This week, NCC President/General Secretary Bishop Vashti McKenzie joined 41 member communions and faith-based organization heads in appealing to President Joe Biden to end the soft genocide occurring among the people of Artsakh. A copy of the letter was sent to Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken.
The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) condemns the heinous act of pure hatred that took the lives of three innocent people in Jacksonville, Fla., on Saturday, August 26, 2023. Our prayers are with the families of Anolt “AJ” Laguerre Jr., Jerrald De’Shaun Gallion, and Angela Michelle Carr, as they mourn their loved ones.
Unfortunately, the murder of innocent people while they are conducting simple daily routines — grocery shopping, going to the movies, attending worship services, sitting in a classroom, and other normal activities — is now commonplace in America. Nevertheless, the normalization of hate fueled acts is abhorrent.
We must never underestimate or ignore the threat posed to all Americans, especially Black Americans and other people of color, by the prevalence of white supremacy and the ease with which supremacists and other perpetrators of hate can access weapons designed to kill as quickly, efficiently, and destructively as possible.
“Racism is not just an issue for black and brown people,” says NCC President and General Secretary Bishop Vashti McKenzie. “We need to enact and enforce legislation that targets systemic racism. Change happens when we become allies working together for change instead of working on each other.”
At its May 2023 meeting, the NCC Governing Board adopted a resolution calling for a “ban on all assault weapons and other weapons of war that have infiltrated our communities.” NCC maintains its demand that Congress take action to protect lives, especially those in marginalized communities that are most at risk from the volatile combination of racially motivated violent extremism and easily accessible, military grade tools of death.
“We are in a state of emergency,” says Bishop Teresa Snorton, Chair of NCC’s Governing Board. “We call on all elected officials at the highest levels to do what is necessary to protect all citizens from these acts of domestic terrorism.”
NCC calls on all people of good will to become more aware of how racist acts against humanity and the suffering they cause show up in neighborhoods and communities across our nation, and then work assiduously towards the equality and dignity of all people.
Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie among National Faith Leaders Speaking
The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) is thrilled to announce that Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, President/General Secretary of the ecumenical body, will be speaking at the upcoming 60th Commemoration of the March on Washington this Saturday, August 26, 2023, between 9-9:15 a.m. The program is from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. at the Lincoln Memorial and the March to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial begins at 1:00 p.m.
“NCC’s presence and participation in this momentous occasion reflects our unwavering commitment to the pursuit of equality, justice, and dignity for all,” said Bishop Teresa Snorton, Chair of NCC’s Governing Board. “For the past 73 years NCC communions have played a vital role in advancing the cause of civil rights and promoting healing, reconciliation, and unity among diverse communities.”
NCC played a major role in organizing and participating in the original historic march on August 28, 1963. Many of NCC’s communion leaders marched that day with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. including Jon Regier, head of the Division of Christian Life and Mission.
Anna Arnold Hedgeman, a civil rights leader and NCC commission member, was the only woman on the original organizing committee for the March. She strategized to get at least one woman speaking on the podium that day and it turned out to be the NAACP’s Daisy Bates.
The 60th Commemoration of the march holds great significance for Bishop McKenzie as she marched in the historic 1963 march as a teenager. “My parents retrieved me from summer camp in southern Maryland to attend the march with other cousins and family members,” said Bishop McKenzie. “The significance of the long hot day of speeches wasn’t fully realized until later in life as a student activist in college.”
In 2013, along with former Chairman of NCC’s Governing Board, Bishop W. Darin Moore, Bishop McKenzie prayed one of the opening prayers of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.
“At the heart of our Christian faith and the mission of the NCC is a love-compelling commitment to justice that won’t allow us to be silent in the face of poverty, inequality, oppression, and systems that devalue our divine image. Ours is a legacy of prophetic witness that continues to cry out for liberation, reparation, and equality,” said Bishop W. Darin Moore, the Presiding Prelate for the Mid-Atlantic Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and a member of NCC’s Governing Board.
