The head of America’s leading ecumenical group said Christians can learn to live together around values that Jesus taught: peace, poverty, respect for Planet Earth, people’s rights and commitment to pluralism.

“We are the leaders we have been waiting for,” Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, challenged more than 400 moderate Baptists Thursday at a luncheon celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

Edgar, a Methodist minister and former U.S. Congressman, said God is calling all Christians “in this moment to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.” Studying the Scripture, he said, “I find there are five directions God is calling us to walk with Jesus in:”

–Peace. “We must engage in a relentless pursuit of peace, seeking reconciliation within families, communities, nations and the world of nations, reaching across boundaries that divide, building bridges instead of walls,” he said. “Whether in Sudan or in Iraq or in a neighborhood gripped by crime or violence, Jesus would have us be peace-makers, not just peace-lovers.”

–Poverty. “We are challenged by the life of Jesus, who gave himself for the poor and outcast, the despised and rejected,” Edgar said. “We must take concrete actions that reduce poverty in our own time and place, anchored in Jesus’ passionate concern for ‘the least of these.’ This challenge must not be confined to personal generosity, but community action, and national policy–going to the root of the problem, finding solutions that work and that last.”

–Planet Earth. “The biblical Christian is also called by the Scriptures to exercise reverential stewardship of this God-given planet, rooted in the earliest age of mankind, beginning in Eden,” he said. “We must fight the efforts of many to pillage and pollute, to waste and destroy the natural environment on which life itself depends. The wise management of the finite resources of the earth is a God-given mandate that the church is accountable to fulfill.”

–People’s rights. “The person who would be Jesus’ disciple will be found standing in strong defense of people’s rights, believing that such dehumanizing acts as racial or gender discrimination, torture, invasion of privacy are an affront to the will of God for his creation,” Edgar said. “The church should be the first line of protection for the disadvantaged, the powerless, the overlooked who have no other advocate but Christ and his followers.”

–Pluralism. “We who would claim the name of Christ must express his hospitality in the face of the whirlwind of cultures, languages, races, values and dreams that our world presents us in the form of accelerating pluralism in every community where we serve,” Edgar said. “Jesus found kinship with those his own religious hierarchy condemned, those his culture rejected, those his own heritage devalued. Jesus saw only God’s priceless creative will and boundless love in the faces of the Samaritan, the stranger, the Other. A God who would find joy in populating the world with such extravagant diversity certainly must find grief in our rejection of this banquet feast.”

Edgar said at the NCC, “We’re trying to address fear, fundamentalism and Fox television.”

Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has been the leading force for ecumenical cooperation among Christians in the United States. The NCC’s member faith groups–from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches–include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.

Noting an earlier remark that Baptists sometimes have had trouble with the National Council of Churches, Edgar said, “You might be interested to know we’ve got lots of Baptists” in the NCC, such as American Baptists and National Baptists.

“You all are Cooperative Baptists,” he said. “We’ve got some uncooperative Baptists. We’ve got Jimmy Carter Baptists.”

“What we do have in common, whether we’re inside of a partnership or organization or outside, is Jesus Christ.”

Edgar, a former pastor, six-term member of the House of Representatives and president of a theological school, was keynote speaker for the luncheon honoring 15 years of work by the Baptist Center for Ethics and its executive director, Robert Parham.

Edgar recognized Parham “for all the work he does, for his clarity, his voice and the way he helps us to understand what Christ is calling us to do in this time.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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