“The inaugural Gathering will provide an exciting opportunity for us to join with our sisters and brothers in reaffirming our commitments to Christian unity, while leveraging our collective resources to address the NCC’s new priorities: mass incarceration and inter-religious relations for peace,” said Kathryn M. Lohre, ELCA executive for ecumenical and inter-religious relations and NCC immediate past president. Lohre was the first Lutheran and youngest woman to serve as NCC president.
“We are getting together to celebrate ecumenism and energize our journey toward the visible unity of all the Christian churches,” said Jim Winkler, NCC president and general secretary, in a council press release announcing the gathering.
According to the release, discussions will likely include “the realities that the U.S. has the largest prison population in the world, that there is an enormous racial and ethnic imbalance both in the prison population and on death row, that there are many persons imprisoned whose crimes are victimless, non-violent, or related to personal drug possession and use, and that the billions of dollars spent keeping people locked up could be spent more constructively.”
“The Christian Unity Gathering will seek to provide a forum for deep inter-generational engagement, and cross-contextual learning, in order that the churches might together be responsive to a rapidly changing ecclesial and ecumenical landscape,” said Lohre.
Speakers at the Gathering will include: Dr. Iva E. Carruthers, social justice and policy advocate, educator and activist, and the general secretary of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference; Dr. Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund; the Rev. Dr. Harold Dean Trulear, associate professor of Applied Theology and director of the Doctor of Ministry program at Howard University; and Jim Wallis, founder and president of Sojourners, and editor of Sojourners magazine.
In 2013 the ELCA Churchwide Assembly adopted “The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries” – a social statement on criminal justice. The statement calls ELCA members to ministry and compassion through practices including: hearing the cries of those affected, accompaniment, hospitality and advocacy. It asks members of this church to recommit themselves to visiting the prisoner; correct the flawed criminal justice system and participate in God’s work with hands and hearts.