NCC calls upon it’s constituency of 100,000 congregations and the nation to come together, united in purpose, to honor the past, engage with the present challenges, and actively work towards a future where justice and equality prevail. Register! March! Move forward!
For more information about the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington, “Not a Commemoration, A Continuation,” and how to register, click here.
The National Council of Churches (NCC) was invited to the White House Roundtable with Faith Leaders on the Overdose Crisis this week. It was hosted by Dr. Rahul Gupta, Director, Office of National Drug Control Policy and Mayor Steven Benjamin, Director, White House Office of Public Engagement. Also providing leadership was Melissa Rogers, Executive Director, White House Office of Faith and Neighborhood Partnerships and the Rev. Que English, Ph.D., Director of Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships, Department of Health and Human Services. Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, President/General Secretary and Rev. Dr. Leslie Copeland Tune, Chief Operating Officer, represented NCC. Each of the 11 organizations were asked to share from a list of 5 questions ranging from policies, direct services, challenges and barriers to saving lives from opioid overdose and the role of their specific faith community.
“We want to hear from you,” said Dr. Gupta in his opening remarks.
Bishop McKenzie highlighted the work of NCC member denominations, including the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ, and the Presbyterian Church in her presentation about success stories. Several NCC communions provide resources to congregations to address opioid use and overdose with compassion, others encourage congregations to use their facilities for providing services in underserved rural areas; still others partner with local responders and the medical communities to offer pastoral care to those affected by this epidemic and collaborate with other faith leaders to advocate policies and laws that promote healing and wholeness.
Bishop McKenzie also cited the NCC’s work in ending Mass Incarceration and the revival of the Health and Wellness Taskforce. A 2019 report indicated that opioid use was a factor in arrest and inmate intake. One report noted that 14.5% of persons tested positive for opioid use during the inmate intake process, making opioid use a factor in ending mass incarceration. NCC’s new health initiative is focusing on Mental Health. Dr. Gupta observed that mental health was a factor in each of the presentations.
“Faith communities have an opportunity to chip away at the stigma of Opioid abuse and overdose which not only impacts the lives of those who are caught in the vise of prescription drug abuse, but their families who often suffer in silence and the broader community, “said Bishop McKenzie. “Church is an excellent place to learn about relationship – your relationship with God, relationship with each other and how to repair relationships. The church can be a connector that helps people reenter into community as we learn to change the question from “what’s wrong with you?” to “what happened to you?”
Bishop McKenzie also shared insights from Rev. Dr. Barry Steiner, an ordained United Methodist minister who has developed ministry programs that address the opioid crisis. She quoted him saying, “So, I set about learning all I could about addiction and put together a program for local churches to explain how the brain works and why SUD (substance use disorder) is a medical issue and not a moral issue. Then to spend time with the congregation exploring what resources were available in their city, town, crossroads, or holler. Spending time in prayer asking where does God need me…where does God need us, the congregation to respond. I began going from church to church to church with my anti-stigma program.”
For I, the Lord, love justice,
I hate robbery and wrongdoing; [a]
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Isaiah 61:8, NRSVUE
The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA vehemently opposes the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Students for Fair Admissions v President and Fellows of Harvard College to eliminate the consideration of race and ethnicity from the college admissions process. The decision reverses decades of legal precedent and progress in providing equitable access to higher education for Black Americans and other racial groups who have endured the shackles of structural and systemic discrimination for centuries.
Affirmative action is a reparative attempt to undo the lasting effects of slavery, segregation, and systemic discrimination against Black people in education and other aspects of American society. Since the 1960s, colleges and universities have developed programs to improve access to higher education for racial minority groups to reflect the full strength and diversity of the United States. Affirmative action considers an applicant’s racial background, including financial and other hardships due to systemic racism, as one of several factors in the college admissions process when evaluating a qualified pool of applicants.
It is short-sighted, shameful, and downright immoral for American institutions to deny the history and impact of racism and discrimination. Opposition to affirmative action programs in higher education is evidence of how deeply entrenched white supremacy is in our society and how much more work is needed to undo and end racial injustice.
