Christian Churches Together in the USA: An Update
Christian Churches Together in the USA (CCT) began with an unofficial meeting of leaders of a wide range of churches that took place in Baltimore in early September 2001. At this meeting there was a strong consensus that a new ecumenical structure of some kind was needed to facilitate dialogue and cooperation among the nation’s churches. After all, the National Council of Churches represented only about one third of the Christians in the country since it did not include the large Evangelical/Pentecostal communities or the Catholic Church.
Over the next few years more meetings were held and the idea slowly took root and grew. In November 2004 the Catholic Bishops of the United States voted to participate. Then in March 2006, meeting in Atlanta, the participants formally voted to officially create CCT as the broadest and most inclusive forum of Christian churches and organizations in the United States.
Representation of the participants on the Steering Committee was determined by five confessional families of churches: Historic Protestant, Evangelical/Pentecostal, Orthodox, African American, and Catholic. It was also decided that decision-making would take place on the basis of consensus, which means that any statement by CCT must have the support of all the participating bodies or at least their agreement not to block it.
Since that time plenary meetings of CCT have taken place once each year. The first theme the group chose for consideration was poverty in the United States. Meeting in Pasadena, California, in 2007, the group issued a statement that called upon the civil and church leadership to work together to reduce the level of poverty in the US, and in particular the level of childhood poverty by 50% in ten years. It suggested a combination of individual initiative and government programs that would achieve this goal. CCT’s consideration of this issue continued at the 2008 and 2009 plenaries, both of which took place in Baltimore and included meetings with members of Congress and their staffs in Washington, DC.
At its 2010 plenary in Seattle, Washington, CCT turned its attention to evangelization. Papers were presented on how the evangelizing mission of the Church is carried out in our various communities. The members lamented the fact that Christian witness in the United States is compromised by our divisions, and encouraged Christians throughout the land to reflect on the relationship between ecumenism and evangelization in 2010, the centennial year of the Edinburgh Conference that marked the beginning of the modern ecumenical movement.
CCT’s most recent plenary took place last January in Birmingham, Alabama. This city was chosen because the theme of the meeting was domestic poverty through the lens of racism. Meeting in Birmingham provided the members with an opportunity to visit the sites of major events in the history of the struggle against racism in America, especially the Civil Rights Institute and the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church where 4 African American girls were killed in a bombing in 1963 in the midst of a civil rights struggle in Birmingham.
Most importantly, CCT issued a preliminary response to Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Dr King had responded to a letter from Christian leaders in Birmingham asking him to withdraw his support for civil rights demonstrations, but the clergy to whom it was addressed had never answered his letter.
In their one-page Initial Response to Dr. King’s letter [PDF], the CCT church leaders recalled with gratitude the sacrifices of the leaders of the civil rights movement who demonstrated the power of Christian, nonviolent action. They also express repentance that "some of us have not progressed far enough beyond the initial message from the Birmingham clergy. Too often our follow-through has been far less than our spoken commitments. Too often we have chosen to be comfortable rather than prophetic. Too often we have chosen not to see the evidence of a racism that is less overt but still permeates our national life in corrosive ways."
Christian Churches Together is still a new organization, still growing and seeking to find the best ways for Christians to speak with a common voice on the issues of our day. It has tackled the persistent scourge of poverty in our nation, reflected on the way our divisions compromise our evangelizing mission, and on the ways in which the legacy of racism still weighs heavily on our country. There can be no doubt that this is the work of the Spirit among us, and that more is yet to come.
Fr. Ronald Roberson, CSP, is Associate Director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington. He is a member of the CCT Steering Committee, and has been involved in the CCT planning process since the first preparatory meeting in 2001.