US racism astonishes ecumenical delegation which finds it is 'deep, wide, pervasive'

(Photo: REUTERS / Adrees Latif)Clergymen shout "Hands up, don't shoot," as they march to the County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch's office to protest the shooting death of unarmed black teen Michael Brown in Clayton, Missouri August 20, 2014. On Wednesday, the St. Louis County prosecutor's office began presenting evidence to a regularly seated grand jury investigating the fatal shooting. Protesters outside the offices have called for the removal of McCulloch from the case. Eighteen year old Michael Brown was shot dead in Ferguson on August 9, 2014.

Racism in the United States is surprisingly "deep, wide [and] pervasive," a visiting ecumenical delegation has found, but it says churches can bring hope to the divided country that has the world's biggest economy.

After visiting the United States, a World Council of Churches delegation has said it is preparing a report on how churches can help achieve racial justice.

"We had heard that racism continues to be an issue in the United States," said Dr. Agnes Abuom, moderator of the WCC Central Committee on April 30. "But we did not expect to find it so deep, so wide and so pervasive."

Churches can, however, offer a reinvigorated response to the sin of racial hatred, violence and discrimination in the early 21st century, the delegation found, while noting the intense need for change.

Abuom led a the April 19-25 racial justice accompaniment visit, which included the cities of Charleston, South Carolina; Ferguson, Missouri; and Chicago, Illinois which have all faced issues relating to racism in recent times.

Their visit came at a time of polarizing politics in the United States with Donald Trump from May 5 looking to be the likely Republican Party candidate in the end of year presidential election.

Trump has surged ahead with Republican support after attacking Mexican immigrants and women was well as saying he wants to ban Muslims from the United States.

It also came at a time of accusations of racism against black Americans at the hands of white-led police forces in U.S. cities seen as trigger happy in the number of young black men shot dead by force members.

The team of WCC visitors who made the journey are now collaborating to prepare a report on their experience and findings, with recommendations for next steps in response.

The report will be submitted in May to the main governing body of the WCC, its central committee, for consideration at its June 2016 meeting in Trondheim, Norway.

The Central Committee will determine appropriate action for the WCC and its partners in the United States and throughout the world.

Official WCC delegation:

Dr Agnes Abuom, moderator of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches (head of the delegation), a Kenyan Anglican

Bishop Mark MacDonald, Anglican Church of Canada, WCC president of North America (Chicago only)

Metropolitan Geevarghese Coorilos, Syrian Orthodox Church, moderator of the WCC Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (Chicago only)

Rev. Pil Soon Kim, Korean Christian Church in Japan

Omar Haramy, Orthodox Church, Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, Israel-Palestine

Aleshia Johnson, Anglican Church of Canada, member of WCC ECHOES youth commission and reference group on pilgrimage of justice and peace

US church leadership that joined parts of the visit:

Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, vice moderator, WCC central committee (DC and Charleston)

Rev. Angelique Walker-Smith, WCC central committee member and senior associate for Pan African and Orthodox Church Engagement, Bread for the World (DC and Chicago)

Rev. Geoffrey Black, United Church of Christ, central committee member (Ferguson)

Rev. Sharon Watkins, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), chair, WCC program committee (Ferguson)

Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, United Church of Christ, ecumenical officer

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, presiding bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (Chicago)

Bishop Sally Dyck, United Methodist Church, central committee member (Chicago)

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