Shipment to Zimbabwe. “We Cannot Be Silent and Watch,” Bishop Kameeta Cautions Churches

WINDHOEK, Namibia/GENEVA, 25 April 2008 (LWI) – The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Vice-President for Africa Bishop Dr Zephania Kameeta has called upon churches and people in the region “to do everything in our power” to stop a Chinese arms’ shipment from reaching the Government of Zimbabwe.

“Allowing weapons to reach Zimbabwe in this highly volatile and tense situation amounts to becoming accomplices in the injustice and violence committed,” said the Namibian Lutheran bishop in a 23 April statement supporting legal action to stop a Chinese ship from entering Namibian waters with weapons destined for land-locked Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis has increased following the delay in announcing the official results of the 29 March presidential, parliamentary and civic elections. The Chinese shipment arrived in Durban, South Africa on 10 April, but legal action by unions and other activists thwarted efforts to deliver its cargo. Also, Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, chairperson of the sub-regional Southern African Development Community urged member states not to provide the ship with docking facilities.

In his statement, Kameeta, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia (ELCRN) reminded churches they could not be silent and watch the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe including loss of lives. “As Christians we cannot simply walk past the injured and tortured and go about business as usual, while preaching the story of the Good Samaritan,” he said, stressing it was an “extraordinary situation” that “needs prayers and concrete action.”

Kameeta’s statement was endorsed by LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko, who called for the solidarity of the region’s churches in defending the people of Zimbabwe. Referring to his earlier call to Zimbabwean authorities to release the election results (, Noko said concern was not only about the government’s accountability and transparency of democratic processes. “We are concerned about an imminent threat to the lives of Zimbabwean citizens at the hands of their own government,” he stated.

Namibian Lutheran Bishops Dr Thomas Shivute (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia – ELCIN) and Erich Hertel (German speaking Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia –ELCIN-GELC) supported the statement by the LWF Vice-President. The three Lutheran churches – all belonging to the LWF – coordinate their joint work through the United Church Council.

The ELCRN bishop also delivered a keynote address during a 24 April demonstration in front of the Chinese Embassy in the Namibian capital, Windhoek. Bishop Hertel was among the representatives of churches and the broader civil society who participated in the rally to support plans by the Legal Assistance Center to institute legal action against the ship’s landing at a Namibian port.