Distributed by The Associated Press, January 29, 2003
Church Leaders Eye 'Christian Alliance'
Church Leaders Propose a Plan to Create the Broadest-Ever U.S. Christian Alliance
January 29, 2003 (AP) -- Church leaders from 30 denominations agreed Wednesday on a proposal to create the broadest alliance of Christians ever formed in the United States. The steering committee of the budding effort, tentatively called Christian Churches Together in the U.S.A., will invite a wide range of national church bodies and agencies over the next several weeks to join them.
The loosely knit alliance would represent five segments of U.S. Christianity, listed in the plan as "Evangelical/Pentecostal, Historic Protestant, Orthodox, Racial/Ethnic and Roman Catholic." The Catholic church and most evangelicals and Pentecostals do not belong to the National Council of Churches, which is currently the nation's largest ecumenical group.
If the new alliance does emerge, it could supplant the National Council or radically alter its role in American Christianity. Catholic Bishop Tod Brown of Orange, Calif., and Baltimore's Cardinal William Keeler were among the 55 participants who met at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. Both are members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' ecumenical committee.
"I don't think there has ever been anything like this attempted before in this country," Brown said. The Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, steering committee chair and chief executive of the Reformed Church in America, called the meeting "a remarkable breakthrough. We gathered a wide representation of the Christian churches in the U.S.A. and were able to inspire them into making a deep commitment together."
Brown said the U.S. Catholic hierarchy could decide on the proposal within two years. Granberg-Michaelson said that's the likely timetable to go from the planning stage to formal launch of the organization. One sticking point: The nation's largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, may be reluctant to join, though it had an observer at the meeting. The idea of a broad Christian alliance emerged from discussions three years ago within the National Council.
The council is not sponsoring the new unity effort, though its chief executive is participating in it. The organization would gather groups that "believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior according to the Scriptures" and "worship and serve One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit." The proposal being sent to churches says that, in the early stages, the alliance will exist mostly for common worship, fellowship and dialogue on "commonalities" and "differences."
Later, it would become more active in "speaking to society with a common voice, whenever possible," and sponsor forums where Christians could address specific issues. The Catholic church belongs to similar interdenominational organizations in some other nations. The National Council and rival National Association of Evangelicals each have faced organizational woes in recent years.
The National Council currently includes 36 Protestant and Orthodox denominations with 100,000 local congregations. The National Association of Evangelicals unites 51 denominations, 45,000 congregations and 250 interchurch agencies. U.S. Catholicism has 65.3 million members in 19,500 parishes.