Ecumenical vision focuses on faith, love and hope
By Scott O’Neill | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE – This Labor Day marks the 10-year anniversary of “A Social Creed for the 21st Century,” an ecumenical message of hope adopted by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA. The creed’s foundation lies in the Christian bases of faith, hope and love and offers a vision of society that “shares more and consumes less, seeks compassion over suspicion and equality over domination, and finds security in joined hands rather than massed arms.”
The original “Social Creed of the Churches,” created in 1908 by the Federal Council of Churches, was a pledge to work toward a better, fairer and more faithful United States. The turn-of-the-century Industrial Revolution had devastating consequences for workers, families and even children who were forced into labor instead of school or play. Wealth generated by the early industrialization period was distributed to the few — primarily the owners of industry.
As with the original, “A Social Creed for the 21st Century” was compiled with ecumenical consultation and adopted unanimously by the Governing Board of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, which unites 34 member churches. The 2008 version is more holistic, focusing on renewing a social covenant with greater justice, equality and democracy, less war abroad and punishing racial and class division and an urgent call to a green transition to renewable energy.
“People sometimes look at 20-to-40-page reports on energy, tax policy or end-of-life issues and ask, ‘Do you have something shorter?’ Well, the ‘Social Creed’ is that concise statement of what the churches stand for, deliberately avoiding ‘hot button’ language,” said Christian Iosso, coordinator for the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy for the PC(USA). “The Trinitarian format, loved by the Orthodox churches, was suggested by Patty Chapman, a marketing executive as well as Christian educator who served on the Presbyterian writing committee.”
Iosso also noted the ecumenical unity encouraged by the creed.
“The ‘Social Creed’ is non-doctrinal and thus provides a consensus base for ecumenical mission and advocacy, especially in an election year. Would that we were doing more with our ecumenical partners in every area!”
Several resources are available to aid congregations and individuals to teach and work with the ‘Social Creed,’ including:
- A 28-minute video titled Toward a New Social Awakening, which highlights churches’ concerns for workers’ and civil rights, equal rights for women, peace advocacy and concern for climate change, going from 1908 to 2008 and then looking ahead. The video is available for live-streaming or download at vimeo.com/24514707.
- A booklet called Connecting to the Creed, which contains biblical and historical background for each of the affirmations and enduring policy directions applicable to many of the policies being debated today. The booklet is available at presbyterianmission.org/wp-content/uploads/1-connectingtothecreed-2008.pdf.
- A book called Prayers for the New Social Awakening, which contains 99 prayers by respected Christian prophets and activists, leaders and writers. The prayers in the book, which was published in 2008, address a wide range of challenges in a variety of styles. Prayers for lawyers or farmworkers, for example, or on immigration or addictions, are all included, and Roman Catholic as well as Protestant and Orthodox contributors are among the voices represented. A Muslim and a Jewish prayer also reflect our monotheistic family of faiths. The book was modeled on social gospel prophet Walter Rauschenbusch’s Prayers of the Social Awakening, which was published in 1909. That mixture of deep piety and justice concern can be heard today in calls for a “moral revival.” The 2008 book can be ordered at wjkbooks.com/0664232124/prayers-for-the-new-social-awakening.aspx.
Labor Day’s focus on labor complements the “Social Creed,” which speaks of a “living wage,” not a minimum wage. The campaign for $15 per hour has succeeded in several cities, and several states have voted to raise their minimum wages. However, the scope of U.S. inequality remains, with numerous studies documenting the growing gap between the “haves” and the “have nots.”
Regulations protecting workers from hazardous chemicals as well as regulations protecting unions and workers’ pensions are generally being weakened by legal challenges and lack of enforcement, which may mean further inequality. The “Social Creed” provides principles in these areas but leaves specific solutions to responsible legislators who seek to serve the common good instead of special interests.
For Presbyterians marking the “Social Creed” on Labor Day 2018, prayers would appropriately include the unemployed and the demoralizing impacts of unemployment on a weekend when most of us simply celebrate a day off. Let us also pray for creative government and market solutions that create both good jobs and technological advances, so that fewer of our people — and others overseas — are abandoned by those who already have much.
The “Social Creed” lifts up Jesus’ words in John 10:10, that he came so that we might have abundant life.
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