NEWARK – The Central Atlantic Conference of the United Church of Christ passed a resolution at its annual meeting Saturday, June 14, pressuring the National Football League and the Washington NFL team franchise to change the team name and refrain from the use of any images, mascots, or behaviors that are, or could be, deemed harmful or demeaning to American Indian cultures or peoples.
Among other actions, the resolution also urges the Conference’s 40,000 members from 180 congregations in Washington, D.C., New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and parts of Virginia and West Virginia, to join a boycott of the team’s games and to not wear, display, or purchase any items bearing its logo until the name changes.
“I hope this debate will continue to draw attention to an unhealed wound in our cultural fabric,” said the Rev. Dr. John Deckenback, conference minister of the Central Atlantic Conference, of the resolution’s passing. “Changing the name of the Washington NFL team will not solve the problems of our country’s many trails of broken promises and discriminatory isolation of our Native American communities. However, a change in the nation’s capital can send a strong message.”
The Central Atlantic Conference’s resolution was supported by the Oneida Indian Nation, the federally-recognized tribe of the Oneida people headquartered in central New York, and the National Congress of American Indians, the oldest and largest organization representing more than 80 American Indian tribes throughout the United States.
Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter attended the Conference’s annual meeting and delivered a statement in support of the resolution.
“It is truly an honor to partner with and have the support of the United Church of Christ, an organization that has such a historic record standing up for the cause of civil rights,” Halbritter said. “It is important to have the support of organizations like theirs as we work to relegate one of the last vestiges of racism to the historical scrap heap and come together to usher in an era where mutual respect finally becomes the norm, rather than the exception.”
“The name used by the Washington NFL team is widely recognized as a racial slur and promotes discrimination against Native Americans,” said Jacqueline Pata, executive director of the NCAI. “More and more organizations are joining our voices calling on team owner Dan Snyder and the NFL to change the name, and we are proud that the United Church of Christ and its members are standing with us.”
The United Church of Christ (UCC) is a mainline Protestant denomination with nearly 1 million members and more than 5,100 congregations nationwide. The UCC is a church of many firsts, including the first mainline denomination to ordain a woman, the first to ordain an openly-gay man and the first predominantly white denomination to ordain an African American. The UCC’s motto (“That they may all be one,” (John 17:21)) and tagline (God is still speaking,) supports the Church’s long-standing commitment to social justice issues and its extravagant welcome to all, no matter who they are, or where they are on life’s journey. Headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, the UCC has also been active in protests against the use of the Cleveland Major League Baseball team and its Chief Wahoo mascot.
The Central Atlantic Conference, one of 38 regional conferences of the United Church of Christ, comprises 185 UCC congregations in the Mid-Atlantic region, including New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and parts of Virginia and West Virginia. It includes more than 40,000 local church members and approximately 400 ordained ministers.