“Refusing to remedy the wrongs of the past does not erase them. It only exacerbates and magnifies the negative effects they have had. Unfortunately, the nation and some of our most vulnerable citizens will pay the price for this egregious ruling,” said Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton, Chair of NCC’s Governing Board.
While progress has been made to close the racial gap in education, disparities remain in many institutions of higher education. It is tone deaf to act as though racism is not still a factor in American life, despite the realities of ongoing structural and systemic racial barriers that plague our society. All God’s people, regardless of their race, should have not only equal but equitable opportunity to thrive and realize their full potential.
“Race has been a factor in making employment, housing, banking, health care and education decisions for centuries in America. The decision by the Supreme Court adds to the pain of marginalized people and pits one group against the other, vying for a few spaces in certain institutions of higher learning. When our colleges, corporations, communities, and country make space for people of diverse backgrounds and experiences to participate fully, it enriches all our lives. This decision undermines ‘liberty and justice for all’ in the face of historical discrimination and rising racism,” said NCC President and General Secretary Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie.
Today, we reaffirm the commitment made by the National Council of Churches in 1997 to encourage our member denominations and ecumenical agencies to continue support of and advocacy for effective affirmative action programs, statutes, policies, and practices; to speak out against retrogressive legislative and other attempts to rescind or weaken affirmative action statutes on municipal, state, or federal levels; to align themselves with others of good will to defeat anti-affirmative action initiatives constructed to turn back the clock; and to encourage members to exercise their constitutional and civil responsibilities fully in helping to defeat these and other assaults on productive affirmative action programs.
We must remain steadfast about the realities of racism and be willing to make changes to overcome new challenges that emerge as we strive to become the Beloved Community.
The House has passed and the Senate is preparing to vote on an agreement between President Biden and House leadership to raise the debt ceiling to pay America’s bills to avert a global financial crisis by June 5, 2023. The agreement is a considerable improvement from the previous threats to cut support from those who need it the most. However, it still falls short of the legislation that the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA had hoped for, one that reflects the full potential of America, and upholds the obligation that we as Christians have to care for the most vulnerable in society—those whom Jesus had in mind when he emphatically said, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me (Matthew 25:40 NRSVUE).”
The proposed compromise denies the IRS vital funding it needs to improve its ability to hold wealthy people who defraud the system accountable while weakening support systems of those who need help. NCC maintains that any legislation to raise the debt ceiling should not have extra conditions or cuts. We must honor the Imago Dei in each human being and preserve the integrity of safety net programs designed to help those in need.
In the weeks leading to this critical moment in our nation’s history, we bore witness to the worst aspects of partisan politics. Inundated by the disgraceful rhetoric that cast blame on the poor and defenseless, America was exposed to political gamesmanship that brought us to the brink of financial catastrophe not seen in 247 years. Congress must not hold the American people hostage in future debt ceiling debates. There should be no cuts to safety-net programs that provide food, health care, and housing for those in need to raise the debt ceiling, nor should burdensome eligibility requirements, such as time limits, be considered in debt ceiling legislation.
Congress jeopardized the lives of hundreds of millions of people—including families, children, seniors, and veterans—at risk of going hungry, losing access to healthcare, and foreclosing on their homes. The American people deserve better than this display of political maneuvering and toxic polarization.
NCC is committed to continue to hold Congress accountable for any future cuts to these essential programs.
The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) calls for the passage of a bill that lifts the debt ceiling with no conditions to avert financial disaster and protect the millions of Americans who rely on social safety net programs.
Hundreds of millions of Americans—including families, children, seniors, and veterans—are at risk of going hungry, losing access to healthcare, and foreclosing on their homes because of the current irresponsible debate about whether the United States should pay its bills. It is unconscionable to refuse to pay a debt that has already been incurred, let alone hold the American people hostage for political gain. Millions of people who depend on monthly benefits to get by will be phased-out of nutrition, health care, and cash assistance programs due to unfair time-limits and other unreasonable requirements and will suddenly be at risk of falling into extreme poverty.
