National Council of Churches mourns the passing of Mandela

Nelson MandelaWashington, December 6, 2013 – News of the death Thursday of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was received with “sadness and deep reflection” by the member communions of the National Council of Churches USA.

“Nelson Mandela was universally admired for his integrity and commitment to peace with justice,” said Jim Winkler, general secretary of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, who takes office as NCC General Secretary and President on January 1.

“It is impossible to overstate his greatness or his significance as an international leader,” Winkler said. He dedicated his life to overthrowing the cruel apartheid regime of South Africa and spent 27 years in prison for his revolutionary activities. During that time his stature as moral leader of the freedom movement grew exponentially. When he was released in 1990, he led his nation through a nonviolent transition to a democratically elected government. Who else could have emerged after so many bitter years in prison to surpass and transcend his own legend?”

Nelson Mandela is one of a handful of world figures whose name will be remembered far beyond the 20th and 21st centuries,” Winkler said.

In 1994, Mandela was elected president of South Africa in the first completely democratic election in the nation’s history.

A Christian with roots in world Methodism, Mandela often cited ecumenical and interfaith supporters as key to the success of the anti-apartheid movement.

U.S. Christians who knew Mandela recalled his easy charm and sense of humor. In 1998, when South African Deputy President Thabo Mbeki was unable to fulfill a commitment to address the 8th assembly of the World Council of Churches in Harare, Zimbabwe, Mandela came to the meeting instead. A South African choir was singing an African melody when Mandela climbed onto the platform and he immediately flashed a smile and danced happily to the music.

“The National Council of Churches USA stood in solidarity with the South Africa Council of Churches, with the African National Congress, and with other individuals and organizations who struggled for an end to white minority rule at a time when such a stance was erroneously equated with support for terrorism,” Jim Winkler said. “We knew Nelson Mandela as a committed Christian who sought equal rights for all and a democratic South Africa.”

“He is a towering figure of world historical importance. We urge Christians everywhere and congregations to say prayers of thanksgiving for his life and his achievements”, Winkler said.


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Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has been the leading force for shared ecumenical witness among Christians in the United States. The NCC's 37 member communions -- 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.

NCC News contact:  Philip E. Jenks, 646-853-4212 (cell), [email protected]