If Congress does not act before June 1st, the Treasury will run out of funds to pay America’s growing debt and default for the first time in our nation’s 247-year history. The potential damage of a breach is extensive. Millions of people who depend on monthly benefits to get by will be phased-out of critical assistance programs due to unfair time-limits and other unreasonable requirements and will suddenly be at risk of falling into extreme poverty. Those seeking medical care will be turned away because they will no longer be able to get health insurance. Others could find themselves on the street.
The scripture warns us about the high cost of inaction and turning a blind-eye to the plight of the vulnerable among us, saying, “Do not rob the poor because they are poor or crush the afflicted at the gate, for the Lord pleads their cause and despoils of life those who despoil them (Proverbs 22:22-23 NRSVUE).” It is morally reprehensible to put millions of people at risk. Congress must lift the debt ceiling without conditions.
If Congress refuses to act to pass a clean bill to raise the debt ceiling, then we urge President Biden to use whatever options are available to him to protect the full faith and credit of the United States of America.
The Governing Board of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) is pleased to announce that Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie has been elected to serve as President and General Secretary of the ecumenical organization. She is the first African American woman to serve as both President and General Secretary of the organization. The Governing Board made the announcement during its annual Spring meeting, held in Washington, DC, May 15–16.
Bishop McKenzie has served in the position as interim since April 1, 2022, and immersed herself in the work of the organization without delay. During her year as interim, she led an extensive review of NCC’s foundational documents, initiated Voter Empowerment 2022: A Church-Based Action Plan campaign, testified on Capitol Hill on behalf of low wage earners and poor children, and served as keynote speaker at the National Prayer Breakfast.
She has also represented NCC internationally at the World Council of Churches’ Regional Ecumenical Officers annual meeting at the Ecumenical Center in Bossey, Switzerland as well as attended the 11th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Germany.
Bishop McKenzie has reinstituted the NCC’s Health and Wellness Taskforce to dive deeper into health and healthcare priorities that impact persons of all races, ethnicities, and socio-economic and geographic status. As part of the taskforce relaunch, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy was the keynote speaker at the recent Governing Board Health and Wellness Taskforce Luncheon.
She also has initiated a new Policy Roundtable to create space for NCC’s communions and partners to speak to and with each other and hear from policy experts on critical issues that strengthen its impact on public policy.
“The National Council of Churches is excited that Bishop McKenzie has agreed to serve in this pivotal leadership role. She brings the necessary insight, expertise, and ecumenical commitment to the Council to lead us into the future,” said Board Chair Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton, who is also the Ecumenical Officer of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.
“The entire Board is excited about Bishop McKenzie’s vision and leadership. We are grateful for her willingness to use the full vessel of her ministerial gifts to lead the NCC,” added Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and NCC Governing Board Vice Chair.
“I am honored to serve the National Council of Churches and I look forward to building upon the strong foundation laid by the men and women who have led the way in ecumenism and advocacy work for more than seven decades. I look forward to engaging every communion within this great collaborative to serve the 100,000 congregations and the more than 30 million members that fall under its ecumenical umbrella,” said Bishop McKenzie, who has been active in social justice issues for more than three decades.
Bishop McKenzie served as the 117th elected and consecrated bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and was the first female elected to episcopal office in the AME Church’s two centuries of operation. She is the first female to serve as President of the Council of Bishops and President of the General Board and has served as presiding bishop in Southern Africa—Botswana, Swaziland, Mozambique, and Lesotho—and in the United States in Tennessee, Kentucky and Texas.
Bishop McKenzie is a graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, and Howard University School of Divinity, and has an earned doctorate from United Theological Seminary.
She was appointed in 2009 by President Barack Obama to serve on the inaugural White House Commission of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. This group worked on behalf of Americans committed to improving their communities, regardless of religious or political beliefs. In 2014, she was named one of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Religious Life in the World by Huffington Post.
She is the author of six books, including Not Without a Struggle, Journey to the Well, and The Big Deal: Taking Small Steps to Move Closer to God.